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Eight years ago, a retired sales manager took an angry, boisterous 12-year-old boy for a walk around the grounds of the Valley of the Moon Children's Home.

Total strangers, neither would have expected that they would later sit like old friends, elbow-to-elbow at a Lyons Restaurant off Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa.

"I thought he was old and weird," said Andy Wagner, now 20.

"I lived up to that, don't you think?" said Bob Chapman, 68, of Sonoma.

The two laughed and knocked elbows. Wagner launched into a cheeseburger as Chapman, a retired 3M salesman who now works in a wine-tasting room, sipped a cup of decaf.

Eight years ago, Chapman signed up to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteer. After an intensive training program, he looked at a list of children determined to have been abused and neglected and therefore thrust into child protective services.

He chose Wagner.

The two got off to a rocky start.

Wagner tried to get Chapman to buy him expensive gifts, like a laptop computer. He tried to get Chapman to let him drive his car.

Chapman held his ground against the precocious boy: their relationship couldn't be about money, he said.

Children like Wagner have good reason to mistrust adults, said Millie Gilson, CASA's executive director. It takes time for them to trust people. CASA volunteers are required to make two-year commitments to visiting the child weekly and writing twice yearly reports to the family court judge in charge of the child's case.

"I remember when Bob told me about the first time Andy called him. That was a real milestone for this child to reach out," Gilson said.

Since they first met, Chapman has seen Wagner through more than a dozen different foster homes, a number of fights and a brief arrest, though no charges were filed.

"I talked to Bob about all of this stuff," Wagner said.

"As his situation got worse, his coping skills got better," Chapman said.

Their bond was tested when Chapman told the court he didn't think Wagner should move back in with his mother. He thought Wagner, then 15, would be better off in the foster care system.

Chapman pulled Wagner aside before the hearing and told him he didn't think she was ready to care for him.

"It was hard to hear," Wagner said. "But he discussed it with me before (the hearing). And I knew the risks involved with returning to my mother."

Unlike judges, social workers or foster parents who must balance other case loads, Chapman's only job was advocating for the boy's best interest, he said.

"The thing that makes it work is you're there on a regular basis. You show up," Chapman said.

Wagner agrees. "I saw Bob once every two weeks, and I saw the social worker maybe twice in a year," he said.

At times throughout the eight years, Chapman thought he might be ready to end his work with CASA. Ultimately, he didn't because he can't help but wonder what turns the bright, outgoing young man's life will take.

Wagner is working in the laundry room of a convalescent home and building websites with a friend. He hopes to study computer science. Life hasn't been "a bowl of cherries" since he became an emancipated adult at age 18.

No matter, Chapman said. He'll stick with the young man regardless.

"I realized I want to see what becomes of him," Chapman said.

You can reach staff writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.