Tracey Dinnel is a busy wife and mother to three. She runs, reads, refinishes furniture, sings with her church choir, and volunteers in the church nursery. Oh and how could we forget – she rides a unicycle and communicates via American Sign Language. As if this wasn’t all enough, the real reason we think Tracey is a super hero is because she is a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
As part of a co-CASA team, Tracey teams up with another advocate to support a very large sibling group living in foster care right now here in the Pikes Peak Region.
What led you to become a CASA advocate?
Many years ago I heard about the CASA program and I was interested in their work because I have always had a heart for children in foster care. Space opened up in my life and I knew being part of a program that advocated for vulnerable children was a place I wanted to serve.
Tell us a little bit about your current CASA case.
I am doing the most advocating for the teenage boy on my big case. I believe his high school experience would be different if I wasn’t a part of his team. He is still struggling but we have made leaps and bounds with his IEP and class options. I have been able to set up tutoring services and funds. My co-CASA and I have also made a point to connect the siblings when possible. Many of the siblings are not in the same foster home and visits are challenging. We have had dates with the kids and I have driven him to visits in order to keep them connected.
How do you work together with your co-CASA to make sure all the bases are covered on this case?
I love having a co-CASA! It has been the best experience. Our case is so large and there are 6 different foster families. That also means multiple schools, therapists, teachers, doctors etc. In order to allow us the ability to connect with each of the children, she focuses on the 4 older children and I focus on the 4 younger ones. We each advocate for ‘our’ children when it comes to their individual needs and visits. But my co-CASA and I are in constant communication. We text and email almost daily. We keep each other in the loop and ask for advice on issues. She is a safe place to share thoughts and opinions on the case and we respect each other even when we may disagree on how to handle a situation. We write our court report separately and then discuss it together to create one report as a unified team. My co- CASA has become a dear friend of mine and I am so grateful to work with her on this case.
What unique life experience or skills do you bring to your CASA cases?
I think my compassion and empathy for people are my greatest gifts. I seek out relationships and I want to honor the families regardless of their situations. I am a mother and have spent numerous hours advocating and cheering on my own children. I use those same skills when supporting these foster kids. I approach most situations with the question, “how would I want this handled if these were my own children.” I feel it is important to connect with the families in order to provide the best advocacy.
If you had a friend or family member who was thinking about being a CASA but they weren’t sure, what would you tell them?
I would tell them the work can be challenging. The time spent thinking about these families goes far beyond the hours actually spent volunteering. I would tell them the work can oftentimes feel unappreciated. But I would make it clear that it’s not about us, it’s about the kids. It is about these young children that oftentimes don’t have a voice and we get to be their voice. I would share how many small wins, can add up to large victories. It’s a reminder that it’s not about the now, but it is about the future. As a CASA volunteer we may not see the fruits of our labor; we may not see the end result of how a child’s life was changed. Even the smallest shift in direction for a child long term can change their entire trajectory. How wonderful that our small role can impact a child for years to come. Sometimes the things that are the most challenging can oftentimes produce the greatest reward. Don’t you want to be a part of that?!
Want to be a part of changing a child’s life? Check out CASA volunteer opportunities!