& Free Trip to Margaritaville
After almost 40 years of unrelenting hard work to earn a living, most people would hastily and enthusiastically retire to their couch and TV, their favorite fishing hole, or other place of repose to spend their remaining years in unchallenged comfort and peace. Not so with Chris Supan. In his own words, “The good Lord guided me into a retirement of servanthood.” The good Lord found His man (and woman, as wife Cindy has done the same). Dare we peek in and see what real servanthood looks like? Let’s open that door now and meet Chris Supan.
Please share a brief bio, including why Huntsville was chosen for your retirement years.
My wife Cindy and I lived in Houston for our entire married life, almost 50 years now. I worked for Fluor Corporation for almost 40 years, retiring in 2011. Cindy taught elementary school in Ft. Bend and retired in 2008. We had promised ourselves a quieter life away from the big city upon retirement and found Huntsville to be the perfect place. It is peaceful here, yet near our children and grandchildren in the Houston area. I enjoy fishing and golfing, and we both are active in our church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
Who or what brought you into the world of volunteerism, and where do you serve?
Cindy began serving as a CASA volunteer in October 2012, and I was always interested in her work. Of course, her work was confidential, so she could never share details, but I knew it gave her great satisfaction. A volunteer is called a Court Appointed Special Advocate®, or CASA. I became a volunteer in 2013, and it is a decision I have never regretted.
What criteria must CASA volunteers meet?
For those who may be interested in becoming an advocate, an overview of the program called CASA 101 is taught by Janet Davidson, Training Coordinator. For attendees who accept the role of advocate, 20 hours of high-quality training are provided through in-class and online training, reading assignments, and monitoring actual court cases. Once a person becomes an advocate, twelve hours of additional training are required each year. We have an incredible CASA Director, Kimberly Weiser, and an outstanding group of office personnel who support us. The local CASA covers three counties–Walker, San Jacinto, and Trinity–and I had the opportunity to serve on the Board for six years.
What responsibilities do you have in your role as Advocate?
It’s quite simple. As an advocate, I am to work in the best interest of the child or children. I am responsible to interact with everyone on the case, which includes parents, attorneys, Child Protective Services (CPS) workers, counselors, physicians, the judge, and others. My job is to consider all the information and facts of the case and to make a recommendation I believe to be in the best interest of the child. And although the attorney ad litem shares with me the wishes of the child, there are times when my recommendation is not what the child wishes. As unpopular as it may be, I must stand by my decision.
Has this volunteer responsibility been fulfilling to you?
It is not about fulfillment for me, but I would rather say it gives me great satisfaction to know that I have helped a child move into a better life. For example, I helped one boy over a seven-year period. The average length of time for a case is usually 12-18 months, but this one took much longer. Over time, I was able to develop a trusting relationship with this young man through playing football and other activities. Within CASA, the guidelines call for visitations with the child(ren) once a month where the placement is within an hour’s distance, quarterly where the driving distance is 1-3 hours, and annually if more than 3 hours away. Cindy and I have always made monthly visits, regardless of distance, except for a case we shared where the kids were in Brownsville. For the child I had seven years, it was important to me to make sure he knew I was there for him, no matter the driving distance. From the age of six through twelve, he had thirteen placements. I was the only constant and stable influence in his life. He was finally adopted into a wonderful family, and we were thrilled to receive a Christmas card showing a picture of him with his new family. He had a huge smile on his face. Why do I serve as a CASA volunteer? That’s why.
You also serve in the Kairos prison ministry. Please give a brief description of what this ministry is.
Kairos means “God’s special time.” Kairos, the ministry, is found across the nation and globally. It is very active in Texas, and events are scheduled in over fifty percent of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice units. Both Cindy and I are heavily involved in this ministry. Ed Davis and Mike Gary (long-time Kairos volunteers) got me involved for the Wynne Unit, and Cindy quickly followed with her commitment to the Hobby Unit.
The goal of Kairos is to serve the spiritual needs of incarcerated men and women by bringing them God’s word and love while inside. It is equally important our teams feel this love not only for God, but for each other. An event usually involves forty-two inmates who, based on specific criteria, have been chosen to attend. The attendees are divided into groups and have meals and discussions within this framework. Each “family” group is named after an apostle or other Biblical personality, and three Kairos volunteers serve within each group. Over a three-and-a-half-day period, the inmates are showered with cookies and food, a factor which many of them later admit drew them to the event. They also admit to coming away with so much more than food!
What is your role in this ministry?
I go into the prison unit with other Kairos volunteers, and we lead a well-planned and progressive program that, step-by-step, seeks to help the inmate understand his relationship with God and how God stands ready to forgive him because of what Christ did on the cross in the inmate’s behalf. We encourage them to examine themselves, to accept themselves as they are, and to accept forgiveness. Many of them have never forgiven themselves. They are paying the consequences for their actions and trying to become better human beings. They are learning they must forgive themselves and others.
How do volunteers train for this ministry role?
Working as a Kairos volunteer involves a deep level of commitment and training. Generally, before COVID-19 was a factor, we had two events at each prison per year. Prior to an event, there are five day-long training sessions during which we become acquainted with team members and are thoroughly briefed on the information to be shared. Additionally, the TDCJ Volunteer training and background check is required. The full-day training and background check must be retaken every two years for access into the prison for this ministry. Let me also say that the Kairos ministry involves more than just the yearly events. After a weekend, these men and women can gather weekly with Kairos free world team members and other Kairos graduates for an inmate-led Prayer & Share session. And, once a month, we have reunions where all inmate Kairos graduates and free world team members participate.
What impact have you seen as a result of the Kairos ministry?
The transformed lives and astounding testimonies bring such a satisfaction to us, and watching the spread of Christianity within the prison walls is exciting. Many inmates repent of sin and trust Christ as their Savior. We also see inmates who are finally able to forgive themselves and forgive or ask forgiveness from others. Those who attend have now established relationships with others within the prison population, and these friendships can develop and grow as they study God’s word together.
What advice would you give to others wanting to volunteer in these ministries?
Volunteering in any organization or in any capacity involves a deep level of commitment, dedication, and time. These are serious endeavors affecting people’s lives, so one’s commitment to training and understanding the responsibility is huge.
You and your wife have become instruments of good in Huntsville, with the scope of your volunteer work reaching wide and deep into this community. What are your future plans?
Our plans are to keep doing what we are doing. Unfortunately, since Covid-19 arrived, we have not been able to go into the prisons for any Kairos ministry. Instead, our communication with inmates has been limited to letters and Christmas cards. With regard to CASA visits, this has been an ever-changing process. During the pandemic, we have had periods of no face-to-face visits and such visits being optional at our discretion. Cindy and I have done both and continue to make this decision each month. Please understand…there are many folks in Walker County and Huntsville who do more volunteer work than we do. We are fortunate to be retired and able to give these ministries the time they deserve. Thanks for the opportunity to share about CASA and Kairos, and we pray others will see the value in giving their time, talent, or treasure.