“I saw a billboard on Ellington Parkway, and I had seen it several times. I thought I might like to do something like that, but never made the move to see what it was about.”
That is how Alvin Johnson first came in contact with CASA. Now with over ten years of experience as a volunteer, he has utilized his voice to advocate for several abused and neglected children in Nashville. For Johnson, this work is not only rewarding, but also extremely personal. He himself was a foster child.
“I was four when I was fostered. Honestly, I went from a shack and an outhouse to having my own room and pretty much everything I needed.”
Johnson believes that intervention when he was four years old drastically altered the outcome of his life. He believes his past allows him to connect so closely with the children he advocates for.
“It is just a vicious cycle of poverty that they are in. I can relate to those poverty conditions. One of the first cases I had was the one that lasted the longest, and it involved domestic violence. That was something I had witnessed when I was young and was something else I could relate to.”
Raised in Lebanon, Tennessee, Johnson moved back to Nashville after getting out of the Navy in 1973. He had a successful career as a paralegal but felt as though something was missing.
“While I enjoyed my paralegal work, I was looking for something where I could be a little more involved in the outcome of the disposition of cases,” he remembered. “And of course children have always had a soft spot in my heart. I felt like I could use my skills, at least my knowledge of the court system, to help a child.”
Despite having passed by the billboard several times, it wasn’t until a friend asked him to go to volunteer training with her that he finally stepped in the CASA Nashville doors. Ten years and ten cases later, Johnson is considered a volunteer pro and shows no signs of stopping. It is the satisfaction of seeing kids’ lives altered, in ways that reflect his own, that keeps him coming back for more.
“Of course in the justice system there are often no perfect solutions,” Johnson reflected. “So you have to do the best you can for a child. The most satisfying part of it is when you know that you have helped a child to better their condition, their quality of life.”
Johnson now has a successful business as a notary-signing agent, work that he says he truly loves. For Johnson, his career and volunteerism are never separate. His does his entire notary work free of charge for those in the hospital or who are shut-in. In between running his own business and balancing CASA cases, Johnson manages to balance a plethora of hobbies and interests.
“I am sort of a nerd,” he admitted. “I am on the internet a lot. I like to search the net and I am into documentaries as far as T.V. goes.”
He is in the midst of a 25-year project documenting his family history. “My kids will know where they come from. So far I have been able to go back to about 1862.”
Family is important to Johnson, as evidenced by how proud he is to be a father of four and the grandfather of seven. CASA has also been a family affair for him, as his only daughter was a volunteer at the Nashville office. He shares his love for CASA with all he comes in contact with.
“When I am talking to people about CASA, I try to come at them from where they are at. If it is someone that comes from a good home, then I may say you can help a child have the childhood that you had. Or if it is someone that has been through a difficult childhood, perhaps you can prevent a child from having to go through those negative experiences.”
He encourages others to engage with this type of work before deciding that they don’t have the time or necessary skills.
“I think the biggest obstacle people have is that they are not sure about the time commitment,” Johnson shared. “If your perception of the system is that it drags on and on, then you won’t be willing to get into it. We forecast hurdles and talk ourselves out of doing things that we like to do. With CASA you just have to take it one step at a time. Don’t assume anything. This is an opportunity that a lot of people could do if they would just try it.”
Johnson’s views on children shape his perceptions of why this work is so important.
“There is no better investment than in kids. It is so cliché to say, but children are our future. If we don’t help these children gain employable skills or college educations, or help them get in positions to take care of themselves, then we are adding to the problem.”
Thankfully, it seems as though Johnson will be sticking around Nashville a while longer to continue investing in children.
“I tell people all the time that I have traveled some, and Nashville has everything a person could want without a lot of big city problems. I love Nashville. I don’t see myself leaving.”
Johnson truly believes that one’s legacy is not in their personal gains, but in the way they invest in future generations.
“Investing in kids is the best thing we can do for the world we live in. You can attain all types of wealth and security, but we have seen it so many times where something comes through and devastates all that. We can’t save the world, but we can save one child at a time.”