It’s not easy growing up with a mother who is battling addiction. Or coping with a mom’s overdose death before a longed-for reunion.
Nor is it easy to have a parent serving a life sentence in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Even harder is to lose both your mom and your two beloved caregivers in a span of two years when you are only a pre-teen. Or to have two sisters wind up in prison, as well.
These hardships have weighed upon the life of Idelia Robinson-Confer of western Pennsylvania. Just one of these tragedies could have broken her spirit forever, but she had one person in her life who ensured that she rose above grief, self-doubt, shame and plummeting self-esteem to survive and thrive.
Idelia is now 21 years old, a thoughtful, soft-spoken brunette with golden highlights who is crafting a life of service and strength for herself. She embodies the motto, “Everything that has happened TO you has happened FOR you.”
How did she transcend a litany of tragedy in her young life -the death of her beloved great-grandparents -her caregivers–in 2013, and her mom, in 2015? How did she live through constantly changing school districts, foster homes, and counselors?
She readily answers it was the one and only constant in her life: her Court-Appointed Special Advocate or “CASA.”
“My CASA worker has changed my life,” Idelia said in a recent interview. “And I wouldn’t be where I am today without her support. She has been the only stable person in my life in the past seven years.”
Her CASA was Flo Jenkins, a volunteer from Greensburg, PA, who passed away herself earlier this year. Jenkins was a mother and grandmother who never accepted a dime to be a life-changer for young people like Idelia.
A , and it is a proven, innovative family support network that receives no state funding. Idelia is one of many advocates working to change that.
The philosophy behind a CASA builds upon a study in resilience advanced by the Harvard Center for the Developing Child, which found that one stable person in a child’s life can rescue a child from trauma and foster strength, positivity and resilience.
“She has brought me so much hope.” Idelia says. She said Flo was never judgmental and was always accepting. Idelia always called her for advice, and Jenkins was the first person she called when she secured a college internship or had other good news.
This poised young college student is now working to help secure state funds to expand this transformative program into counties that lack one. She has spoken at a national CASA Conference and testified before state and federal legislators. The group is seeking $1.8 million to create CASA programs in new counties and support existing programs in the counties fortunate enough to have them. Twenty-two CASA programs now operate across 28 counties in Pennsylvania.
State Senator Pat Stefano (R-Fayette County) is helping her voice to be heard. He is offering a Senate resolution in support of CASAs and will introduce Idelia on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Idelia is now a senior at California University of Pennsylvania majoring in Psychology and minoring in Leadership Studies. She serves on the college’s SAI Board of directors and is a member of student government, the Psychology Club, Gamma Sigma Sigma, and Alpha Sigma Alpha.
During Idelia’s time in college, she has taken on three internships, including serving as a program facilitator for an after-school program, a research assistant for a professor, and an internship at CASA of Westmoreland.
Idelia is also actively involved in foster youth causes. She leads a Youth Advisory Board where she advocates for housing stability and reform on the local, state, and federal levels. Idelia was the 2017 Recipient for the
Judge Feliciani Youth Leadership Award and the 2020 Akerman Academic Excellence Scholarship.
A first-generation college student, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in public policy.
When Flo Jenkins entered Idelia’s life in 2013, Idelia feared that she would be “just another adult who left me.” But Flo was the only person who stayed.
She made Idelia feel like more than a statistic, she says. Jenkins pushed Idelia and inspired her to keep moving forward to create a life of her own. Idelia describes Flo as her biggest role model and supporter. In the
beginning of 2021, Flo passed away, so Idelia continues to advocate for children like herself in an effort to carry on Flo’s legacy of kindness and dedication to helping others.
“We always said, we make a really good team.'”
Idelia will soon age out of the foster care system, but she says, “My CASA has brought me so much hope.”
Idelia said the words of Demi Lovato’s hit song, “I Love Me,” is an anthem to her struggles to overcome sadness and hardship.
“Cause I’m a black belt in beating up on myself, But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else,” is the song’s powerful lyric.
Pennsylvania is now poised to give that uninterrupted support and advocacy to children suffering abuse and neglect in the foster care system. As Pennsylvania’s leaders craft the 2021-22 budget, foster children like Idelia are respectfully asking for their support of a proven strategy to heal lives that face unimaginable pain.