Jun 25 2020

Meet Volunteer Advocate Steph Dirden

By Shannon Contreras

“It only took me two months to go from ‘retired’ to figuring out what my new mission would be.”

Steph Dirden always knew that when he retired, he wanted to start a new “mission” in life. After 37 years managing a large team of audio/visual staff that helped to create programming and design interactive spaces at both the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu, Steph was ready for a change of pace. “I had a flight credit that could be used to go to any city in the US, but I decided to check out Austin and see if it would be the kind of city I would want to retire in,” Steph tells us. He fell in love with Austin right away, found the perfect house, and decided to make the move to Central Texas with his fiancé, who is now his wife.

Almost right away, Steph's new mission became clear. “I was on Facebook one day and saw an ad for CASA. Instantly I felt like, that’s me, that’s the opportunity I’ve been looking for. Investing my time in kids is what I wanted to do. It only took me two months to go from ‘retired’ to figuring out what my new mission would be,” Steph tells us.

“After raising two sons, I thought I knew a lot about kids, but the children CASA serves are different, they have experienced trauma, violence, and so many other things that I wasn’t well-versed on. Training really enlightened me and helped me to understand how I could work with them and successfully advocate for their needs.”

He decided to do the fast track training program in January 2020 and loved the quick pace combined with the incredible amount of information he learned. “After raising two sons, I thought I knew a lot about kids, but the children CASA serves are different, they have experienced trauma, violence, and so many other things that I wasn’t well-versed on. Training really enlightened me and helped me to understand how I could work with them and successfully advocate for their needs.”

Once Steph finished training, he eagerly awaited the call saying he had been matched to a case. Once the call came, he was excited to take on the challenge of being a child advocate for a group of siblings. “At the first meeting with the kids I was matched to, it took us all of five minutes to make a connection. They knew they could count on me, and if they needed someone, I would be there. At the end of our first visit, they asked when we could hang out again.”

“We have so many kids of color in the foster care system, and I know for the children I serve, there was an instant connection because they were able to see me and say, ‘there’s someone who looks like me.’ I’ve felt that way in dealing with their whole family as well. Representation is so important.”

“We have so many kids of color in the foster care system, and I know for the children I serve, there was an instant connection because they were able to see me and say, ‘there’s someone who looks like me.’ I’ve felt that way in dealing with their whole family as well. Representation is so important.”

StephDirden-feature.jpgSteph was only able to do one in-person outing with the kids before COVID-19 caused CASA to suspend in-person visits, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to build a connection. He regularly does Zoom calls and takes special time to build a strong connection with each of the kids separately, and he still feels like he is able to still learn more about them during each visit, as he finds new ways to advocate for their needs while being a constant presence in their lives.

“Being a new volunteer, especially in the time of COVID-19, has definitely kept me on my toes, but my main goal is to stay in the lives of the kids I serve, and to make sure they always have someone to talk to: someone who is there.”

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 Featured Volunteer Story Volunteer Profiles June

Get involved now