Rosie Dyer says the children at the Casa de los Niños crisis shelter "give much more to you than you give to them.
"It's a true honor for me to work with the children," said Dyer, the Northwest resident and registered nurse who's been at the Fourth and Speedway shelter for 22 years. "It's a joy for me to provide comfort and nurturing, and to care for them. It's fabulous."
Dyer, not one to boast, has given plenty to children and families. This spring, she was recognized as an outstanding victims advocate by the Pima County Attorney's Office.
"She has been a tireless advocate for the safety needs of young children, who cannot speak for themselves," her nomination reads. "She has mentored staff and community volunteers to do the same."
Dyer has always been a pediatric nurse, originally working in a medical environment. "I didn't know what I didn't know when I arrived" at Casa de los Niños, she said. "The hospital setting is medical. We didn't look at the whole picture." In two decades, she has witnessed, and helped, Casa de los Niños evolve from its crisis nursery status into a place of greater nurturing and growth for children and families alike.
Most of the children at Casa de los Niños have been referred through social service agencies. They come from difficult homes. The facility can sleep up to 48 children a day, from birth to age 12, though age 10 is typically the eldest.
When they arrive, "it's an opportunity to seize the moment for the children," Dyer said. "We can't fix everything in their lives. Medically, a lot of those things we can fix."
Dyer remembers when Dr. Anna Binkiewicz joined the Casa board of directors, and pushed for immunizations of referred children.
"Oh, no," I said.
"She said, 'that's our gift to them. That's something they'll take with them the rest of their lives.'"
Shots hurt. But children "get it," Dyer said, "even if you deliver care in a painful way. They're so forgiving."
Casa de los Niños takes a holistic look at its children. "It's detective work, initially," Dyer said. Children receive dental and eye care, immunizations … and an examination of their developmental, social and emotional well-being. Where there are needs, "we get them plugged into" services and systems.
Under the guidance of Dr. Tom Ball, current medical director at Casa de Los Niños, more is being done to help "very complicated" children. So many "haven't had the health care they need," Dyer said. "We see so much failure to thrive." Speech delays are "probably our No. 1 delay.
"We've seen little children that are very disturbed when they come in, crying, screaming, hitting, biting," Dyer said. She sees wild children who can't sit at the table, who can't use utensils.
Casa de los Niños has a developmentally appropriate program for every age group, creating an environment in which children learn and grow with "a consistent, loving and nurturing routine" that has structure and boundaries. "You see how they come in, and how they leave. That's the beauty.
"Everything happens around meals. That's when you are connecting and interacting" with children. "They are developing and growing and learning. It's not just about the task of eating. That's what I've learned. Caring for children is not just about the task, it's about the relationship."
Children are "such little sponges." They thrive when "you create a loving, nurturing, safe environment for them. That's most important. A lot of them have not felt safe. To see them blossom, grow, learn language, it's taught me the resiliency of their little spirit."
A decade ago, Dyer helped Casa de los Niños secure a Victims of Crime Act grant to bring therapists, specialists and nurses into the lives of children "who are vulnerable, who have special needs. A lot of these children have bonding and attachment issues," and may not feel close to their parents.
In the beginning, Dyer "was definitely a child advocate, but not a parent advocate," she said. "I came to know many of the parents. You come to understand, their own personal parenting has been so limited. They don't know what they don't know. They know what they see, and in their own circle. A lot of families are very stressed out," particularly in a difficult economy. People in poverty "don't have problem-solving ability for their own challenges.
"If you can help their parents, sometimes, pull it together, those are blessed times as well. The greatest gift we can give to the children is to help their parents.
"Casa is not just the child, it's the whole family," Dyer said. "It's become the part I enjoy the most, helping parents do things differently, helping them care for their children appropriately. It's really, really rewarding."
Rosie and her husband Mike, a longtime educator and coach in the Marana school system, live in the Northwest. They have two children, Heather and Josh, and an adopted niece, Tammy. "Our children are a great joy," Rosie said.