Since earning the Miss Arizona Outstanding Teen title, Dimon Sanders has made it her mission to give voice to the kids who need it most.
The Glendale teen, who won her statewide title in June of this year after being named Miss Glendale Most Outstanding Teen, has become an ardent advocate for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). Which makes sense. Ms. Sanders was in foster care herself for five years.
“Between the lack of consistency, the bullying, the self-destruction, and wanting love that you’re really scared to receive,there are so many challenges that face youth in care,” she recently said. “If I had to pick one to expand on, it would be the lack of consistency. When I was placed in the foster care system, there were 35 people in and out of my life. Imagine losing everything you know and are familiar with… family, belongings, religion, friendships, culture. Immediately you feel as if your family does not want you. You feel like you aren’t good enough.”
In Arizona, there are 15 county CASA programs administered by the CASA of Arizona office, which is a program of the Dependent Children’s Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts. CASA of Arizona and its volunteers have been advocating for abused and neglected children for over 30 years, and have served more than 21,541 children.
For Ms. Sanders, meeting her CASA, Cynthia Dean, changed everything.
“My CASA was a huge part of life, and still is,” she said. “She kept me motivated to stay in school, get good grades, and be the best I can be in each home. She was persistent in her quest to get to know me. I wasn’t the easiest person to talk to back then. She had to really work to get me to trust her and break down my walls. Once I realized she was there to stay, I started to let her in.”
Ms. Sanders recalls the “dark times” she experienced while in care, from her own behavioral problems to failed adoptions to moving to 13 different homes.
“When I was scared and acting out, (Cynthia) talked to my now adoptive parents about where the behaviors were stemming from,” Ms. Sanders said. “She stuck by me when it seemed like everyone else was failing me. She’s still there even postadoption. She attends my pageants and dance recitals. I am forever grateful for her presence in my life.”
Now a home-schooled high school senior, Ms. Sanders goes into group homes to talk to other kids, and writes them Valentines in February when she knows they won’t receive gifts.
“Every time a child is removed from a home, it’s that much harder for the next set of parents to get to them,” she noted. “The average number of placements for kids in care is approximately three. That’s three times that child didn’t feel good enough; three times that child was hopeless. Even if returning home, the damage is done and it doesn’t just go away.”
Teen pageants not only boosted her self-esteem (she became the first African-American young woman to be named Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen), they became Ms. Sanders’ best way to spread her message.
“I had family competing in pageants in North Carolina; I went and saw her compete and fell in love,” she remembered. “People assume all pageants are like what they see on TV with ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’; this is very far from the truth. The Miss America system is all about community service, sisterhood and scholarships. My experience with the Miss Arizona Organization has truly been rewarding. I credit this organization with helping me find my voice. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to tell my story without this experience.”
To learn more about CASA, visit azcourts.gov/casa.