Lisa Dixon

Lisa Dixon Photo.jpg

1.     What made you decide to become a CASA?

Well, I wanted to volunteer somewhere. I've always had a passion for disadvantaged youth and adults. I kept searching my heart about how to volunteer in that capacity. Then one day, I saw the television commercial about becoming a court appointed advocate on behalf of children in the foster care system. A light bulb went off! I said to myself, "That’s it! I want to do that!” I applied, interviewed, went through training, and here I am.

2.     What is your professional/volunteer background?

I was in the U. S. Army and we had a little joke about volunteering. We said that if you're ever asked to volunteer, then do it because then you get to watch everyone else participate after you volunteered! It was true. So, volunteering stayed in my blood. I volunteer at work and at church. I just raise my hand instinctively even without knowing the task and it's been more favorable for me than not. For me, the blessing is in the giving back. There is something to be said about doing something for others without receiving a monetary reward! It just works.
 

3.     What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a CASA?

I would highly recommend it. It's rewarding not so much because of what a CASA does, but more so because of the value that is placed on what you do. You give of yourself, your time, and your ability to care about someone other than yourself. I would tell them part of the reward is just in getting you off your own mind and thinking about someone else's needs.
 

4.     What has been the most challenging part of being a CASA?

The most challenging part of being a CASA for me has been the sacrifice of my own time. I'm really selfish with my own time and I'm a strict time manager. So, being a CASA forces you to work around the schedule of others in so many, many instances. It's been a blessing as well because I didn't know I would or could sacrifice my precious selfish time and not mind doing it.
 

5.     What has been the most rewarding part of being a CASA?

The most rewarding part of being a CASA is the blessing of not having myself on my mind. As a CASA, you're forced to allow your needs, time, and concerns to take a back seat. And once you do that, you are grateful to be able to meet someone else's needs. It's self-gratifying to meet the needs of someone so very less fortunate than myself.
 

6.     Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your CASA experience?

Being a CASA is so selfless. It's amazing the character it builds and enhances in a person. No value can be placed on the work of a CASA. Or, the reward received from being one. It's been a real blessing for me. I really love it because I'm not on my mind!! Thank you for the opportunity to experience this blessing.

Casework Supervisor, April Bolden says: "Lisa Dixon has been a wonderful addition to our team of Advocates! She has been very proactive on her case and has developed rapport with all of the parties and the family. Lisa is not afraid to reach out to me if she has any questions or concerns, and is always wanting to learn more and help as much as she can. She has a very bright, engaging personality with a beautiful smile to match!"

Sheila Austin

Casework Supervisor, Chuck Gilliatt wrote: “I come back from vacation and my Team Lead, who was covering for me, tells me about something that happened in court. My advocate was waiting for her case to be called and her attention was drawn to another hearing on the docket. The child was present in court. The judge had heard from the parties about the ordeal this teenage girl was going through, then spoke to her in the judge’s chambers. The two emerged with tears in their eyes. This advocate was so moved by what she had seen and heard that she immediately asked to be assigned as the CASA for that child. She already had two cases.

That advocate is Sheila Austin. 

Sheila completed pre-service training on September 30, 2011. Since then she has had six cases, all teenage girls. As a former foster child herself she wants to be the advocate for these girls that she did not have during those difficult times. Her personal experiences have helped her empathize with foster children, to listen and clearly communicate their needs to the court, caseworkers and attorneys. Sheila’s dedication and persistence has made a big difference in the lives of these girls. She has an unwavering focus on the needs of the child and does whatever is required to serve the child’s best-interests. In court, she has a depth of knowledge and compassion that is respected by the Judge and all parties to the case. 

Thank you Sheila for your passion, perseverance and long-term commitment to foster children in need. I am blessed to be able to work with you, but more so are the children whose lives you touch.”

1.     What made you decide to become a CASA?

When I was a child I was in the foster care system in another state. My experiences with the various foster families that I lived with ranged from very negative to very positive. As a result of these experiences, it is my passion to be the advocate for foster children that I did not have available to me.
 

