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Meet Volunteer of the Year Diana Smith

Every year we bestow the G.F. Bettineski Child Advocate of the Year Award on an incredible volunteer. Diana Smith’s story caught our eye right away. A volunteer with Enotah CASA in Georgia since 1999, Diana has helped 47 children in her community find safe, permanent homes. As a former special education teacher, Diana often takes the most challenging and devastating cases.

Diana was assigned to serve a little boy who was brought into care due to medical neglect. His biological parents had never addressed his ear infections, preventing him from developing speech and language skills. Diana worked to obtain an electronic device known as a LAMP tool that would give this non-verbal child the ability to express himself.

When he was moved to a pre-adoptive placement across the state, he was not allowed to take the loaner device with him. He kept looking in his backpack so he could communicate with his new foster family and new teachers. His inability to express himself made him frustrated and caused him to act out at school and at home.

Diana immediately found out that his special accommodation and individualized education plans were not transferred to the new school. She contacted the new school but was refused access because her appointment order was still under review in the new school district.

She refused to give up when she heard through the grapevine that his new teachers suggested he carry a poster board half his size and point to pictures to communicate instead. With Georgia CASA’s help, Diana got a loaner device from Georgia Tech University. She reached out to the Georgia Board of Education to build a contact in the local county government to give the child access to the communication device—before the school would allow her to communicate with anyone there.

After a long summer of silence, his pre-adoptive parents finally heard him “speak”. He asked for a banana and a puppy.

Diana worked to get the child his own device to make sure this would never happen again, and when she was finally given access to the child’s new school, she worked with his teachers to make sure they had the training to communicate with the boy through his device.

“Lift up a child’s voice” is a familiar tagline for National CASA and our programs across the country, but with Diana, it means something more. Diana literally gave this child a voice, and in doing so, she reminds us all of the impact one caring person can have on a child’s life.

Do you know a CASA volunteer who deserves this award? Email us.
The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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