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Celebrating Volunteer Advocate Dora Gonzalez

Dora Gonzalez decided to volunteer as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) after retiring from 22 years of teaching elementary school, including at the Delavega Elementary School dual-immersion Spanish program. After completing her training and background check, Dora was sworn in as a CASA in August 2022 and was quickly matched with a young baby and her mother. Her years of experience working with children and their families, coupled with being bilingual and bicultural Mexican American, made her a perfect match for this immigrant family, who spoke no English. 

When Dora began working with the family, the baby had been removed from the mother’s care and placed with extended family. Dora quickly learned that this family's first language was not Spanish but Mixteco, an indigenous language from southern Mexico. They used basic Spanish as a second language. Dora tried to learn about Mixteco culture and some words to respect their household and communicate with the grandmother, who spoke no Spanish. By not only embracing the differences in culture but respecting them, she was able to build trust. Dora was truly the perfect match; she had the open mindset and heart to help this family. 

Dora got to know the mother during supervised visits with the baby. She immediately recognized that the mother loved her baby deeply and was willing to do everything to fulfill the court’s terms and regain custody. However the mother found the situation very scary and confusing since she spoke no English and very limited Spanish. It took a bit of time for Dora to gain the mother's trust, but once she understood that Dora was there to help, she was grateful and opened to her. Dora observed that the mother and baby had a wonderful relationship, and the baby was bonded to mom. Fortunately, the baby had not been separated from her mother for too long and when she was, she was placed with loving family members. 

Dora’s quickly realized that in her role as a CASA, all decisions best for the baby were based on helping the mother. Dora met with her at least once a week for about an hour. They spoke about best practices for raising children and nutrition. Dora encouraged the family to keep feeding the baby healthy food from their culture and to avoid sugary American foods. Dora knew that both the mother and baby had been traumatized and needed to heal. Dora acknowledged and commented on the positive things the mother was doing with the baby, encouraging bonding between them. 

Dora also accompanied the mother to doctor’s appointments and provided resources for services. She helped translate and ensured the mother understood what was happening with the court case during family team meetings and the baby’s health assessments at the doctor’s office. 

During her year working with the family, the young mother progressed from supervised visits to unsupervised visits, extended stays, and finally full custody. Using the CASA Children’s Fund, Dora helped address the family's practical needs as they reunited by providing a car seat and essential clothing for the baby as they healed and thrived. After the case was closed, the mother moved out of the area with her baby, and both are safe. 

We are so grateful for Dora’s warm acceptance of this family and advocating for their needs. The family strengthened and healed with Dora’s help. Her dedication, innovative approach, and unwavering commitment to the well-being of the family left an enduring positive impact on this family. Through her actions, Dora has set a powerful example of how one individual's efforts can create a more compassionate, inclusive, and supportive community for all. 

Congratulations to Dora who was honored as a community hero at the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center Be the Difference Awards in May 2024. Well deserved!