Friends of CASA News | Spring 2016
In This Issue
Volunteer Resources
Why reinvent the wheel when you can learn from those who have gone before you. Take a look at our Volunteer Resource section!

 
Become a Volunteer
CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are volunteers and ordinary citizens, like you, doing extra-ordinary work. Are you eager to make a difference in a child's life? Become a Volunteer.
  

Ways to Give
Your individual gift provides us with the resources to continue our work strengthening the CASA movement throughout California. Donate Today, you can also take a look at other  Ways to Give.


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Spring has arrived and with it comes the spring 2016 edition of our Friends of CASA Newsletter. Please feel free to share it with friends and colleagues interested in our work - ensuring children in the foster care system have both a voice and the services they need for a stable future. Thank you, Mim Carlson.
 
California CASA CEO Transition
Introducing Mim Carlson,  Interim Executive Director

California CASA's Leadership Transition Committee chair, Keating Rhoads, proudly announced the hire of Mim Carlson, as Interim Executive Director, effective April 1, 2016 .

Mim brings more than 25 years of experience as an executive director, interim director, coach and consultant for many nonprofit organizations and small community-based organizations, as well as large, national nonprofits. As a consultant, she specializes in board and executive director development, staff leadership transitions, strategic planning and team building. She has also co-authored several books about nonprofits, including The Executive Director's Guide to Thriving as a Nonprofit Leader, Winning Grants Step by Step, and Team Based Fundraising Step by Step.

Mim has assumed responsibility for providing leadership, management and oversight of all agency operations, and for ensuring that California CASA maintains its commitment to its mission and goals and remains in healthy programmatic and financial condition.
Cory's Departure
Letter from Cory Pohley
 
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
 
It has been a great honor to serve as California CASA's CEO for the past three years. I feel blessed to have worked with a deeply committed, skilled, and passionate staff, board and network. Together, we have accomplished so much.
We have added staff positions, developed and deepened our communications, technology, curriculum, marketing, and policy work; expanded our reach to provide more training and resources; and developed a comprehensive plan for statewide growth that received the Network's overwhelming support.

What I couldn't have known when I started at California CASA, was how fortunate I would be to work alongside some of the brightest, kindest, most dedicated people I have ever met. CASA is about relationships and partnerships at every level - and I have enjoyed the full support and partnership of a wonderful board, an amazing staff, a dedicated network, and generous and open minded funders and individual donors, all who care about making the world better for children in care.

I am excited to take time off to travel and visit with family and friends. I'm excited to continue to champion CASA. And I am excited for our next CEO who will inherit, as I did, the best of the best.

 
Sincerely,
Cory Pohley,
Outgoing CEO
California CASA Association
 
Staff Profile
Marisa Shea Doubles the Size of California CASA's Policy Team

Meet California CASA's newest staff person, Marisa Shea, policy advocate, who joined the staff in December 2015 fresh from working with Congresswoman Doris Matsui, where she represented her on health care, mental health, education, children and family, and women's issues.

Marisa signed on with California CASA because she said it provides her with "the perfect opportunity to represent children and help them to amplify their voices."

Equipped with a strong background in public policy, advocacy and politics, Marisa will help California CASA to educate policy makers about important child welfare issues, engage the CASA Network, and leverage its wisdom to improve child welfare policy .

"I've seen advocacy work," said Marisa, who describes herself as "passionate about community service."

She's so passionate that she was just sworn in as a CASA volunteer herself and is looking forward to meeting her court appointed child or youth very soon.

When Marisa's not advocating for children in the foster care system, she's either training to run a half marathon in less than two hours so that she can qualify for the Boston Marathon, hiking, satisfying her sweet tooth, or playing with her dog, Roosevelt, a seven-month old terrier mix.

Policy Updates
Policy Update from the Legal Director

 
California CASA hopes to save CASA programs across the state up to $85,000 collectively in criminal background check costs through its sponsorship of California Assembly Bill 2417 for 2015-2016. If passed, this bill introduced by Assembly member Ken Cooley (District 8), would exempt CASA programs from paying the California Department of Justice's fee ($32) for state-level, criminal offender record information.

"To CASA, it's a big deal. To the state, it's a small deal," said Phil Ladew, California CASA associate and legal director, who described it as a logical ask. "No other youth-serving nonprofit in the state has to pay this fee." The bill however, would not exempt CASA programs from paying the background check fee charged for other checks, like the FBI database and the child abuse registry.

