“Help one child.” That is one of the many mantras of Diane Brand. She not only believes, but also consistently lives out this idea in her role as a CASA volunteer advocate.
A music teacher for 29 years, Brand was first introduced to CASA as a teacher in California. Each year the school she taught at hosted a career day. One particular woman was sharing to students the importance of not forgetting to give back as you are pursuing your career dreams. Brand heard her talk about her experience as a CASA volunteer and the need that existed for people to advocate for those in the child welfare system. Brand went home and added “become a CASA volunteer” to her bucket list. When she moved to Nashville in 2006, she decided it was time to “empower her bucket list.”
Volunteerism is not new to Brand. Her father was involved in community work with Knights of Columbus, and her mother was a volunteer in the classroom. When she became a teacher, she followed in her parent’s footsteps, focusing on students who didn’t get dealt a complete hand in life. Using her passion for the arts, she focused on providing kids the opportunity to express themselves through singing, theater, and all forms of music.
“Kids go to school primarily for the classes that they can distinguish themselves in or enjoy. It was a privilege to be a teacher in a subject area where the kids really wanted to be there.”
Brand utilizes her background as a music teacher to navigate the school system that her CASA kids are a part of. Ensuring that a child’s needs are being met in the school has become one of her specialties.
“Our school system is very cookie cutter and not focused on the individual, but CASA is all about the individual child. I want to make sure that we can put together the school pieces for a child. How are they doing in school? Are their needs being met here? Being aware of how the school system works is important so that kids are facilitated in their learning.”
Taking from her experience as a teacher, Brand focuses on helping the children dream beyond their current circumstances. She believes it is especially crucial for children who are part of the child welfare system to be reminded that they have choices.
“Sometimes the kids we work with have their emotions very scattered. Helping them reground and think about other possibilities for their future helps them heal, and it also helps them see themselves in future situations outside of their current trauma.”
With her CASA kids she focuses on questions such as, “how do you see yourself?” and “what do you picture yourself doing later in life?”. She thinks it’s important to allow kids the opportunity to dream outside the constraints of their current situation.
In between balancing her CASA cases, Brand is involved in her church, leads a book club in her neighborhood, and golfs with her husband, “who is awesome and doesn’t think anything of some of my terrible hits.” She takes cooking classes and lives on the Food Network in order to ensure that “we aren’t eating the same old spaghetti every night.” Her retirement from her career as a music teacher has not meant her retirement from singing. In 2014, she traveled to Ireland to sing with a choir and is anticipating another trip in 2017. She is hoping it will be to Poland, someplace she has yet to visit. Despite being busy, she believes that the most important thing is making time to help a child.
“I have friends who I talk to about CASA and they say they are not quite sure if they could fit it in their schedule. I say, do you have time for golf? Do you have time for bridge? Do you have time to visit your grandchildren? Well, there are children here who may not know anything about golf or cards or have grandparents to visit them, and so that could be you!”
Despite the complexities of some cases, she notes that the CASA advocate supervisors are consistently the best support system.
“When I was teaching they used to say the teacher across the hall is your best resource. Well at CASA, your supervisors are your best resource. Any question I have had, any time I have wondered if this was a step too far, they were able to help.”
Brand and her husband plan to move back to California one day, where her adult children reside. Until then, she continues to focus on making the world a little brighter for children here in Nashville.
“Help one child. Because if each of us helps one child, can you imagine that suddenly that child is healed and helped and hurled into a whole new, brighter situation. Just help one. You could dissolve some of the worry and shadows.”