Dena Zwingle, Volunteer – CASA of San Mateo County
Dena Zwingle first learned about CASA 14 1/2 years ago, when a friend contacted her with information about an organization she thought might interest her, CASA of San Mateo. Within a few days, Dena attended a training. She’s been hooked ever since.
In total, she has served as a CASA for 11 children, ranging in age from six months to 13 years-old. Often, she’s worked with two children at a time. So far, five children have been adopted. Currently, she’s working on the 6th. “I get so much more back than I ever hoped to give. I feel that if every kid had one person who believed in him or her and had their back, they would make it. There are so many kids who don’t have anybody,” said Dena.
As a CASA, Dena figured out quickly how to establish a relationship with the children, “I don’t ask them any questions. So many other people are asking them questions.” At her first or second meeting with a child, Dena does, however, ask the child to make a list of the things they’d really like to do. That list guides her activities. She’s taken them to parks, to kids’ museums, out to eat, to Costco to taste the samples and to look at books and clothes, to gymnastics, the library, Great America, and even to 49ers games.
Trust didn’t necessarily come easily. In her first case, it took a little girl five months to open up. Dena earned it by, “showing up all the times that I said I would.” When the little girl eventually told her things that had happened to her, Dena “almost drove off the road.” Dena’s clear about the most rewarding part of her time as a CASA, “When I see them get adopted or returned to their home. I love to see a happy ending.” If you want to make her blood boil, label a child ‘unadoptable.’ She completely understands why a five year-old might have anger issues after experiencing so much change and instability. “I can’t understand anyone turning a kid away. Calling them unadoptable,” exclaimed Dena.
Dena urges others to join her as a CASA, “If you love kids and you want to help kids, this is the best position,” declared Dena. They don’t have anyone to speak up for them. Every kid deserves somebody.”
And what’s Dena’s answer to someone who can’t volunteer to be a CASA? “Donate, donate, donate so we can continue our work.”