By Callie Langford
“This is our third grant with Impact Austin, and each grant has been transformational,” says Laura Wolf, CEO of 3-time community partner CASA of Travis County that advocates for the best interest of children in foster care by recruiting and training community volunteers. “Each grant has been built upon what Impact Austin originally funded to not just sustain a project, but to deepen and expand it. Their impact goes on for years… well beyond their initial grant.”
CASA of Travis County’s 2018 grant “Increasing Volunteer Diversity through Targeted Marketing and Recruitment” has truly been transformational over the past few years, with growth in the diversity of their newest volunteer advocates strengthening even more in 2020. In August, over half of the new volunteer applications received were from people of color, and reporting in the middle of September had people of color at 65% of the applications at that point. It has long been CASA’s goal to build a volunteer pool that at minimum reflected the population of Austin, while striving to better reflect the population of the Child Protective Services system who are disproportionately children of color.
“We have a wider array of diverse volunteers coming through the door who represent the children we serve,” says Director of Volunteer Admissions Alejandro Victoria. “The gap is closing now, and that has a huge impact for many of the children we serve, to have someone who looks like them, who knows their culture.”
The diversity of CASA’s volunteers matters in the world of child welfare, where the majority of the people running the system are white, while the majority of children and families affected by the system are not. “If we have a CASA volunteer who can come onto a case and perhaps be the only person of color, the only person who can speak a family’s language or understand their culture or their community, that truly helps with building trust and being able to advocate for that child in the courtroom,” says Victoria.
When asked how this project will continue to evolve CASA, Wolf shares, “Over time, as we continue to recruit more and more people of color, we will change. We will have more diverse experiences, more courageous conversations… there will be more richness to the fabric of CASA. That will continue to transform the organization in positive ways that we can’t even articulate right now.”