Abused and neglected children in foster care often spend years waiting for the juvenile justice system to decide their futures. Determined to make a difference, retired hospital administrator Mark Ott has spent the last six years actively involved in the lives of three of these children as a volunteer with the Capital Area CASA Association. Working within a system that is overburdened and under-resourced, Ott has ensured that his CASA children are given every opportunity at a successful future. Fourteen-year old Larry has had numerous educational and behavioral struggles, which Ott has strived to help him resolve since meeting him six years ago. He has helped to ensure Larry received tutoring, advocated to ensure he was placed at a school more appropriate to his needs, and continues to guide Larry through his teen years.
Ott was also originally assigned as a volunteer to Larry’s older brother, Chad, who was quickly returned to his mother and is no longer in foster care. Ott soon realized, however, that his involvement was critical to the family’s wellbeing although he was no longer officially involved as Chad’s CASA volunteer. He has taken it upon himself for six years not to maintain frequent contact with Chad and his mother, who is severely limited by mental health issues. Ott checks on the short-term worries of whether there are groceries in the house, and stays involved for the long term, making sure the children are prepared for the future. Ott continues to bring Chad grocery shopping each month to teach him about budgeting and has encouraged him to apply for vocational training.
Ott has been an amazingly positive force for change in Larry and Chad’s lives, persistently fighting for their best interests. He refuses to give up on these children, who have been let down so many times in their lives. His results are clear: Larry is a well-adjusted young man who is performing well in school and is happily involved in extracurricular activities. Chad was floundering in school before Ott became involved but Ott worked with school officials to create a more appropriate curriculum for Chad. Once in danger of being a high school dropout, Chad graduated from high school in the summer of 2006 and was named “most improved student.” Amazingly, Ott’s story is not finished. While continuing to advocate and encourage Larry and Chad, Ott took the rare step of taking an additional second CASA case in 2005. He is now advocating for another young man, John, who faces many of the same challenges dealt with by Larry and Chad.
Mark Ott has found a way to make things happen for these children, and has never for one moment let the frustrations of the process or foster care system inhibit his dedication and perseverance. His 2,050 volunteer hours, including countless visits with the children, their foster and biological families, their teachers, their tutors, and their caseworkers have culminated in a crowning achievement: a better life for the children with whom he has worked.