Carole Wilder, whose career spans 31 teaching middle-school students and 18 years as a volunteer advocate with youth in foster care, epitomizes the Torah credo that “the true guardians of a community are the teachers.”
She retired recently as a volunteer with CASA of Baltimore County, Inc., a national program with more than 1,000 program offices operating in 49 states, each working with youth who have been placed in foster care due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.
In a recent interview, Wilder explained that working as a CASA volunteer often meant being the only consistent person in a youth’s life during their stay in foster care. “The highlight of working at CASA,” she shared, “was working one on one with these kids, developing relationships as they became teenagers and watching them accomplish their goals.”
Wilder added that one of the most fulfilling aspects of volunteering was “being able to help these kids navigate the world, which sometimes can be really confusing, and being the one constant adult in their lives.”
The 81-year-old resident of Baltimore County is the second-longest serving volunteer after helping out for 18 years.
When Wilder began volunteering with CASA in 2004, she had just retired from 31 years of teaching middle school. She missed interacting with young people, particularly middle-schoolers, who Wilder often found “interesting and funny.”
The mother of two adult daughters and grandmother to two teenagers, Wilder learned about CASA after a presentation on volunteer opportunities by Karen Coleman at her congregation, Temple Emanuel, in 2003. The choice between stuffing envelopes for another organization and working to impact the lives of youth was an easy one for Wilder.
Wilder joined the next volunteer class in 2004, which required 30 hours of training about the foster-care system, how to work with children and how to understand the law.
Her first case was of a young boy acting out at home, and the family, without giving up parental authority, surrendered him to the system. She worked with him until he was 18.
Wilder was born in Baltimore City and lived with her parents around Druid Hill Park. An only child, she attended Fallstaff Elementary School when it was first built, moving on to Garrison Junior High, and graduating from Forest Park High School in 1959.
She remembers a city segregated by both race and religion, pointing out that very few Jews lived anywhere but in northwest Baltimore City at that time.
Wilder’s father died when she was 13. She recalls both of her parents stressing the importance of education, and after her father’s death, of the central role her mother had in her life and in her pursuit of education. She attended Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) for two years, then transferred to then-Towson State College
In the 1950s, Wilder shared, there weren’t so many professional options for women; the choices were mainly nursing, teaching or secretarial work. She loved English and chose a career in teaching.
Wilder taught in Baltimore City for the first few years — first at Rockland Junior High, which doesn’t exist anymore, then at Northwestern High School for a year. She married and had two children, staying at home for a few years and then returning to teaching in 1976 in Baltimore County.
Wilder said she is looking forward to spending more time with her daughters — one in Maryland and one in California — and with her grandchildren, Galit, 15, and Hiram, 14.
Reflecting on her career, Wilder explained: “I felt when teaching school, I taught the world. I always thought I was contributing to the world, even if only one kid took home the lesson. You are given life to add to the world, not to just be. The desire to teach others comes from within me, and maybe I would have been a teacher even if I had had other choices.”