Renae Gannon: Establishing family connections for kids

Renae Gannon believes that all children should have a network of support.

When a foster child is relocated and placed with different caretakers time and time again, he loses that network. On average, each time a child is relocated, ten relationships are lost.

That’s why Renae volunteers for CASA’s Life Long Links program. She searches for and interviews family members of foster children to ensure that they have continuity in relationships, information about their families, and long-term connections for the future.

As a Community Relations Specialist for Colorado Springs Utilities, Renae Gannon recruited employee volunteers and awarded grants to non-profits like CASA of the Pikes Peak Region.

“I learned a lot about the organization and so when I retired, I said ‘That’s what I want to do’,” Renae recalled. “It was me stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit… I heard so many cool stories about the work being done and I wanted the challenge.”

She retired 15 years ago and started out as a volunteer facilitator with the Supervised Exchange & Parenting Time (SEPT) Program and then moved on to being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). But Renae found her true calling when CASA’s founder here in the Pikes Peak Region, Trudy Strewler Hodges, began talking to her about starting a family research program. So after exploring best practices, Renae became one of the pioneers of CASA’s Life Long Links program.

Renae and other Life Long Links Specialists use, Google, social media, the library’s genealogy tools and other resources to locate family members for kids.  They then make contacts with these relatives and kin-like people to encourage engagement in the children’s lives.  Sometimes, this results in long term relationships and sometimes it results in custody of the child.  Once the contacts have been established, they make a family tree and picture books for the children.

She can recall many stories that have had an impact on her.

There were the three young children living in motels with their mom and her various boyfriends as she abused drugs and fought in the streets upon her relocation to Colorado Springs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Renae located the paternal grandmother, and now the children are back in a safe and secure environment in Louisiana.

Then there were the two little boys who were not thriving in their foster home. Renae reconnected them with an aunt and grandmother who’d been searching for the boys but didn’t know where to look. Knowing she’d have to take on the role of an advocate a bit, Renae went to court to speak up for the kids and now the aunt has custody of her beloved nephews.

To learn how you can join Renae in helping foster kids establish family connections, click here.

In addition to volunteering for CASA, Renae is an active volunteer for Cheyenne Mountain State Park where she is part of the Raptor Monitoring Program which reports the habits of birds like owls, eagles, hawks, and falcons to the state. She also hikes about 20-25 miles per week and enjoys spending time with her two children and two grandchildren in Oregon.

Return to 30 Stories in 30 Days webpage