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Ryan Dollinger: CASA Is My Lifesaver

Program: CASA of Southeast Texas
Location: Beaumont, TX

Ryan Dollinger, CASA program fan
“I can never pay CASA back for everything they have done for me.”

Every time Ryan Dollinger is written up in the newspaper—for making the honor roll in high school, for being included on dean’s list or president’s list in college, for meeting with elected officials in Austin, TX, or Washington, DC—he cuts the mention out of the paper, and mails it anonymously to one of his former foster fathers.

Just to prove him wrong.

“When I was getting ready to graduate from high school, this man said to me and the other kids in the room: ‘I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with you foster kids. All of you will either end up homeless or on the streets within a year anyway. Why am I wasting my time?’” Ryan recalls.

“I will never forget that. After that day, I made it my mission to reject the labels that were given to me, and to write my own definition of myself.”

Ryan’s former foster father must be hearing from Ryan fairly frequently, because his list of accomplishments is long. Shortly after graduating from high school, Ryan co-founded the Texas chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, with which he spent six years advocating for foster care reform on the local, state and national levels. He became a popular keynote speaker and trainer at child welfare conferences.

“At one conference, a social worker asked to have her photo taken with me after my presentation. When I asked her why, she said she wanted to put it up in her office as a reminder that someday she might make a difference in a foster child’s life.”

Today, Ryan is 26 years old. He has left Foster Care Alumni and the speaking circuit and settled down in Beaumont, TX. He works as an insurance agent with Farmers Insurance, and goes to college full time. In August 2014, he will complete his bachelor’s degree in social work, and plans to pursue a master’s program in public administration at Lamar University. And he is a recent newlywed.

Ryan says that none of these accomplishments—and those yet to come—would have been possible without the support of his CASA volunteer and the CASA program staff in Beaumont.

“CASA is my lifesaver. I would have been lost in foster care. There are so many kids, and not so many social workers. There were times that I didn’t hear from my social worker for three or more months. But I always heard from CASA.”

“To this day, I am still close with my CASA volunteer and case supervisor, as well as other staff and even board members. I have a whole cheerleading squad—and they are all affiliated with CASA. I would be a different person today if I hadn’t had that support system, that positive group of folks telling me, ‘Ryan, you can go to college, you will be a good husband, a good father. You don’t have to be afraid to have a child. Ryan, you are a good person.’

“I can never pay CASA back for everything they have done for me.”

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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