"This is the first time we've sponsored a bill since 2007," explained Ladew. "Having Marisa Shea on staff makes this possible. We are grateful to National CASA for their generous support, and are thrilled to begin implementing this part of their generous growth grant."

According to Phil, Marisa has the right training and skills to enable us to expand our policy efforts.

The legislative process will take months as the bill moves through various committees.

In VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) news, two California state agencies solicited proposals for the Unserved/Underserved Victim Advocacy and Outreach program, which will focus on service delivery to victims of violent crime within unserved/underserved and socially isolated populations. Several CASA programs applied for that funding and are waiting to hear news on their proposals.

Also, more than a dozen CASA programs across the state are working with their county governments to inform stakeholders and policymakers about the unmet needs of child abuse victims in their communities. Counties can then apply for their share of a $40 million VOCA funding opportunity aimed at providing direct services to victims of crime, including of course, victims of child abuse.

Volunteer Profile - Kathy Hundemer
"I gave her a friendship bracelet. She had half of a heart and I had the other half."
- Kathy Hundemer, CASA Volunteer

When semi-retired school nurse Kathy Hundemer moved to Santa Cruz County, she sought advice from her daughter-in-law, a social worker for the County's child protective services, about a meaningful volunteer opportunity working with children, because "they are a vulnerable population." Her daughter-in-law suggested that she look into becoming a CASA volunteer.

"She was right," said Kathy who signed up for the CASA training two years ago and received her first case right away. "Every person is kind and caring and they have the children's best interests at heart."

For the next 16 months, Kathy served as a CASA for an elementary age girl named Hope, who came from a large and mixed family. She gave Hope opportunities to do things she had never done before - like going to the county fair, the movies, the Nutcracker ballet, and Halloween and Christmas parties. "She was just like a sponge," exclaimed Kathy, who found her own reward in "giving her new and fun experiences that she might always remember."

Before Hope reunited with her family, they listed all of their activities and talked about them. "I gave her a friendship bracelet. She had half of a heart and I had the other half," recalled Kathy. "At least she'll think that when she was in foster care, it wasn't all bad because her CASA looked out for her."

Kathy not only felt rewarded by working with Hope but also by her experiences with the judicial system, a vital aspect of a CASA's responsibility. "I appreciated it when the judge told me that he valued my court report; that he learned information that he didn't know from other reports," declared Kathy. "I felt that I helped that judge."

As she helped the judge, the CASA staff helped her, supporting her and proofreading her reports to the court before she submitted them."

Her current case, a newborn baby, requires a different set of skills and activities. "My role is different," acknowledged Kathy, who is taking a training course to learn more about her role as an observer with the infant's caretakers. "I can't really establish a relationship with an infant. They want the baby to bond with the caretakers."

During her two years as a CASA volunteer, Kathy has learned a valuable insight about working with children in foster care. "They may be carrying tremendous guilt. When they act out, do not take it personally. It may be the only power they have," advised Kathy. "Hope had a lot of trouble in school. She thought it was all her fault that the whole family split up. Her personality changed for the better when her family reunited. And her life will be better."
 
Funder Profile
"We have a responsibility to children when their parents can't take care of them."    - Yali Lincroft

 
Yali Lincroft, program officer at the Walter S. Johnson Foundation (WSJF), has moved seamlessly between government and the nonprofit sector, while developing an expertise in childcare and foster care policies.

"My career has matched my life. When I had young children, I was involved in early childhood issues. Now that I have teenagers, I'm mostly focused on issues facing young people ages 14-24," remarked Yali, who has two daughters, ages 14 and 17. "Being mindful of what I want for my own kids keeps me grounded in my grantmaking philosophy for this age group."

WSJF's funding priorities of assisting transition-aged foster and other vulnerable youth to become successful adults dovetails with California CASA's mission and vision of ensuring that children in the foster care system have both a voice and the services that they need for a stable future. This compatibility has led WSJF to make a number of significant grants to California CASA. Most recently, they awarded California CASA funding for two years in support of marketing and communications efforts in the greater Central Valley, to build capacity, increase the number of CASA volunteers and thereby grow service to children in that area.

