Dallas CASA has a new set of wings.
The nonprofit, which works with children in the Dallas County foster care and court systems, has partnered with Angel Flight, a nonprofit that provides air travel for humanitarian missions.
“We’re just now starting to really push this program,” said Chad Frymire, a senior supervisor at Dallas CASA. “Right now our staff and volunteers are using it.”
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. Each volunteer advocate is assigned a case working its way through the system, but often those children wind up placed in foster homes, with a family or in residential treatment centers that are outside of the county. This can make it difficult for volunteers and supervisors to do home visits and to check on their clients.
“We have a resource, a travel resource, available, and they have a need,” said Tim Dammon, president and CEO of Angel Flight South Central.
The two organizations have been discussing the arrangement for about a year, but Frymire said the idea first bubbled up about three years ago, when he met the director of another Angel Flight organization.
At the time, Dallas CASA was working on a capital campaign and a new facility, so the timing wasn’t quite right, he said. But a year ago, Dammon and Frymire got together to explore the possibility of a partnership.
A question of distance
According to statistics from Dallas CASA, on any given day, there are more than 2,000 children in Dallas County who have been removed from their homes and are waiting for the courts to decide where they should live. More than half of those children are placed outside of Dallas County.
“If I get a case where the kid is actually in Dallas County, I get excited,” said Karen Robbins, a CASA supervisor. “It does make it hard [on the advocates and clients]; it limits the amount of time they can spend with them and how frequently they can spend time with them.”
Volunteers with clients placed in the North Texas area are required to see them once a month; those with clients outside the area see them once a quarter.
“What I would really like to do at some point is train a group of volunteers who only take Angel Flight cases,” Frymire said.
Dammon said the ideal flight for their pilots is 200-500 miles, which lines up with CASA cases in which the clients have been sent to Houston, Austin, San Antonio or East Texas.
Frymire said one of the big advantages is that Angel Flights often use municipal airports, and can therefore get volunteers and supervisors into more rural areas.
Face-to-face connections are a big part of the CASA program, Frymire said. Clients who have been pulled away from everything they’re used to can count on their advocates to be there.
For Sara Parnell, being there meant taking an Angel Flight in October, as her client is located near Austin.
“Because of the long drive, and because the child kept asking me to come — ‘When are you going to come? When are you going to come?’” said Parnell, who lives in Coppell. “So when I heard about the opportunity to fly, I thought, well, I can try that.”
Parnell said all it took was a phone call to set the process in motion. Her pilot, Kurtis Sampson, flew his plane from McKinney to Addison to pick her up and take her to the San Marcos Municipal Airport.
“They had a courtesy car in San Marcos that I could use to drive over and see her,” Parnell said.
Sampson has been flying for about eight years, he said. He co-owns a Piper Cherokee four-seat plane with three other men and has flown 18 Angel Flight missions.
“It worked out very well, because it was just down and back in one day, so I could hang around the airport, which for a pilot, that’s not a bad thing to do,” said Sampson, who lives in Allen. “I’ve always supported charity or wanted to give back; I was a Boy Scout leader, and used to donate blood when I could, and Angel Flight kind of gives you a reason to fly.”
An opportunity for more
Dammon said Angel Flight’s partnership with CASA opened up its pilots to help more people.
“By and large, our history is medical flights; we also have done a variety of humanitarian flights,” he said.
Angel Flight, which moved to Dallas Executive Airport on Monday, serves as a clearing house for pilots with smaller planes who want to donate their time and resources to helping others reach a destination. The pilots log in to a website that has a list of the requests for flights and can pick flights that match their schedules.
Medical flights have locked-in dates and times, but the CASA flights often have a degree of flexibility, Dammon said.
“That really opens it up for a lot of our pilots, so as an organization, our goal is to help as many people as possible, but that includes our pilot,” he said. “We’re the engine for allowing our volunteer pilots to be philanthropists themselves.”
Angel Flight South Central covers flights in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. Dammon said at any point in time, they have about 1,000 pilots who have met the Federal Aviation Administration requirements for medical and humanitarian flights.
“All of our pilots are providing their own fuel, their own airplanes,” for the missions they fly, he said.
The organization raises about a half-million dollars a year in fundraising, and that’s leveraged into $4 to $5 million in services rendered, Dammon said.
“This gives them [the pilots] a really important way to use their skills and resources to benefit the public at large,” he said.
Frymire said CASA is working to push the program among its volunteers and supervisors. He said the biggest hurdle they face is that not everyone enjoys flying in small planes.
“They’re very tiny planes; I was a little nervous, but once we got up, it was fine,” Parnell said. “He was a wonderful pilot.”
And while the program right now is limited to CASA staff and volunteers, Frymire said they are working with CPS to see if it might be possible in the future to use Angel Flight for clients.
White Rock/East Dallas editor Ananda Boardman can be reached at 214-977-8503.
Dallas CASA is located at 2757 Swiss Ave. in Dallas. The nonprofit serves children going through the court system to determine where they should live. For more information, which serves all of Dallas County, visit dallascasa.org.
Angel Flight South Central recently moved to Dallas Executive Airport. For more information about the organization, which serves Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, visit angelflightsc.org.