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Program Spotlight

Celebrating 30 Years Standing Up for Abused Children

Sharon Balaban
Corporate Relations
Dallas CASA, TX

A 30th anniversary, or any CASA program anniversary, is most certainly cause for celebration, especially when those three decades have focused on helping abused and neglected children find their way to the safe, permanent homes they so desperately need.

From the first class of 10 volunteers who served about 25 children back in 1980, Dallas CASA has grown to a corps of 500 dedicated volunteer advocates serving more than 1,300 child victims in 2010. Last year, we knew that we wanted to celebrate our 30th anniversary in a way that paid tribute to all who had made it possible, who paved the way for the work we do today. Although it was exciting to be celebrating such a huge milestone, the thought of adding to the four major annual events already on the calendar was somewhat daunting.

Five years ago, we had a typical gala-style affair to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Members of the steering committee created for the 30th anniversary year determined that they wanted to do something different: focus on a broader initiative to raise the level of community awareness about a child’s right to be safe. We wanted our celebration to bring forth a commitment from the entire community to become involved. The anniversary year would culminate in an event to thank and celebrate our volunteers, donors and stakeholders—those responsible for making sure that children in the protective care of the courts continue to have powerful voices. We knew that this approach would be much more labor-intensive than planning a single event. But it had the potential for long-lasting impact and for creating new relationships.

In the past, Dallas CASA had struggled with the area of community awareness. The status of abused and neglected children in foster care and the work of our volunteer advocates were still unknown to most people. The committee decided that every event and PR opportunity during the course of the anniversary year would be branded with our 30th Anniversary campaign—people in our community needed to know about us and understand the concept of what we do. Only then would they accept and endorse the idea that we all have a part in making our community safer for our most vulnerable children—and that one of the best ways to do that is by getting involved with Dallas CASA.

The choice of steering committee co-chairs was critical to the direction the committee would take in planning the anniversary year. Paul Coggins, former US attorney and currently a partner with Dallas firm Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, agreed to chair. Paul is a past president and long-time member of the Dallas CASA board. He in turn asked Madeleine Johnson, general counsel of Southwest Airlines and former Dallas city attorney, to be his co-chair. Paul, Madeleine and seven steering committee members devised a plan to engage community leaders to “stand up” and help make Dallas safer for all children. They pulled out all the stops to enlist their colleagues’ support and develop new community partnerships.

The cornerstones of the campaign included two groups, the Committee for 30 and the Leadership Counsel of 30. The Committee for 30 comprised more than 40 corporate, organizational and civic leaders who publicly endorsed Dallas CASA. The committee included heads of law enforcement agencies, CEOs of major hospitals and corporations as well as leaders in education and faith communities.

A separate group, the Leadership Counsel of 30, comprised general counsel from Dallas-based corporations who pledged to help recruit volunteers and spread the word about the community’s role in responding to cases of child abuse and neglect. The group included general counsel from Archon Group, L.P., BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, Exxon Mobil Corporation, FedEx Office, Frito-Lay of North America, Kimberly-Clark, Inc., Mary Kay, Inc., Pioneer Natural Resources and Texas Instruments. Meetings with the general counsel were held individually, and all were asked what they could do to help. By letting these individuals lead the way, the results were more diverse, organic and meaningful. Their response was overwhelmingly positive—everyone wanted to help, and relationships with those corporations continue to grow.

The celebration event was held toward the end of the anniversary year—a Homecoming Reunion, bringing together volunteers from throughout Dallas CASA’s 30-year history. The timing of the reunion event resulted in three major events held over the course of three months: the annual Parade of Playhouses in August, the Justice Is Served dinner in September and the 30th Anniversary event in October. Busy, yes. And worthwhile beyond measure.

Dallas CASA was privileged to be able to hire a staff person to coordinate the initiatives of the 30th Anniversary. However, it’s important to note that programs without a budget for contracting short-term staff should not feel they cannot produce an anniversary-year celebration. The job may be accomplished mostly by volunteers. In fact, Dallas CASA’s 30th year was a success because of the many dedicated volunteers who poured out their passion for helping our community’s children. The entire staff was instrumental in making it a success, but the 30th Anniversary would not have had the same impact without the hard work and cooperation of our board, steering committee, the co-chairs and—especially—our extraordinary volunteers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Co-chairs Madeleine Johnson and Paul Coggins, Dallas CASA’s 30th Anniversary homecoming queen and king

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Leadership Counsel of 30 opened doors to new relationships with corporations. Pictured left to right: 30th Anniversary co-chairs Madeleine Johnson and Paul Coggins; Supreme Court of Texas Justice Hon. Eva Guzman; Counsel member Ron Barger, former Supreme Court of Texas Justice Hon. Harriet O'Neill; and Counsel member Mark Berg.

 

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