Some of my most vivid memories are of Christmases past.

A mechanical dinosaur with a scar on his face, head oscillating from side to side with a distorted roar that I probably should have been more scared of.

Dad lugging around a bulky VHS videocamera. Mom never sure if we had all smiled or avoided blinking as the self-timer on the tiny point-and-shoot film camera wound down, so picture taking sessions always seemed to last forever.

The first time I watched the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol, mesmerized by The Ghost of Christmas Present – the beginning of a lifelong affinity that would lead to a pattern of my creating the most over-the-top holiday themed outfits, including wreaths and lights on a cowboy, sprigs of holly in my old military surplus jacket epaulets and, during one memorable year in college, a new star ornament on my backpack each day of Advent.

A Christmas overseas – the year I lived in Korea I found myself mesmerized by displays ranging from bizarre to utterly magical. Strolling around in the crisp Seoul air, posing for a photo under a gaudy heart made of Christmas lights and ducking into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant to eat a bowl of steaming mandu (Korean rice dumplings).

Buying all my family members too-expensive gifts one of the first years I had a “real” job and thought I could live larger than was practical. Even after the groans that accompanied the opening of my bills and taking far too long to pay them off, I still remember fondly the feeling that I was finally giving something nice.

Some Christmases are clearer than others. Some are a blur of working retail over the holidays, the hustle and bustle I always loved, malls decked out, Santas laughing, living Nativities bringing me to the brink of tears from sheer serenity. Snippets. An old college professor I hadn’t seen in years giving me a cup of hot cocoa as we caught up during a chance meeting at a downtown parade.

I became a CASA volunteer in the spring of 2019, which I had no idea at the time would lead to me taking this position as Victim Services Advocate at Child Watch. And now the alternating melancholy and euphoria that accompany the ups and downs of CASA work intertwine the intoxication of Christmas like stripes on a candy cane.

I’ve known underprivileged and at-risk families before. But nothing prepares you for the feeling you get when you bring a pillowcase with a few toys stuffed in it – things you picked out from the generosity of community donors – and the kid’s eyes light up like “how did you know exactly what I wanted?”

Or when you apologize to a kid for not being able to get the presents to him by Christmas and he turns the sweetest smile on you with a “It’s okay, I think I got too many toys this year already.”

We all know a gift is more than money, more than a material thing. We give gifts of our time, gifts of affection, gifts of experiences. But it’s sometimes hard to think of being a CASA volunteer as a gift. The responsibilities and the technical details and the phone calls and the court hearings, it can all seem pretty job-like at times.

But when you make those home visits, when the kids you start to feel are somehow your own show you those report cards with pride, when you laugh together, when you toss toy airplanes across the room, you realize not just the gift you’re giving, but the gift being given to you.

I appreciate how my work as a CASA may help to change these kids’ stories. And though they may never know it, they’ve changed mine.

To all our volunteers who have slogged through a pandemic with us, creatively used ZOOM and socially distant options when meeting the kids in person wasn’t feasible, stuffed stockings virtually, but continued to give gifts of their time and emotion and dedication, thank you.

To all of our donors and community partners who stocked our Santa’s Workshop with gifts, who embroidered pillowcases and stockings for us, who may never see those kids’ faces light up when they see that special Christmas delivery, we see it and we love you for it.

Happy holidays, from Child Watch and CASA of West Kentucky.

Dave Thompson

Dave Thompson

Victim Services Advocate