Board Member Profile

Art SiegelArt Siegel serves as the Board President of CASA: Advocates for Children of New York State. He is currently the Deputy Managing Member and head of the Litigation Department for Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC in Albany, NY. Art recently received The Lawyers Who Lead by Example Award from the New York Law Journal,  being  recognized in the pro bono area for his “incredible commitment and contribution” to the NY CASA organization.

1. How did you first get involved with the CASA program?

One of my law partners mentioned that CASANYS needed board members. Knowing that I was interested in child advocacy, she suggested that I consider joining. Although early in my legal career I had practiced in the family courts, representing litigants as well as children as a law guardian, I was unfamiliar with CASA and the important work performed by its volunteers. Once I gained a basic understanding of what CASA was all about, I viewed becoming a board member of NYS CASA as a natural extension and expression of my interests.

2. What word would you use to describe your first year on the board?

Enlightening. I was better able to grasp what CASA volunteers were doing on behalf of children, but more importantly, I witnessed the extraordinary commitment of not only the volunteers in the trenches of family court, but also the program directors throughout New York State who give so much of themselves to ensure that their programs are successful.

3. Have there been any major strategic decisions that your board has faced during your tenure?

Our Board faced the ultimate strategic decision: whether to dissolve. We had lost all our funding and we were forced to let go of all paid staff. There were several board members, some of whom were officers, who thought that NYS CASA, having lost its funding, had also lost its mission and purpose. Those board members resigned. Shortly before this crisis, I had been elected President of NYS CASA.

Despite our dire situation, I remained convinced, along with several other committed board members, that even without any money we could still provide local programs with support and advance the interests of CASA in New York State. We decided that, as board members, we would assume all administrative, fundraising and day to day responsibilities previously handled by our executive director.

This turned out to be the best decision our board ever made. Although we continue to have no paid staff, and still run every aspect of the organization through the volunteer efforts of board members, we have successfully lobbied the NYS Legislature to restore funding that was slated to be eliminated for all 19 CASA programs throughout NYS, introduced legislation, fully supported by our Office of Court Administration, to recognize CASA in NYS and codify the Court Rules governing CASA programs, and brought together in Albany our program directors from throughout the state for two significant training programs per year. In addition, thanks to National CASA grants, we have expanded public awareness for CASA, developed a unified data collection system for our programs and formulated outcome measures to improve our CASA programs and generate financial support for the tremendous work being done by our volunteers.

4. If you were recruiting a new board member today, what would you tell them about the work they’ll be doing for this board and program?

I would tell them that this is not only a unique opportunity to be on a great board with wonderful human beings, but also an opportunity to roll up their sleeves to directly support our programs throughout New York. I would tell them that this is not the typical board experience, where paid staff handles the nuts and bolts and the board decides broader policy issues. Rather, this is a board and organization that through collective effort can indirectly but meaningfully make a significant positive difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children.

5. What would you recommend a board member should know/learn prior to beginning?

If possible, receive CASA training, or at the least, become familiar with the types of services, support and assistance CASA volunteers provide to the children assigned to them. A prospective board member should hear some of the many stories of children who have been provided with special guidance or support by CASA volunteers and the concrete, positive outcomes that have been achieved for these children. Although there is literature that provides this type of information, speaking to volunteers and program directors is the best way to fully appreciate the good that is done and be inspired to be a committed board member.

6. How do you build a relationship between board members so they stay engaged and committed to the board work?

By working directly with board members on projects that are meaningful to them and play to their organizational or other strengths. We are fortunate to have several very talented, dedicated board members who inspire other board members to join in the hard work of successfully running an organization that provides positive energy and helpful resources to our local programs.

7. What resources did you find most helpful when you had questions about board work?

I use the National CASA website, which has much helpful information, and I also speak with executive directors and board members from local CASA programs, other State CASA programs, umbrella agencies and not for profits with similar board challenges such as the Legal Aid Society. I also speak with Susan Grant, our National CASA regional representative, who has provided me with a much broader perspective than I could obtain on my own, and sage advice on various board issues.

8. What one piece of advice would you offer to other CASA board members?

Become familiar with what CASA volunteers really do, on a day to day basis, to positively impact upon the lives of our abused and neglected children in the family courts, and you will have absolutely no difficulty remaining a life-long CASA supporter and committed and productive CASA board member.

Art has offered his email address if anyone has questions and would like to contact him directly: asiegel@bsk.com

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