2.     What is your professional/volunteer background?

Before joining CASA I was a Realtor with RE/MAX. Prior to being a Realtor I worked in accounts payable for a local company in Arlington, TX. While raising our children I was an active parent with all of my children's activities like PTA and sports/booster clubs. After our children graduated I began working in the Women's Ministry as a Secretary at our church and I lead a women's bible study.
 

3.     What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a CASA?

Being a CASA is a rewarding yet challenging opportunity to serve those that need a voice in our community. To do this effectively, you need to be able to put yourself in these children's shoes and to be able to listen and clearly communicate their needs to the court, caseworkers and Ad Litems. It is also important for the advocate to have their own support system such as other advocates that can be leaned on for guidance and emotional support.
 

4.     What has been the most challenging part of being a CASA?

With the overwhelming needs in our community, there are times when the resources and systems are also overwhelmed.  Being an advocate sometimes requires persistence in making sure your foster child's needs are met with the right resources.
 

5.     What has been the most rewarding part of being a CASA?

Knowing that I have been a small part in helping a child either find a forever home or return to a more healthy home that will provide the protection and love that every child deserves.
 

6.     Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your CASA experience?

Besides the joy of being able to help children through a very difficult time in their life, I'm very blessed to have met and worked with some incredible people that have a true heart for children.

Sylvia Barrett

1.     What made you decide to become a CASA?
I have a (long time) dear friend, who was a CASA Advocate for many years.  She was passionate about helping the children she had been assigned.  She visited their daycare centers, schools, homes, playgrounds, etc.  She also attended Court Hearings and was present for parent visitations.  In all of her dealings; she kept one focus "what is best for this child?".

After I retired from teaching, a speaker came to the Arlington Retired Teachers Association to talk to our group about CASA.  Hearing the need for more volunteers, I decided to look into it.

Based upon my friend's deep commitment to her CASA children, this speaker, and the information I received at the first meeting I attended; I decided to pursue this volunteer opportunity. 

2.     What is your professional/ volunteer background?
I taught Elementary School for almost 4 decades in the Arlington Independent School District.

3.     What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a CASA?
I would encourage someone considering this role, to make a commitment to "be there" for the children assigned to him/her.  What that looks like may change as the children's situaton changes.  For "my 5 children" that means showing up at their schools (to attend events or eat lunch with them or attend conferences), reading to them on a regular basis, playing board games with them during our home placement visits, or helping the child with a school project.  Each case is different.  Each child will have different needs.  The common strand; is that ALL children need to feel accepted, valued, and cherished (no matter what age the child may be).
 

4.     What has been the most challenging part of being a CASA?
The most challenging part of being a CASA Advocate, for me,  is the lack of a "shared vision" among all the agencies involved with the child.  There does not appear to be a common goal of all working together and communicating openly for the best interests of the child. While I assume we are all "on the same team" and pulling together for the child; that does not always seem to be the case. 

5.     What has been the most rewarding part of being a CASA?
Working with my Supervisor, Ms. Sarah Barker, has been a huge asset.  She is always supportive of my "best intentions" for my 5 children and gently guides me to see the "whole picture".  While I am not familiar with all the legal proceedings and expectations from CPS; she is always willing to give me the facts and explain the "whys" of my questions.  She has the patience of a saint!

In addition; the Lunch Bunch trainings are awesome!  I try to attend these each month so I can stay current on the latest developments in Foster Care/CPS.  The speakers are knowledgeable and offer a wide variety of topics that impact our children in Foster Care.  It is also an opportunity to see fellow CASA advocates for a brief time.

6.     Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or the CASA experience?
Because of my strong educational background; I am very focused on my 5 children's education.  Being in Foster Care, many times these children are overlooked or unrepresented.  They often have many "gaps" in their learning due to excessive moves or lack of attendance.  Once the children are in Foster Care; they attend school regularly.  However, the "gaps" in their learning creates a challenging situation for teachers, Foster parents, and the children.  When schools know that someone is going to be there on a regular basis and check on the children; there tends to be a higher level of awareness about addressing the educational needs of the children in Foster Care.  I have had the opportunity to meet some outstanding school counselors and teachers (across the grade levels) who truly invest in meeting the individual needs of children in Foster Care.  Simply knowing that a teacher cares and is actively involved in the daily routine at school, makes a huge, positive difference for my 5 children. 

