by Sara Blake
"As a Family Engagement volunteer, I find family members and friends who can be a support system for kids in foster care and their placements," says Dori. "I think in the long run, this is probably the most rewarding volunteer position I've had and something I can be really passionate about."
"I think in the long run, this is probably the most rewarding volunteer position I've had and something I can be really passionate about."
Born and raised in New Jersey, Dori LeBlanc met her husband Ed when they were students at the University of California. Dori received her master’s degree in chemistry, and Ed finished undergrad with an Air Force scholarship for medical school. From California, Dori and Ed moved to North Carolina, where she worked for a tobacco company and he attended medical school. During Ed's time in the Air Force, he and Dori traveled extensively and had two children.
"Until the kids hit high school, I was involved in things the kids were involved in. As they grew older I started doing other things," shares Dori. "I volunteered at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and was able to take classes of students on tours and out on the Chesapeake Bay. Most of my volunteer work has involved kids in some way."
After 24 years in the Air Force, Ed retired out of San Antonio. Dori began volunteering with the San Antonio Children's Shelter as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, providing crisis management assistance for people in financial distress. Dori remembers first hearing about CASA from a fellow St. Vincent volunteer.
"I knew being in foster care was not an easy thing for kids, and I felt like I couldn't sit by and make any comment if I wasn't going to help out."
"One of the people I highly respected there was a CASA volunteer, so when we moved up to Austin, I looked it up," says Dori. "I felt like before I started CASA, I could see what was in the news about kids in foster care. I knew being in foster care was not an easy thing for kids, and I felt like I couldn't sit by and make any comment if I wasn't going to help out."
Four years later, Dori has advocated for 11 kids on 3 cases. When her supervisor, Elizabeth Throop, was promoted to the head of the innovative Family Engagement Program, Dori followed and became a Family Engagement volunteer.
"One of my hobbies is family history and genealogy. I'm a naturally curious person, and I want to know how the pieces fit together,” says Dori. “My CASA case had a lot of family members that I could identify, but a lot of reasons why they couldn't be placements. Through some of the techniques I use for my own genealogy research, I found a more distant relative who said she would take the kids for placement and adopt them if necessary. It was a perfect first case that ended in a permanent loving home for kids."
Dori acknowledges that there are some big differences between being a CASA volunteer and a Family Engagement volunteer. "One [difference] is that I don’t visit or see the kids now, so I don’t know their personalities, I can't speak to what challenges they might have—that’s not my job, that’s the job of the CASA volunteer on the case,” says Dori. “Another thing is that I can do all the work from home now, whereas when I was on a case I would have to visit the kids, their schools, etc. "
One of the most impactful things Dori has learned in her work with CASA is the effect of trauma on children. "Trauma doesn't have to be something that a child remembers. Trauma can happen to an infant and it can affect them for the rest of their lives," says Dori. “Kids just want to be with their families. When that breaks down, it's a cascade of events for their young lives."
Public speaking was another piece of the CASA role that took Dori out of her comfort zone. "A friend once told me that if you have to talk in front of a group, choose one person to talk to," recommends Dori. "So my first time in court, I remembered that and just talked to the judge instead of everyone else in the room."
Despite her reluctance to speak publicly, when asked what she would make a keynote speech on, Dori's answer was quick: the importance of education and literacy. "When kids don’t do well in school because they don’t have an adequate advocate for their special education or don’t have somebody making sure that homework is done to the best of their abilities, chances are higher that they won’t finish their education. When reading slips by the wayside early on and kids are reading at a 3rd grade level in middle school, it makes it really difficult for them to succeed. I think that if nothing else, parents with small kids should read read read to their kids."
"CASA can make recommendations and even affect changes in the best interest of the kids in a way that no one else can."
When it comes to CASA's role in the child welfare system, Dori believes CASA is often the one person on a case that knows the children better than anyone else. "Other people on the case have so many other things pulling for their attention. But CASA speaks to everybody on the case and knows how the kid is doing in school, knows if there's a problem in the placement,” says Dori. “CASA can make recommendations and even affect changes in the best interest of the kids in a way that no one else can."
2019 Volunteer Profiles April