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Karla Aguilar is a former foster child who came into protective custody at the age of 16 after years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.

"I always had the mentality -- every time that I got beat up, I would never speak up. I thought that was my family and I was not going to snitch on them," Karla said. "And I was like, just one more time, it's gonna happen. It was okay. I'm gonna get over it."

Once in the custody of the state, Annette was appointed as Karla's CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Volunteer and someone she could trust.

"I just listened," Annette said. "Every time that she wanted to talk with me about it [or anything.] Just listened to her about it and standing to the side, too, and praying for her and for her healing."

Not only did she show Karla compassion, Annette was also a constant in her life, inviting Karla to important events, like her daughter's wedding. No matter how many times Karla moved from foster home to foster home, she could always count on Annette's support.

"She was the person that would come and take me out, and I could just vent with her without having to worry what's she gonna think about me. 'Is she still gonna like me? Still gonna trust me?' So she was just that person I could trust," Karla said.

Now 23, Karla is in college and working toward her degree in criminal justice. As she reflects on the past, she acknowledges something profound.

"I owe [Annette] so much," she said, with a warm smile. "Just the fact I have kept myself together and how I kept myself out of trouble and from depression and being bitter toward my mom. You know she has filled that spot."

"That's humbling, to know that you can effect someone - especially that's not in your family like that," Annette said with tears rolling down her face.

Karla is sharing her painful story because she wants others to know that there are children in our community who need an "Annette" in their life.

"She marked my experience through foster care, and thanks to them, I see foster care as a blessing," she said. "I see it as something positive that happened in my life. I wish every foster kid would have somebody like her, because it changed my life."

To learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer, click here.

E-mail cizaguirre@wfaa.com

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