Douglas County, Kansas

CASA Board Member Spotlight: Q&A with Jessica Pryor

December 4, 2023

At the end of 2023, Jessica Pryor will step down from CASA’s board of directors after completing a six-year term lending her time, expertise, and resources to support our mission. During her tenure — which included serving as Vice President and President in 2020 and 2021, respectively — Jessica played an instrumental role in guiding the organization through the challenges of a global pandemic, and oversaw exponential growth in CASA staff and capacity. 

“We are grateful to Jessica for her insightful leadership,” says Erick Vaughn, Executive Director. “Having had lived experience as a foster and adoptive parent, she has a keen understanding of social services and the issues our families face. Jessica brings with her a realistic optimism that we need to excel in child advocacy.” 

In this interview, Jessica shares how her personal experience fostering a child with a CASA advocate influenced her decision to become a board member, and discusses how she hopes the organization will eventually grow to serve every child in Douglas County under the protection of the child welfare system. 

How did you first get involved with CASA? What was your path to joining the board of directors?

I initially learned about CASA by attending a fundraiser, but it was through my experience as a foster parent that I witnessed the organization’s mission in action. 

My daughter — who I ultimately adopted through foster care — had a very long case with several different social workers that came and went. The frequent turnover of caseworkers posed challenges, especially right before court appearances when she had been assigned someone new who was unfamiliar with her case. Fortunately, my then foster child had constant support from her CASA volunteer, who stood by her side throughout the entire process. 

Having seen firsthand the crucial role CASA plays in the lives of children in foster care, I was inspired to join the organization’s board of directors. 

In your capacity as a board member, what do you do to bring awareness to CASA and help it succeed?

I have worked with staff and other board members to recruit a diverse volunteer base and educate people about CASA’s mission. Much of my time serving CASA has coincided with the pandemic, which presented a new set of challenges and required us to adapt to online training and events. We have leveraged our social media to engage the community and connect with prospective volunteers.  

In addition to these efforts, I engage in a lot of one-on-one conversations and connect with others by talking about my personal experiences as a foster parent and with CASA. Sharing my family's story related to CASA has been a powerful way to convey the organization's impact and importance. 

How has your personal experience with the foster and adoptive system informed your board service for CASA?

My personal experience with the foster care system motivates me as a board member because I come to the role with a strong sense of urgency to help all the children on our waitlist. Our capacity to do that is determined by our organizational infrastructure. It’s not only a matter of getting people to volunteer, but having the funding and support to equip our volunteers with the tools they need to advocate for children. 

As one who has been involved with CASA over the past six years, how have you witnessed the organization grow?

CASA’s staff has expanded significantly. We hired a Development Director, two volunteer supervisors, and an Administrative Assistant. Our budget has also grown immensely. Six years ago, I never would have imagined being able to own the new office space where we are currently headquartered. The building is going to play an important role in helping us continue to grow further. 

I’m also glad to see the organization become more sustainable. When I first joined CASA, a lot of staff were overperforming, which can be stressful when you’re dealing with some of the situations that we find children in. Bringing more people on board, increasing salaries, and adding benefits all help to ensure that the team is doing the best job they can for the children we are serving. 

What is your hope for CASA's future?

The children represented in the foster care system are disproportionately from marginalized communities, and I’d like to see more diversity among our staff and volunteers. It can make a world of difference when children see more of themselves in the volunteers who advocate for their best interests. 

One day I hope to see every child in foster care in Douglas County have a CASA. Having a waitlist of volunteers — instead of a waitlist of children needing a volunteer — that would be my dream. 

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