“Sylvia has been an advocate for two years.  She has had one extremely difficult case with five children. Sylvia has been with these children through changes in placement and school as the most consistent person on this case. While the two youngest children have been adopted, the three older children remain in care, in a relative placement.  Sylvia meets at least quarterly with each child’s teacher to advocate for the children’s educational needs.  Sylvia has been such a dedicated advocate. Her passion to help the children on her case is absolutely inspirational.”—Sylvia's Supervisor, Sarah Barker

Mike and Graciela Chase

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Quote from Team Lead, Jaime Hernandez: “Michael and Graciela Chase were one of my first assigned advocates when I began working at CASA as a casework supervisor. From the very beginning, after assigning their first case, they displayed an unparalleled commitment to the welfare of the children and the family in their case. The family they were working with spoke only Spanish and were in need of a lot of support to navigate the CPS system. Michael and Graciela went above and beyond by staying with the family through the different appointments, helping themfigure out cumbersome government paperwork and aggressively advocating for acquiring a wheelchair that one of the children so urgently needed. Michael and Graciela visited the children almost bi-weekly and worked closely with the relative placement to insure the safety of the children. They communicated consistently with all parties in the case. More specifically they talked with therapists and doctors, counselors and attorneys as well as the CPS caseworker to ensure the needs of the children were met in full. Their caring attitude, professional demeanor and tireless advocacy sets them apart.”

1.     What made you decide to become a CASA?
Mike: Two years ago we invited recently retired friends from Denton County for dinner. During dinner, I asked one of them what he was doing during retirement. He said he was a CASA Volunteer in Denton County. As a bilingual (Spanish) person he said that bilingual volunteers are badly needed and in short supply. He recommended that I, also bilingual in Spanish, attend an information session. I then signed up for an information session and talked my wife, Graciela, into going with me. Long story short, after the session we agreed to sign up as a team to work multi-children cases. 

Graciela: Mike decided to go to the information session and of course he talked me into going with him. I learned about the worthwhile services CASA provides to neglected and abused kids and decided to be part of it. I feel very blessed in my life and I want to give some back.

2.     What is your professional/volunteer background?
Once we retired, I became an investor in real estate and natural resources. Additionally, while in college, I took two years off and accepted a Peace Corps assignment to Guatemala (1963-1965). Before retirement Graciela worked in courseware design and development of technical training for several companies. In April 2016, we completed the CASA training and began our first case involving four young bilingual children. This case was completed the end of January 2017.  We started our second case of four bilingual children in April of 2017. 

3.     What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a CASA?
Take action; sign up for an information session; and be open and flexible to any situation you may
encounter because every case is different.

4.     What has been the most challenging part of being a CASA?
Understanding the variety of services available through CPS and Human Services to the relatives who agreed to accept the children into their family all of a sudden. Accredited Foster parents know this stuff already. But Grandma and Grandma of children have no clue and do not always understand child welfare. Additional training in this area would have been helpful. 

5.     What has been the most rewarding part of being a CASA?
Seeing the happiness on the faces of the relatives and children when the court awarded permanent managing custodian (PMC) status. Also, seeing the kids thrive and little by little get better with their new family.

6.     Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your CASA experience?
Continue to learn and pray for guidance.

Richelle Tilghman

1.     What made you decide to become a CASA?
Before I had ever heard of CASA and the wonderful work they do, there was always a sense of helplessness when I would hear terrible stories on the news of neglected children or the needs of foster care children.  I knew I wanted to help but had no idea how and the scope just seemed so large it was hard to see how one person could make a difference. Enter a friend who invited me to her company’s fundraiser which was benefitting CASA. Once I learned what this incredible organization does, I knew this was exactly what I needed to do to help the kids of my community.

2.     What is your professional/volunteer background?
I have been a makeup artist for sixteen years and a proud mom for seven.

