Hearts of Yolo Profile: Karen Selby

Thursday, Jul 21, 2016

A tragic life event of her own inspired Karen Selby to help others who were also going through tragic life events. “In 2012, I was widowed after 40 years of marriage when my husband passed away from lung cancer. I prayed for a job, but not a traditional job… something that was different and impactful.”

An article in the paper recruiting CASAs and seeking host families for exchange students answered her prayers. “I wanted to mentor youth and so I looked into both of these opportunities.” Mentoring youth stems from many of Karen’s own life experiences, specifically her family of origin. “My mother and father were alcoholics and I witnessed a lot of violence between them. When I was thirteen, I went to live with my grandmother who was a true cheerleader for me and a great role model. She lost two husbands throughout her life due to heart attacks and in her sixties went to work in a cafeteria on her feet all day. She was a survivor and showed me I could make it too.”

Karen attributes her success today to her experiences with her grandmother. She describes herself as a “glass is overflowing” type of person despite incredible hardship in life. In addition to her husband’s death, her sister recently passed away after years of living in a mental institution. He brother still suffers issues of his own and has isolated himself from her. “I wanted to teach others how to be a survivor after going through tough situations like my grandmother taught me. It truly changed my life’s outcome. I sought counseling to repair the damage of my troubled childhood and went on to have a career as a child support officer, helping single mothers and fathers navigate the system. I know my outcome could have been much different if I hadn’t had the key relationship with my grandmother when I needed it and that’s exactly what CASAs provide to foster children.”

Karen has been a CASA for several years now. Her current CASA child is a young boy who wants to be an aeronautical engineer. “I took him to McClellan to operate a flight simulator. I want him to see that his dreams matter and are attainable. Most importantly, I want him to see that HE matters. Being a CASA is about the child, not the volunteer, but I have to say it feels amazing to be the person giving a child that gift.”

In addition to being a CASA, Karen has two children living in Reno and San Luis Obispo respectively, and three grandchildren. She travels to visit them often. “I have a trip coming up to visit my daughter in San Luis Obispo and I am leaving right after I see my CASA child and returning the day before our next scheduled visit. I think it’s important to see my CASA child weekly but if it sometimes doesn’t work out, there is always the phone. Being a CASA volunteer can seem like a big commitment at first but it truly becomes a regular part of your life and something that you look forward to.”

Reflecting on her entire CASA experience, Karen attributes many components of her life to where she is at today. “My career, my childhood, my ability to overcome adversity, and even my life’s greatest tragedy all came together and led me to Yolo County CASA. I am so happy I found a vehicle to give to another what was given to me in life.”

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