Ada Nieminen first signed up to volunteer with CASA Mental Health in February 2020.
“I thought I would do a couple years of volunteering while I finished my degree, but COVID had different plans.”
More than two years and a completed psychology degree later, Ada finally had her first volunteer shift with CASA. She’s more than made up for lost time, giving 75 hours of her time to CASA in the past year.
Ada helps run a weekly arts and crafts class for patients at CASA House. She has also helped with childminding for CASA’s FASTRACS program, has contributed to clinical operations research, and worked at events and fundraisers including selling 50/50 tickets at the Oilers Hockey Talks game.
What motivated you to get involved as a volunteer with CASA specifically?
“Doing my psychology degree, I knew a little about CASA… but I wasn’t fully aware of the breadth of the programs and the actual impact. I thought that would be a great place to get my feet wet and see what child psychology is all about, and it turns out that’s true!
There are always people trying new things to help programs and volunteer opportunities progress so it’s really dynamic. There’s always fun things going on and it’s a fresh way to look at child and youth mental health.
I find a lot of meaning and fulfillment in volunteering. I really enjoy working with kids; they’re just so fun and so honest. But also, when they’re struggling with something you can sit with them and help them regulate, and then play on the sandbox together. It gives you the feeling like ‘I can help, I can do something to teach kids what safety feels like.'”
What moment stands out to you from your time as a volunteer at CASA?
“The program at CASA House runs for 16 weeks and the kids graduate at the end. Now that we’ve been there consistently for a year, we’ve seen a lot of kids when they first come in and then when they leave. There was one particular kid and they were so shy and didn’t know how to ask for help with the crafts. Watching them go from staring at their hands to feeling more comfortable expressing themselves and having conversations was so fulfilling.
When they were graduating out of the program, the kid actually came up to me and told me that they really loved the art classes and it was something they looked forward to every week. I had to hold back tears to congratulate and high five them.
It was a precious moment and I don’t even know if they knew how much it meant to me. I thought it was so, so sweet.”
How do you take care of your mental health?
“I view mental health in a very holistic way. I know how things like physical injuries or external things like a messy house affect my mental health so I try to take care of them. Now that I have my dog Eddy, I’m outdoors for an hour-plus every day which helps a ton. And I love sleep! I’m such an advocate that sleep is one of the greatest parts of life. I notice when I don’t get a good night’s sleep it puts me in a grumpy mood and then it’s a vicious cycle so I try to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.”
If you were a superhero, what would your super power be?
“What were Wonder Woman’s powers? I’d take hers. The Lasso of Truth sounds pretty good and would be helpful with my dog like ‘what’s in your mouth?’ I idolized Wonder Woman in her movie because she was so kind and wanted to help everyone right their wrongs.”
For more information on becoming a CASA volunteer like Ada, visit casamentalhealth.org/volunteer!