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Our featured Person Behind the Badge this month is Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), Sandy Medina. Sandy, who will be celebrating her third year as a CASA in April, originally hails from Galveston, but lived in Austin before settling in Bastrop in 2007. The path to meeting Joe, her husband, sounds like a love story taken from a Hallmark movie. They first met in second grade, re-connected in 2003, and married in 2008. And, nothing keeps these two apart! Together, they enjoy traveling and have explored many countries on five of the seven continents. They also have a creative side that they pursue together and began taking art classes a few years ago. Although they have continued to grow their skills with a variety of mediums, Sandy admits she has been the most successful with pastels. Live theater is another interest they share and you can find them enjoying their subscription to the Austin Playhouse, a small local theater company. And to round things out, they both enjoy gardening and spending time with family and friends. Sandy is a retired educator who taught elementary school for 35+ years – half of which were as a classroom teacher and the other half as a Technology Instructional Coach. She recalls those years with great fondness and still maintains contact with many co-workers, students and families.

Sandy was first introduced to CASA by her dear friend and neighbor, Janet Shook. Sandy believes Janet is perhaps the best advocate, not only for the children she has served, but for the organization as a whole. The first experience Sandy had with CASA was an Informational Meeting in 2015. Although she was very interested in becoming a CASA at that time; unfortunately, her parents back in Galveston required a great deal of time and attention. The following year turned out to be better, and Sandy was able to train, be sworn in and accept her first case. Since then, her parents have moved to Bastrop and are thriving in their new environment – stronger, healthier and happier than ever! And the best part is that she gets to visit with them every day and be assured of their safety and care.

Tina Smith, CASA Coach-Supervisor, has worked with Sandy since she became a CASA. They went through CASA training together which allowed her to became familiar with Sandy’s personality and the skill set she had to offer as a retired teacher. Tina had a case that she had been working on for some time, and as it is with all CASAs, it’s hard to part with a case once you have gotten to know the children. In spite of the connection she had with the children, Tina knew, given Sandy’s experience, she would be a much better CASA for these children. Both children missed a lot of school before coming into care and were significantly behind. One of the children was suspected of having a learning disability. The family dynamics of this case were sensitive and complicated. Tina affirms, “she did not prove me wrong. I was simultaneously humbled and grateful many times throughout the case when observing her dedication to her CASA children. ‘Minimum Requirements’ are not in Sandy’s vocabulary – she is there for what is needed, in every way. She went into the school weekly and read with one of her children, she arranged tutoring for the other. She taught the children life skills and set an expectation for them that they would not have otherwise known existed. She became a trusted resource to the family and the children and those children will always have a connection to her. That connection – that experience – is what makes CASA work.”

Sandy can speak to many meaningful experiences that she has had being a CASA, but feels nothing compares to seeing children who were once lost, frightened, angry and insecure blossom into confident, happy children who finally get to experience the grace which comes with a stable, peaceful home environment. Seeing her CASA children develop trust in her as their advocate has been a meaningful experience. An experience which springs to mind is one that appears on the surface rather common place – skipping down the hall. Sandy explained that as she neared the conclusion of the case, her CASA child, a child who rarely expressed any type of joy, who looked at adults with reservation and had significant struggles in school, left their tutoring session joyfully skipping down the hallway calling back to her CASA, “See you next Tuesday!” The significance of this? Ask any teacher and they will tell you – sad children don’t skip!

This value of serving their community was instilled in Sandy’s family by her parents. They modeled this for Sandy and her brothers throughout their lives as members of social, political and church groups. In her early years, she volunteered at the Moody School for Cerebral Palsied Children and served as a teacher with Vista to teach English as a Second Language to Spanish speaking adults. As retirement approached, CASA provided her the opportunity once again to engage as a contributing member of her community. She admits she had no idea she would gain as much from her service as she gave. Her professional experience in navigating the school system, familiarity with special needs students and her comfort level in the school setting allowed her to continue using her love of education to serve others. She was even able to convince her husband, an engineer by profession, to step outside his comfort zone and help, by tutoring her older CASA child in math and science. Being a part of a comprehensive system that works to better the lives of children who may otherwise fall through the cracks has been the most meaningful to Sandy personally. Being in a position to be able to follow the same children through the process of working with a multitude of agencies, family members, attorneys and ever-changing public servants has been extremely fulfilling to this CASA. And it doesn’t get any better, when, as it was in this case, a positive solution is achieved through mediation. Together, biological parents, placement parent and the children agreed to the best possible outcome for the children, which is the ultimate goal of a CASA.

“Sandy is not only an exceptional advocate but she is a true teacher, states Tina Smith. In her advocacy and through her example, I learned the most important part of my role with CASA is to know our Advocates, recognize the gifts they offer and carefully consider where their light can shine brightest. Sandy is a vital piece to our CASA family and I look forward to the many lessons I will be blessed to learn by the opportunity to work with her.”