A jazz vocalist since 1979, Dallas CASA volunteer Gabe Meadows, a marketing executive, is currently advocating for four teenage boys in two different cases. Whether he’s singing Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder or Al Jarreau, Meadows says jazz may be his love but serving kids in need is his life’s work. A big brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America for almost 38 years, Meadows felt called to reach out to kids who needed even more so he became a Dallas CASA volunteer in 2014.
Do you have one moment that showed you the value of a CASA?
The boys on my first case asked me on our first outing with them to take them to their father’s gravesite. It was an extraordinary request for sure, particularly for a first outing. But the boys and I made it happen together after we sought permission from Child Protective Services. Although their mother had told me which cemetery held the gravesite, neither boy knew exactly where the gravesite was or how to get there, but we found it.
I was not only surprised by the request but then further surprised at the maturity of these boys as they encountered their father in that way. They were reflective but not somber. They took pride in the site looking good and being well cared-for. It reminded me how much we need to see things from the children’s perspectives, not ours.
What do you tell friends who say that being a CASA sounds too difficult?
Well, first of all, I don’t advertise I’m a Dallas CASA volunteer a lot. But if people do ask, I tell them I don’t have a choice. My father left when I was ten, and I grew up poor with my mom and six siblings in squalor in government housing. I know the pain, I know the hurt, and I know the disappointment when all the other kids have parents who come to school events and you don’t, although my mom made all she could. I’ve been helped by so many along the way that I just don’t have a choice about giving back.
What challenges have you experienced as a CASA?
I wish some of the facilities these children reside in, whether temporarily or long term, could see them more as individuals and not hold them to so many rules and unrealistic standards. These kids have been through so much, but then they are too often held to a standard most suburban kids don’t even meet. The way I see it is they get in trouble for doing things that were some of the least transgressive things I did as a kid. But I tell them every time that while they may not like the rules, they’ve got to follow them anyway. “I, too, must abide by the rules,” I tell them.
How do you connect with teenage boys?
Well, my boys know I will go wherever they go. I will be there – whether I have to fly, walk or skateboard to get there – until they are in a permanent home. And I tell them I will never lie to them, and I don’t. I stay in touch with them often, both face to face and via telephone. We talk a lot! We may talk about sports or whatever else they want to talk about. It doesn’t really matter if we’re into the same things. If they see me often like they do and if I’m honest with them, as I am, we connect.
I am quick to confess to them that I do not know how they feel or totally understand what they’re going through. I had a pretty tough childhood, but my life was a bed of roses compared to them. No one can know what they feel inside or how they have been impacted by the past. I can only imagine. So I’m here to listen to them, protect their interests and guide them around obstacles.