Volunteer Stories (Jim Patterson)

A CASA Volunteer Gives a Mother Hope and Inspires his Youth’s “Boring” Life

Jim Patterson, a CASA Volunteer

Kristi Varnum, Ty’s Mom and Placer County’s Family Mentor Case Manager

Ty, CASA Youth

When Ty was a teenager, his life changed in an instant. “When I was first placed in foster care, I was taken to a receiving home. There were lots of kids there and the first few weeks were a blur…” states Ty, “But I do remember a face emerging as a consistent figure during that time who came just to visit me. I came to know him as Jim, my CASA volunteer.”

Ty speaks fondly of his memories of Jim Patterson. “I felt alone a lot but he made me not feel as lonely. Whenever I was confused or scared, he helped explain what was going on.” Ty also remembers the activities they did together fondly, “He would do things with me like take me out to eat or take me to the movies. I know this seems like normal stuff but it was completely missing from my life once I entered foster care.”

Kristi is Ty’s mother and also runs the Family Mentor Program at Child Advocates of Placer County. When Ty was taken from her care she was devastated. “My life was very hard at the time but I loved Ty desperately,” states Kristi. She continues, “There was very little communication with anyone and I constantly wondered how Ty was doing. When I did speak with Ty, he would tell me about all the ways Jim helped him and was there for him. I was truly relieved to know that Jim was at his side and looking out for Ty during the years he spent in foster care. Sometimes I couldn’t believe that folks would go out of their way for others like that just to help in a selfless way… nothing like that had ever been modeled to me in my life.”

One particularly fond memory Kristi has of Jim was when he bought a new pair of shoes for Ty. “Can you believe how above and beyond he went to make sure Ty had what he needed? My mother’s heart will never, ever forget that and I remain deeply grateful to this day.” In fact, Kristi’s experience and gratitude inspired her life’s work. “I have been in the same place as the families I mentor and I know that they can come out of this. My life’s work is dedicated to helping folks through very tough times in life and I look forward to going to work with this purpose every single day.”

Ty is now 25 years old with a wife and two dogs of his own. He works full-time and lives a self-proclaimed “boring” life. “If my life is boring, I know it’s a good life. Through all my years in foster care, I told myself that I know I will have made it when I have a normal, boring life.” Kristi chimes in, “Ty has an amazing work ethic. We all work hard in our family and he really beat all odds. I tell him that drugs and alcohol can only lead to bad things and he doesn’t do any of that. He is so proud of his ‘boring’ life and so am I. I like to drop by his office and give him hugs.”

Jim and Ty stayed in touch for years after Ty aged out of foster care. “Jim’s health began to decline around the time I got married,” states Ty. “In fact, when I sent him a wedding invitation, he called me and asked me to go out to eat. He told me his illness had become terminal and he was going to stay with family in Arizona. We had hamburgers and just talked about life like we often did. What I remember clearly about that visit was that I paid for the meal. We ordered together and he was ready to pay, but then I stepped in. We both realized the magnitude of the moment… and I was so grateful that I had come to a place in life where I could pay him back a bit.”

Jim passed away in July of 2020. One of his last emails to the CASA office included this quote, “I went to the ER last week where I was told, in a very professional and kind way that they have discovered new problems from my cat- scan that, for lack of a better word, makes my situation terminal. I have been told to stop working full time and “enjoy the rest of my life.” No one is attempting to predict how much time I have left, it remains unknown. My family is begging me to move to Arizona so I can be close to them and I have started the process of making major changes, such as quitting my job, putting my home up for sale, and then moving to Arizona. One of the hardest things, however, is having to write this email to tell you that I must give up one of the things that I have cherished and loved and that was being a CASA. I just received a very nice card in the mail from one of the members of the Board of Directors of CASA thanking me for the 17 kids I have advocated for. I truly appreciated the timing and significance of that card as it made me stop and reflect on what an amazing, life-changing, experience each one of those kids has brought to my life. They have all given me more than I could ever give them and I hold a special place in my heart for each of them.”

Specifically, regarding Ty, Jim left these words, “Ty is doing so well now and I always consider him a true success story – he gets and deserves all the credit for that. He made a decision that he would not follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps and he has done great things. Working full-time at the FedEx store, getting married to his long-time girlfriend, and just being a responsible adult.”

Ty remains deeply moved by the time he spent with his CASA volunteer turned good friend Jim. He states, “When I am established enough in my life, I am going to become a CASA volunteer so that I can give children like me the same gift that Jim gave to me.” Kristi states, “Son, you’d make a great one.” Ty replies, “I just really want to make sure I have the ability to truly change a child’s life. I want to take them places and give them things… give them the experiences that Jim gave me. I’m just so grateful.”