3.     What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a CASA?
Go to an information session! Being a CASA volunteer isn’t for everyone but more people are suited for it than they might think. These children in care need someone who is a consistent presence, someone to speak up for their needs. It doesn’t take much time but can make all the difference in the trajectory of a child’s life. We can’t wait around and hope someone else will step in and help—it is up to us to get into the fray and do what we can to make our little part of the world a better place.

4.     What has been the most challenging part of being a CASA?
Realizing firsthand the system isn’t perfect has been incredibly frustrating. Decisions are sometimes made without your child’s best interest in mind despite your best efforts.

5.     What has been the most rewarding part of being a CASA?
There isn’t a better feeling in the world than your kiddo finally getting a forever home, whether that’s back home with his mom who has worked so hard to come back stronger and better than before or getting officially adopted by the family that has loved her like their own since the first day she came into their home as a tiny foster baby.

6.     Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your CASA experience?Being a CASA for the past four years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am extraordinarily proud to be a part of this organization.

“Richelle is an exceptional CASA Advocate, she has been Advocating  for more than 4 years. For the 7 months that I have been working with Richelle, I have admired the dedication that she has for the children. Richelle is a strong-willed person and does not hesitate to voice her concerns in court for the best interest of the children.  As a Casework Supervisor I am fortunate to be working with an Advocate such as Richelle. “—Mayra Guzman, Casework Supervisor

Nicole Clark

Spring is in the air, and so is a wave of transition and change. We all adjust ourselves to the warmer weather and face looming pre-summer deadlines, but on the whole, transition is a calm, expected part of life. Not so lucky are the many children in our own county who face countless uncontrollable transitions every day, from being shuffled between schools to being shuffled between homes. The level of uncertainty these children face is unimaginable for most of us, but for CASA advocate Nicole Clark, 31, it is a reality she sees in her casework regularly.

“Things get misplaced in the many transitions,” Clark said of children in foster care who she serves as a CASA.

“In school, they deal with homework, then there’s STARR testing coming up, and then there are medical concerns like keeping up with glasses.”

Often-times children in care are facing transitions that keep them from succeeding in school. Clark explained the importance of recognizing the needs of children in care that might otherwise fall through the cracks.

“Child Protective Services does everything they can, but having a CASA means someone is paying attention to those children on an individual level.”

CASA provides an important opportunity for these children: nearly one on one attention throughout their entire time removed from their homes. When a child on one of her two cases celebrated a birthday recently, Clark mentioned how valuable CASA was to the child. Along with another advocate assigned to the case, Clark made sure that the birthday was personalized and special to the child.

 “[The child] was just ecstatic to get gifts from people who really knew [the child],” Clark said. “Most of the time if a child in care gets a birthday present, it’s something out of a grab bag, but we were able to give [the child] something special and personal.”

Clark’s Casework Supervisor, Amanda Spharler, considers Clark a model advocate at CASA.

“Nicole is a dynamo,” Spharler said. “She never stops asking what she could do to improve the child’s situation, and then takes action to make it happen.”

Being a great advocate means more than being able to build a great rapport with the child. In regards to Clark’s role as an advocate in court, Spharler reiterated that Clark has been an incredibly effective volunteer with CASA throughout both of the cases she has taken thus far.

“Nicole has great instincts when considering the best interest of the child, and although she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, she is very thoughtful about remaining neutral instead of siding with the adult parties in the case,” Spharler said. “She never forgets she is there for the child.”

While some advocates are unable to continue to help children following the closure of a case, Clark has taken the initiative to identify how she can continue to help the children she served in her last case. Clark maintains a prominent role as an advocate for the children who need her.

“She has visited schools, talked to counselors, helped her kids explore college options, and has even taken a teen to tour colleges after she was no longer the CASA on the case,” Spharler said,

While clear to outsiders that Clark is a standout volunteer, Clark herself maintains that her role as an advocate comes from a place of understanding her own advantages in life.

“I look at my life and my own family and I realize that we’re so blessed,” Clark said. “It’s not a child’s fault that he or she is in this situation.”

The children served by CASA face uncertainty and possibly stressful transitions during their time in care, but CASA’s advocates, like Clark, provide a single constant upon which these children can always rely.

“Every child needs someone looking out for them,” Clark said. “That’s why I do this.”