Austin mom Jennifer Lynch has two very different daughters. Olivia, 19, and Grace, 16, are the muses for her children’s book, "Livi & Grace."
As the book describes: "Liv is neat and tidy, with perfectly styled hair; Grace is wild and playful, and she overflows with flair."
The book delivers the message of appreciating that we are all unique, we are all different, and that’s not a bad thing.
"Livi & Grace," she says, is about "loving your uniqueness."
Lynch, who worked as a special education teacher and English as a second language teacher, has been on a long quest to give children this message: "You are good."
She even created a children’s T-shirt line with an image of angel wings and the message "You Are Good" on them.
The idea of the You Are Good T-shirts came after Lynch became a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, in 2003 when she was pregnant with youngest daughter Grace.
The kids she would represent in court when the state was trying determine the best guardian for them would ask her, "Why do you like me? Why are you helping me?" she says.
Some would describe themselves using horrible words that other people had used for them, she says. "I just started saying, ’You are good.’"
"I would pick out where they could shine. ’What a great artist you are.’ I would help them find these good things. How are you unique? What is your uniqueness? This is what makes you special."
The clothing line, which she started in 2008, she says, was "the tangible thing to remind them."
Other CASA organizations would buy T-shirts to give to their clients. Churches would buy them to take on mission trips.
Lynch is now working on reviving the You Are Good line. She put it aside in 2010 while going through "my own little private divorce and healing."
She’s been remarried for two years.
The world she encountered with CASA and the world before that when she interned at a rape crisis center and a child protection center was very different from the "very protective" world where she grew up in Waco. Her father was the sheriff in McLennan County.
"My dad was the Clint Eastwood in Waco," she says.
"When I started interning and kids would tell me these stories, it blew my mind," she says. Yet she felt drawn to them. "These are the people I want to serve."
After graduation in 1994, she got a job in Austin lobbying for initiatives like Save Our Springs and zoning restrictions to keep Austin from turning into Houston.
While working in events for these initiatives, she met people from CASA and decided to become an advocate.
"When you are in court or with that child on a play date, you are your best self for them," she says. And then when she would leave court or after a meeting, "I cried my eyes out on the way home in the car."
She has served as an advocate for 28 kids so far.
Those cases can last a year or more. Now she’s taking early family engagement cases that last a week and assess if the kids have been placed in a good home or if they need to be moved.
It gives her more flexibility to travel and do other work with these short-term assignments. "It lets me still be a CASA without ever failing them," she says.
The training she has received with CASA has helped inform her as a parent.
"It’s more tools for my mom toolbox," she says. Her fellow advocates talk about their cases, but then they also talk about their own kids. "I’m so blessed to have so many people in my toolbox.
While her daughters will never meet any of the kids she’s advocated for, she’s helped her daughters understand why she’s needed to be there for another kid, and it gives them all perspective.
Before the coronavirus, Lynch was doing a lot of readings at schools to promote the book. She’s created a toolbox for teachers and parents to go along with the book.
"It’s more than a cute children’s book," she says. "It has resources and tools to help teach kids who they are."
She’s thinking the next book in the "Livi & Grace" series will be about a problem that the sisters need to solve together.
Her own daughters have given her feedback on the book, like, "I would never wear that; that’s what my grandmother would wear," or "Why is my hair in heart buns on every page?"
Mostly, they recognize themselves in the characters.
When Lynch reads the book to kids, they absolutely believe these are real people. At the end of the book, the Livi and Grace characters write love notes to the readers. "The book says Livi and Grace love me no matter what," she says kids will tell her. "They absolutely believe it."
"I think it actually gives them some hope," she says.