Published June 5, 2015 – Leader Publications – Ted Yoakum
To say that 19-year-old Niles resident Amber’s impending departure from the Cass County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program is bittersweet would be an understatement. After entering the foster care system following the death of her father six years ago, the recent Niles High School graduate’s life spiraled into a revolving door of social workers and counselors, who seemed to exit her life as quickly as they entered it.
The one expectation — her CASA, Edwardsburg’s Nancy Krempec, who has served not only as Amber’s voice in court proceedings but as a mentor, role model and friend. “The only constant has been that the two of us have been together, without change, for seven years,” Krempec said.
Amber will be sharing her story and the memories that she and her CASA made during their time together at the upcoming ninth annual CASA Dinner & Auction fundraiser, which takes place this year on Friday, June 26, at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Edwardsburg.
A friends of CASA reception takes place at 6 p.m., with social hour beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Krempec’s seven year stewardship of Amber has been the longest out of any CASA case in the county, she said. A retired elementary school teacher with 31 years experience, the Edwardsburg woman joined the organization in 2008, and quickly matched up with the Niles teenager.
Describing Amber as “a diamond in the rough,” the two started off their relationship on uneasy footing, with the teenager distrusting what she felt was another stranger taking a cursory interest in wellbeing, Krempic said.
A week later, while going out to eat together, the walls Amber had erected around herself slowly began to crumble, the CASA volunteer said.
“From early on, she felt like she could talk to me about anything,” Krempec said. “She knows that she can come to me with anything.”
Meeting at least once a week, Krempec began to help Amber reverse her fortunes in schooling around. Once a failing student who often never showed up for school, Amber started dedicating herself to her studies, becoming a frequent presence on the school’s honor roll. Her last semester, she received straight As in all her classes.
It was also through her CASA’s helping hand that Amber discovered a new passion — reading. “She used to read with me,” Amber said. “After she left, I started reading on my own; especially history books. I love history.”
This fall, Amber plans to attend classes at Lake Michigan College to study criminal justice, in hopes of becoming a forensic investigator, she said.
More important than her turnaround in education has been her turnaround in attitude. Once simply drifting through life, Amber has become someone who believes in herself, Krempec said. “I’m very proud of her, to see where she has been to where she is in life now,” she said.
While nervous about speaking during the upcoming fundraiser, Amber has already been hard at work on her speech. The message she wants to send others in her situation is quite simple, she said. “There is always hope,” Amber said. “Don’t ever give up.”