When Dionne Peniston went looking for an impactful volunteer opportunity, Dallas CASA jumped out at her. The Rockwall resident, who is both a college professor and a real estate broker, wanted the chance to make a direct impact on a child in need.

What made you think Dallas CASA would be a good fit?
You hear the horror stories on the news of kids in protective care falling through the cracks. CPS is doing their work, but I knew if I only had one case at a time I would have more time.
And then I come from a family that fosters. Two of my aunts were foster parents. They treated their kids so well, but I know not every child is fortunate to have a placement like that. I wanted to do what I could to support the system.

For your first case, you were assigned a young man entering his senior year of high school. Tell us about him.
He’s a great young man who knows what he wants. He told me early on he wanted to go to college to be an engineer, which is a great major for him because he excels at math and science. As a college professor, I knew he needed to build up his resume. So I suggested he join some clubs and get some involvement.
Then we got started on more things. I connected him with some ACT prep for his scores. He wrote his college application essay, then sent it to me to edit. I helped him fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). I helped him think of teachers to ask for recommendations. He already has several college acceptances in hand, and I’m so thrilled for this young man.

What did you learn in the process?
I may have a PhD, but undergraduate was a long time ago – I cannot remember doing any of this! It was a learning process for me, too. We just looked at things one at a time.
And then I realized how many more things go into becoming an adult. CASA paid for his driving school. I’ve spoken to his PAL (Preparation for Adult Living) worker a lot to make sure he has the skills necessary to be successful in college. He has so much potential, and I don’t want him to get overlooked.

What advice do you have for volunteers assigned a teenager and hoping to connect?
Find something you can talk about and then keep talking. For us, it’s been food. I’ve brought him food from new restaurants, and we’ve shared meals together.
When we first met, he was so quiet and reserved. I had to build rapport. He’s not one to offer trust right away, especially after what he’s been through.
But now he’s open and very talkative. We talk about life, where he’s going to go and what he’s going to do. He’s scared heading to college all on his own with no support system, but I have a lot of faith in him.