The 2019 Edge Servant Leadership Award Goes to Richard Casias
By: Olivia Abbatiello - Phoenix Fellow
Many people feel the calling to serve. Of those people, there are some who find a way to be of service. And then there are those few men and women, like Richard Casias, who mold their life to serve others and deserve recognition for their service to their community.
Richard was burned in a small airplane crash in Southern Oregon in 1989. He sustained burn injuries on both of his legs, left arm, and left hand. It wasn’t until after his first year in recovery he realized he wasn’t truly living his best life. Richard credits a dear friend named Pam with being the catalyst for catapulting his recovery into a new dimension of thriving. After she gave him a book about coping strategies for burn survivors, everything came into perspective for Richard. “I wanted to get back. I put my life on hold for months, recovering physically and emotionally and that was the light that said ‘here’s a guidance.’”
In 2004, Richard attended his first Phoenix World Burn Congress (WBC) in Raleigh, North Carolina. After overcoming the natural human anxiety of doing something new and unknown, Richard realized he had found an oasis in his recovery. “I recall it was like the first day at a new school,” Richard explained. “It took a lot of courage to attend, but by the end of the first day, I had experienced an incredibly comforting feeling of empathy and friendship from the Phoenix Society staff... I saw how volunteering was a powerful way to give back to the burn community that supported and guided me during this life-changing recovery.”
Since then, Phoenix Society has been a place of healing, thriving and community in Richard’s life. He has assumed positions as a volunteer at Phoenix WBC, serving as a Speaker and Hidden Burn Panel Co-Facilitator, and as a Phoenix Chat Moderator for our weekly online Peer Support Chat. Richard is a trained Phoenix SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) Instructor, the Co-Coordinator in Sacramento, and a SOAR Peer Supporter.
Richard believes the psychological aspect of healing after a burn injury is arguably the most important part of a survivor’s journey through recovery: “In my opinion, which is based on observing and interacting with many other burn survivors over the years, the psychological part of healing is the toughest healing to achieve and maintain. Physical healing is relatively fast by comparison to the years needed for managing one’s anxiety, cognitive skill rebuilding, learning to avoid triggers and manage one’s fears, or teaching supportive friends and family that the burn injury did not change who you are inside or at heart.”
His advice to survivors also relates back to his passion for taking care of the mind in tandem with the physical self. “My one piece of wisdom can be summarized in one word - patience. As a burn survivor, you have sustained a serious trauma; consequently, one needs to develop incredible patience in order to find their ‘new normal.’”
Richard is a wonderful archetype for what it means to be of service to others and is rightfully being recognized as the Edge Servant Leadership Award recipient for 2019. When asked how it felt to be acknowledged by the burn community, Richard expressed his adoration for the man for who it is named after. “Although I did not know Tom Edge very well, I will always remember him as a shining light at Phoenix WBC and as the ‘smiling ambassador of hugs.’ I believe this award is a testament to the life-changing experience that is Phoenix WBC. I consider this award to be a positive validation that dedication to helping others is a truly humbling feeling.”
When asked what keeps him thriving, Richard had a simple, but profound answer. “As a burn survivor, I continue to thrive on the fact that I was given a second chance at life. I appreciated early on that life is too short to surround myself with significant negativity. I work hard to always look for the bright side of personal interactions, challenging life situations, or working under ‘impossible odds’ of success.”
2019 Edge Servant Leadership Award Winner
The Edge Servant Leadership Award recognizes an individual who is a selfless leader in the community and works hard in a volunteer capacity for the benefit of others. There is no question that Richard Casias embodies this and more. We here at Phoenix Society are thankful for his dedication to service and look forward to many years to come with him as a trusted ally, mentor and pillar of strength for the community.