Yali provided three reasons for funding California CASA: It's a statewide organization that can leverage dollars, and has scale; it's a part of a national network; and it has a unique public/private model that allows it to work inside the court system. As Yali says, working inside the court system requires "time to build that relationship and that trust."

In addition to funding the state CASA organization, this grant allows the state office to provide re-grants to targeted CASA programs. "The California economy has bounced back, but more so in urban communities," explained Yali. "There are regions still facing high poverty, especially in the Central Valley. It is the perfect storm of lots of children living in deep poverty, few support services and the worst casualties of the California drought, which has had a deep impact on their local economy."

She sees another storm brewing ahead in the foster care system, as identified in an ACLU report titled, System on the Brink, about the crushing caseload in the California Dependency Courts. Because the overloaded system undermines the right to counsel, violates the law and puts children and families at risk, Yali knows, "CASA needs to be there for the counties where they don't have the same access to attorneys."

Foster care issues resonate with Yali because she believes, " We have a responsibility to children when their parents can't take care of them."
 
Local Program Staff - Millie Gilson
"I can't imagine a better place to spend your time than a CASA program."
- Millie Gilson, Executive Director, CASA of Sonoma County

When Millie Gilson sat for her interview to become a CASA volunteer at CASA of Contra Costa County, she didn't understand why her inter-viewer asked so many questions about her history and experience with nonprofit administration.
 
So she questioned their curiosity. "In reality, they were interviewing me for the executive position that was opening up," explained Millie, who became the executive director in 1988 and stayed until 1996.
 
Then she moved to Sonoma County, where her career with CASA continued. She and Judge Arnold Rosenfield started CASA of Sonoma County, where she remains as the executive director.
 
As she approaches nearly three decades of directing CASA programs, she still feels passionate about her work and the volunteers. "I can't imagine a better place to spend your time than a CASA program," declared Millie.
 
Despite the many challenges associated with keeping a program afloat, Millie finds the time to interview every volunteer who comes into the program. "When I'm interviewing someone, I'm right back in the trenches about why people do this," acknowledged Millie. "I'll never forget sitting there myself as a cadet, and the director talking about rights, privileges, authority, and honestly not believing her."
 
The interview also allows her to make sure the volunteer has the time for the job. "I am really honest with them before they invest in a child's life," admits Millie. "I will not have another adult enter a child's life and then leave them."
 
She knows about not leaving a child because she stays in touch with the six, teen-aged girls for whom she was a CASA. They currently range in age from 30 to 36.
 
In the day time, Millie may live in a world of rules, standards and responsibilities, but in her off hours, she prefers the world of science fiction, fantasy and the TV program New Girl. "Give me something to laugh about," confessed Millie. "I'll grab a cup of coffee and giggle all night long, if I can."

National CASA Growth Grant Update

Last fall, California CASA Association proudly announced receipt of a one-year, $250,000 State Growth Grant from National CASA. Since October, we have made significant progress on the initiatives toward sustaining 6% annual growth in local CASA programs across California to ensure that more foster children benefit from a CASA volunteer's support and service.

Programs that received funding through this grant, including Voices for Children San Diego and Riverside County, CASA of Los Angeles County, and a collaboration of 10 Bay Area CASA programs already have seen success with their innovative and replicable marketing and recruitment projects. Their successes include increased visits to their websites (and California CASA's, too!), greater interest from prospective CASA volunteers and an increase in the number of volunteers attending trainings.

In December, California CASA fulfilled part of the grant proposal by hiring a policy advocate, Marisa Shea (see her Staff Profile in this issue), whose current activities are described in the Policy Updates section. One of the efforts in which she is engaged could save local CASA programs $1M during the next 10 years and the other could increase funding for local programs by $1.7M to support growth in the number of children in foster care served by a CASA.

The grant proposal complements our 15,000 by 2020 plan, which ensures that more of California's children in foster care - youth and young adults - have access to a CASA volunteer. The targeted branding, marketing, and policy strategies included in this plan will facilitate growth from 11,000 children served by a CASA volunteer in 2014 to more than 13,000 by 2017 and 15,000 by 2020.

We remain on track to sustain this growth. We are thrilled to report that in 2015, service to children across the state grew by 7% to nearly 12,000 children!

You can find our 15,000 by 2020 California CASA Growth Plan on our website.