Doug Dirks was on the verge of retirement as an educational consultant and getting all kinds of advice about it.
"I was talking to various people who were advising me to have something in mind to do that might include doing nothing for a while," Dirks said. "I did not want to waste my time doing nothing."
So, when Dirks heard a CASA volunteer speak at Geneva United Methodist Church, it changed the course of his retirement. CASA stands for court appointed special advocate, and the organization's volunteers advocate for abused and neglected children who are going through the court system.
"I was struck by children who needed help in an immense way," Dirks said. "What a great thing to be able to do something on behalf of children who can't help themselves and need a giant investment if they are going to grow up and be healthy adults."When he retired,
Dirks, now 72, of Campton Township, went to a training session for CASA and has been a volunteer since 2008.
"I hopped into it," Dirks said. "I'm trying to be an adult who stands up for children who need an adult to be on their side."
His dedication prompted Kim Flad, advocate supervisor for CASA Kane County, to nominate Dirks as an Everyday Hero.
"Doug Dirks is an outstanding child advocate," Flad wrote in her nomination. "The CASA children who he currently advocates for have suffered unspeakable trauma. They are placed with a relative in Cook County, so Doug travels a long way to see them each month."
Flad said it was important to recognize the work Dirks does for CASA.
"Doug is a really humble guy. Never in a million, million years would he toot his own horn,"
Flad said. "He is an excellent report writer. Reports help the judge make decisions on those children. He really is the whole package. Anyone who meets him falls in love with him, like we have."
Flad said it takes three to four years on average for a CASA case to reach completion, as the court system seeks either to reunite the child with the family – if possible – or have him or her adopted out so they are no longer wards of the state. Dirks has closed two cases in his time as a CASA volunteer, she said.
"The kinds of abuses that bring cases into the court system are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect," Flad said. "When children come into Kane County Juvenile Abuse and Neglect Court, something put that child at risk. There was some safety breach [where the] natural parents or caregivers have some problem in providing a safe home for those kids."
CASA's goal is a "forever home" for the children, she said, whether that is being reunited with their family or some other permanent placement.
Advocates like Dirks visit the children every month and write reports about how they are doing for the judge, so a determination can be made in the children's best interest.
"Our advocates make a huge commitment when they come to our organization," Flad said. "We ask our advocates to be the single thing in these children's lives that does not change."
Dirks is a natural as a CASA volunteer, Flad said.
"The children are very drawn to him. They are anxious to tell him how they are doing," Flad said. "He's just like the best grandpa you ever had."
The Dirks lowdown
Who he is: Doug Dirks, a volunteer with CASA Kane County
Township of residence: Campton Township
Family: Wife, three children and six grandchildren
Hobbies: Gardening, doing restoration work in the subdivision, trying to introduce native plants and grasses, tent camping
Fun fact: "I am collecting first-person accounts from people who were involved in the American Civil Rights movement."