By Emily Witt
For Gabrielle Ommen, a native Texan who grew up in Laredo, the mission of helping our community’s most vulnerable children has been woven into her life from the beginning.
Her mother was an educator and counselor at a school serving students from families with low incomes, while her father, a banker, would volunteer at schools teaching students the basics of money management.
As she grew older, Gabrielle began to realize that some children had a vastly different home life than her own.
“We’d hear about these conditions my mom would come across every day—the abuse and neglect some students faced. I’d never known that reality, and I always wanted to do something to fix it."
“We’d hear about these conditions my mom would come across every day—the abuse and neglect some students faced. I’d never known that reality, and I always wanted to do something to fix it. When I was older, I’d go help my mom tutor other students.”
I can feel Gabrielle’s excitement and love for connecting with others as we chat about her work as a CASA volunteer and life beyond it. It’s not hard to imagine how the same energy comforts children at a time when they need an advocate most. “I have a really big family, and I’m always around my cousins. I just love kids,” she says.
She also loves to cook and is making delicious use of the extra time on her plate these days.
“I cook a lot; I cook almost every day. Today I’m making a braised short rib, over the weekend I made pork meatballs. Sometimes I’ll make al pastor tacos or balsamic glazed chicken.”
“Oh, and I’m learning to play guitar,” she adds.
In college, Gabrielle studied psychology, biology, and human development at The University of Texas, but like most of us, wasn’t quite sure what her next move should be after finishing her degree.
“I was involved in a lot of research and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I got an opportunity to work with Indeed as a recruiter. I always say everyone should have a job as a recruiter or in the food industry because you learn so much while managing all types of people. After that, I went to do administrative work at Texas Instruments, and then I came to Facebook.”
While her early life had instilled in her a passion to work with children, it was at Facebook that she learned about CASA.
"I went to the website and thought ‘wow, I cannot think of another organization that I fit with better.’ CASA was this perfect marriage of my interests and values.”
“One of my friends at work told me her roommate volunteered for this organization called CASA and I was like ‘sign me up!’ I went to the website and thought ‘wow, I cannot think of another organization that I fit with better.’ I thought of my mom and dad, and how my dad would go to elementary schools and help kids learn about money, and all of it tied into that. CASA was this perfect marriage of my interests and values.”
As a former human development major, Gabrielle was familiar with some of the core concepts in volunteer training, but she quickly found there was so much more to learn about serving as a CASA volunteer.
“I was humbled hearing about the different cases I might work on. I just thought all of the training was designed so well.”
While we prepare our volunteers for their future roles as much as possible, we hope that their quest to learn about how to best advocate for children never stops. For Gabrielle, this has certainly been true.
“I was most nervous that something would come up and I wouldn’t know how to handle it or that I’d say the wrong thing. I quickly learned that people respond when you’re just being real. Everyone is trying to help and come together to create a better outcome for the children we’re serving—from the lawyers, to CASA, to the parties on the case themselves. Tensions are very high—of course they’re high. But you really see the desire and hope that things can become better. I wasn’t expecting this work to be as collaborative as it is, but at the end of the day we all have a common goal.”
Our common goal at CASA is to make a difference in the lives of the children we serve, and we can’t do it without volunteers like Gabrielle who see the need for unity and hope as we work to keep kids safe.
"We have to recognize the good in people and check our biases. I try my best to come from a place of compassion and empathy."
“When working on a case, I focus more on a family’s strengths rather than their weaknesses, and then I move forward from there. We have to recognize the good in people and check our biases. I try my best to come from a place of compassion and empathy. I think if we all did that, we’d be a lot better off, especially during these times. We should try to be good and notice the good in others.”
Interested in becoming a volunteer advocate? You can get started with our online Info Sessions and online Volunteer Training right now! Learn more on our Volunteer page or RSVP for an upcoming Volunteer Info Session over Zoom!
2020 Volunteer Profiles November