How Elmer Harris looks past behavior problems to find a path forward for troubled boys

Kids who have been traumatized by abuse or neglect will often have behavioral problems. Then, they might find themselves in a catch-22 because their behavioral problems can cause them to be moved from foster home to foster home, resulting in further trauma.

This is the situation a teenage boy in southern Colorado found himself last year when he was moved to a residential treatment center. This specific boy has a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, Elmer Harris, who hopes to show him a path out of the chaos.

“Trauma causes you to react,” Harris said. “Sometimes you can get so caught up in the behavior that it is hard to look beyond that. You have to look from the perspective of what happened to a young man, not from the perspective of his behavior.”

That’s the approach Harris is taking with his CASA teen. He has been developing a relationship with the boy for several months now and has reassured him that he’ll stay in his corner throughout his time in the child welfare system.

“He’s gone through so much being removed from his home, dealing with different people, having lawyers, and people coming in and out of his life,” Harris said. “I hope he sees me as that consistent person who is always there and I already told me he’s not going to be able to get rid of me.”

After 22 years in the military, Harris retired from the U.S. Air Force around 2008 and decided to go after a career he had long wanted – teaching.  That life decision proved invaluable to his future CASA work as he is able to draw upon fifth grade and special education teaching experience when working with traumatized youth.

Harris presently teaches early childhood education courses at Metropolitan State University of Denver which is where he first discovered CASA. One of his students presented on CASA for a community resources project and the professor put it in the back of his mind. Then, when he saw an advertisement for CASA of the Pikes Peak Region’s “Dudes & Brews” male volunteer recruitment event, he jumped on the opportunity.

“I always felt it was important to be involved with volunteer work ever since I was a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program,” he said.

Harris was sworn in as a CASA volunteer this past December and he jumped right into first case, determined to help prepare his CASA teen to enter society as an adult in just a few short years.

“I think we all want people to parent well and for children to be exposed to positive adults,” he said “But there are some kids where that’s not the case and we can step in to be that consistent factor in a kid’s life. Guys like to fix things. Although you’re not fixing a kid, you’re addressing an issue that caused them to be in a situation.”

When Elmer isn’t wearing his professor hat or his CASA hat, you might find him riding his motorcycle, hitting the slopes for some fresh powder, or spending time with his wife and daughter.

CASA is seeking more men to carve out time in their own busy schedules to work with abused or neglected boys. These boys need positive male role models like Elmer Harris. If you can show a boy what it looks like to be a safe and responsible adult man, consider checking out CASA volunteer opportunities and join Elmer on his mission to show young men a healthy path forward.