He spent 6 months in juvenile detention. His message to advocates: 'You are saving a life'

Stephen Perry
Posted at 4:29 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 20:20:44-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- For Stephen Perry, life as a 14-year-old was one he says without a lot of guidance. He lived at home with his mom and younger brother.

"I was selling drugs, I was in the streets acting in ways I shouldn't be putting myself and my brother in danger," the now 20-year-old Perry recalled.

It was a path that landed him in foster care, group homes and juvenile detention for six months.

But it is also what ended up connecting him with volunteers in Virginia's Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. As they guided him through the foster system, they became the closest thing he had to parents.

"Regardless of what happened, I could call them anytime," Perry said. "They brought me Christmas presents. They saw me on my birthday."

And Perry says their intervention saved his life.

"I would wholeheartedly say without my CASA mentor and volunteer, I don't know if I'd be here and I definitely wouldn't be successful," he said.

There are 27 volunteer programs in the Commonwealth. The largest is in Henrico County.

Leigh Lyons
Leigh Lyons

Leigh Lyons, who has volunteered with the group for the past decade, says that when cases of child abuse or neglect end up in the court systems, they are the ones appointed to work on the children's behalf.

"I'm actually giving that child a voice, a voice that would not be heard if I was not on the case, and I was not communicating for them," Lyons explained.

That work entails getting to know the children, those in their life, what's happening to them and recommending to the judge what is best for them.

"My very first case, I believe it was about a year. Sometimes they can last four years, two years or three years," Lyons said.

CASA: Court-Appointed Special Advocates
CASA: Court-Appointed Special Advocates

In the past fiscal year in Henrico, they've closed 155 cases and served 286 children with the help of more than 100 volunteers. They served over 3,750 children since 1994.

Stuart Enkey is in his first year and still working his first case.

"Some of these days are really tough," Enkey said. "Some of the situations you've run into can be really hard. But at the end of the day, if you're helping a kid makes it worth it."

Usually after each case ends, the volunteer and children stop communication. But in Perry's case, he says that when he turned 18 he chose to stay in touch.

Now, with their continued help, he advocates for kids in the programs he was in and hopes more people will volunteer.

"If you do it the right way and show this kid the support that they need, you are saving a life," Perry said.

Officials with Henrico CASA say they are looking for 20 more people to volunteer training sessions in the spring and fall this year.

And if you cannot volunteer, the group will hold its second annual Home for Good fundraiser next week. People can donate and have a chance to win custom playhouses that will be on display at Short Pump Town Center.

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