By Fay Kabasu
Mackenzie Johnston, a sophomore at Volunteer State Community College, has received the “Light of Hope” speech award from the Court of Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA).
CASA is a community-involved program that provides support for neglected and abused children. According to CASA, there are 31 programs in 58 counties in Tennessee with nearly 1,000 community volunteers.
“Of all CASA children. 90 percent do not re-enter the child welfare system,” said Johnson.
Johnston, born and raised in Rockdale, Georgia, grew up with a complicated relationship with her biological family.
This resulted in her moving to Franklin, Tennessee to live with her grandmother when she was 16 years old. Johnston soon found herself in the wrong crowd.
“I got into some trouble while my grandmother was out of town, she later turned me over to the state’s custody. She decided she didn’t have the structure to help me with my problems,” said Johnston.
Though Johnston was in a predicament, she was then introduced to members of CASA and sent to foster homes to recover from her past.
On the importance of CASA in her life, Johnston said, “Having a CASA in my life, at this point, was a necessity, because companionship and a genuine connection was exactly what I needed. I felt powerless and alone in my situation, like I had to face the whole world by myself. That was until my CASA came into my life and provided much needed clarity in a time of need.”
When asked how she felt receiving the award, Johnston said, “When I was told that CASA wanted to give me the Light of Hope award, I was shocked and so excited. “I’ve come so far in the past few years and I plan to persevere through whatever life throws my way. This is the start of something amazing. I plan to advocate for CASA and tell my story for years to come.”
Johnston, who is now 19-years-old, is majoring in general studies, but seeks to switch to mass communications.
“All my life I’ve never really known what I wanted to do, until recently, I realized that communicating with people is what I enjoy most and what I’m best at”, said Johnston.
Johnston decided to stay with her current foster home. She is currently an employee at Mister Car Wash, where she gets to work and communicate with people every day. On her free time, she enjoys her “happy place” which, to her, is nature.