Story and photo submitted by Julie Malmberg-Grawe
CASA of Jefferson and Gilpin Counties (Court Appointed Special Advocates)
Dionne Haase considered becoming a court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer years ago. Yet, life and work always stood in her way. An equestrian aficionado and music teacher, Dionne certainly had her plate full, but becoming a CASA volunteer remained in the back of her mind. So when her life circumstances changed, she decided to stop thinking about volunteering and reached out to CASA of Jefferson and Gilpin Counties to learn more.
Four years later, she is advocating for a teenager who is months away from aging out of foster care. There have been challenges with the case, and as Dionne said, “they don’t all have happy endings,” but she wouldn’t change her mind about volunteering.
“Being a CASA volunteer is important because we help kids be kids,” Dionne said. “Yes, it’s important to advocate for their rights, but at the end of the day, they get to be kids around their CASA volunteer when we’re out to lunch or coffee or at a movie. Sometimes, that’s the most important part of our relationship, because they don’t get to just be kids most of the time.”
Several of Dionne’s friends discouraged her from volunteering as a CASA, telling her it would take over her life. “All I thought was if not me, then who will help these kids,” she said.
Dionne has taught at Title I schools for the past 16 years, so she sees firsthand the effects of abuse and neglect on children. She’s also worked at two United Methodist Churches and is a current congregant at Trinity United Methodist Church where she sings in the choir and plays the piano for the children’s choir.
“Now that I’ve been a CASA volunteer for a few years, I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner,” she said. “We do make a difference for kids.”
One of Dionne’s fondest memories as a CASA volunteer was taking her CASA youth out for lunch and to a movie to celebrate her 16th birthday. While the youth has struggled to stay in touch and benefit from Dionne’s support more recently, Dionne is always a phone call away when the youth needs her.
“While we can be their advocate and friend, at the end of the day, the kid must be committed to changing, too,” she said.
When Dionne isn’t advocating for youth, she’s cheering on her daughter, who is an equestrian coach in North Carolina, and enjoys watching her son, who will graduate this spring with his master’s degree in percussion performance from Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. She and her husband love to travel and attend horse shows and concerts.
Clearly, Dionne found time in her schedule to make a difference in the life as a child as a CASA volunteer. And, she encourages others to consider doing so, too. “It’s not always an easy role, but it is worth it,” she said. “I just wish I had decided to volunteer sooner.”
CASA volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are ordinary citizens, like you, doing extraordinary work. CASA volunteers establish stable relationships with foster children, getting to know their unique history and making informed recommendations to the courts. To learn more about how you can become a CASA volunteer, go to www.coloradocasa.org/menus/volunteer.html