Tena Callahan | Dallas Heroes Project

Tena Callahan

“Helping Families Stay Together”

Our vivacious hero, Dallas native Judge Tena Callahan, was a single mother of 2 boys when she took the LSAT exam (the prerequisite exam to get into law school). She used to study for it on the bus to and from her work. She says as a judge, “you need a multi-dimensional experience to draw upon.” She practiced law for 15 years and then took the bench (became a judge) in 2007.

Judge Callahan presides over the Legacy Family Court, which is a county court that takes the toughest family cases. It is a court where everyone is on the same side, trying to reunify parents with their children who have been separated due to substance abuse.

The voluntary 18-month court program sometimes requires weekly or even bi-weekly check-ins with the court by the parents. Parents will get help with admission into drug rehabilitation programs, they might be asked to write essays, they might be asked to volunteer at The Stewpot, a homeless shelter in Dallas, and they will get help creating a resume for job applications. The program is about accountability and turning around the parent’s thinking, and that’s why 18 months are needed. As Judge Callahan says, “People should know that their tax dollars are helping parents keep their families together and become productive members of our community and economy.”

When the participants need help with a bus pass to get to work, a battery for a car, or money for steel-toed boots for a construction job, that’s where the Legacy Family Court Foundation comes in. Donations to the Foundation might be used for $25 Target gift cards, or anything else at the judge’s discretion to help the participant get the support they need to fulfil the court’s requirements efficiently and quickly.

Judge Callahan will be retiring next year. And while this work is taxing, she says it’s “emotionally gratifying. Next year I plan to be a visiting judge, and to mediate and arbitrate.” We wish her all the best for this new chapter and thank her for her role in establishing this special court in Dallas.

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