Texas CASA Spotlight: Dennise Jackson

Dennise Jackson is the Recruitment and Retention Officer for Texas CASA. She recently celebrated her 15th anniversary with the organization, and has served in a variety of roles during those 15 years, including overseeing outreach and diversity, as well as leading the Communications Department. Now, as the leader of our Recruitment and Retention team, Jackson feels she is in the perfect fit – supporting and empowering the recruiters across the CASA network in Texas. She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Tell us about your previous work experience.

I moved to Texas in 1981 from Kansas. I started my career in this field as a family teacher (Boys Town model), living with 16 boys that came from CPS, the Texas Youth Commission and juvenile probation. Let’s just say I was never bored living with this group of characters. I was a family teacher/houseparent for three years and then I went to work at the emergency shelter that served 24 children from ages 10-17. I became a licensed child care administrator and later the director of the shelter at Lena Pope Home. I did that for 15 years.

During my time at the shelter, I saw kids come and go. One day at the shelter, this sibling group of three came walking in with their CPS worker. They were the cutest kids I had ever seen, following behind their big sister who was 13 and her siblings, ages 11 and 10. They ended up staying in the shelter for more than 90 days. A foster home was found for the two girls, so they left for their new foster home – but 24 hours later they were both back in the shelter. That was it for me. I called my boss and said that I wanted to become a foster parent and wanted to make sure it would not be a conflict. I only had room for the older sister and her 11-year-old brother – what was I going to do with the baby sister? I could not take her siblings and leave her in the shelter.

That was my first recruiter experience! I went to my son’s best friend’s parents and convinced them to become foster parents. Long story short, I took the two oldest, and my son’s best friend’s parents took the youngest. The kids got to see each other often and were never separated again. These kids are doing awesome now! They are all married and raising their children, and I can honestly say their cycle of abuse has been broken.

How did you get involved with Texas CASA and the CASA cause?

I went through a major life change – divorce. I was ready to leave the DFW area, and I had been in the child welfare system in management and leadership positions, and was not sure what I was going to do. I saw this tiny ad for this really big job: Texas CASA was looking for a Director for Outreach and Diversity. The board wanted to expand the pool of volunteers through diversity. I started working for Texas CASA in that role in 2003.

In 2005, my position at Texas CASA morphed into the Director of Communications. I get bored easily, so Texas CASA has been great for me, because I have been fortunate to do several jobs here since then, and now, as Recruitment and Retention Officer, I feel that I am in the right fit. I love learning, teaching, trouble shooting, problem solving, motivating, taking risks and believing in the possible. I get to do and be all of those things in my current role. I am a natural at this. As I mentioned earlier, I recruited a friend to be a foster parent, plus, though it wasn’t in my job description at Lena Pope Home, I ended up recruiting more foster parents, increasing our foster home placement by more than 80 percent. I recruited a whole business to open their company up to allow young people in transitional living to be mentored by their staff.

I feel that if people know what the problem is, and you can show them how they can help, most people will step up.

Can you tell us more about your role as Recruitment and Retention Officer?

My job is to encourage, support and lift the experts in our network. I want to make sure that the recruiters have the best information, resources and tools to do their job. I have a great job. I believe that CASA is a premier volunteer opportunity, and the more people know what these advocates do, the more people will want to be a part of this movement.

I want to ensure that recruiters are treated as the professionals they are, and for them to own their power. Recruiters have a huge responsibility to their program, and their community. We are responsible for bringing the talent through the door. I believe together, recruiters with the right skills, expertise, knowledge, motivation, resources and tools will be responsible for every child in the foster care system having an advocate. I really believe this is going to happen, and I am going to do whatever I can in my power to make this happen.

Tell us about the Recruitment and Retention team and its current projects.

When I took on this role, I wanted to make sure we had a credible program, so I recruited top talent for coach/consultants to partner with CASA recruiters to serve more children with advocates. We are going into our third year. I am very excited to share that there has been a significant increase in new volunteers trained, and my team played a significant role in making this happen. I have two coaches that work with designated local CASA programs, up to eight programs each. The coaches are there for support, guidance, planning and execution.

One of the projects I initiated that I am really proud of is the Volunteer Power Unleashed Summit. I wanted to produce a learning event for recruiters. Every other year, we put on this event to motivate, inspire and bring enthusiasm to the work of recruiters. The second Volunteer Power Unleashed Summit is coming up on Feb. 8-9 – I want the recruiters who attend to feel connected to the big picture of a CASA for every child, because we cannot do it without them. We also want to make sure that they have the best tools and know the current trends, and provide them with innovative and creative strategies for recruitment.

We also have another initiative we are working on, and that is engaging the faith communities to help us with recruitment. Guess the number one thing people say when asked why they don’t volunteer: I’ve never been asked! Well, we are asking the faith community to get involved. I know some of the local CASA programs are doing a great job of recruiting from churches, but think about if all the programs had the relationship and opportunity to do the same. We recently reached out to some of the programs that are doing this well and invited pastors to join us on Jan. 30 in Austin for “A Conversation with Clergy and CASA.” The programs that we reached out to were very responsive, and we had a great meeting. The goal was to listen and learn so that we can build a lasting partnership with the faith community, so that the CASA programs can serve more children with advocates.

As I mentioned earlier, I want to make sure that recruiters have the best tools to do their job. Hot off the press in February, we will be releasing a printed version of our latest guidebook, The Art of Recruitment: Engaging Volunteers Who Own Your Mission, at the Volunteer Power Unleashed Summit, as well as the Men of CASA Toolbox for targeted male recruitment. I am really excited for the programs to have these amazing resources!

Why is CASA meaningful to you personally?

I am a product of adoption, and that is why I have chosen to stay in this field. My parents opened their hearts, home and life to me when I was 16 months old. I am grateful for the life they provided me, and I wanted to give back. I got introduced to CASA when I was a Licensed Child Care Administrator at the Bridge Emergency Youth Shelter and Lena Pope Home. I saw how excited kids that had no hope would get when they learned their CASA was coming. The look on those kids’ faces was priceless. Who wouldn’t want to be on that team?

Why do you think the work of Texas CASA is so important?

Recruiting is not an easy job. Convincing, guiding, motivating and inspiring people to work for free for a good cause takes a lot of energy. Staffing an event all day or evening, just to sometimes get one person to fill out their information, can be devastating to the point that you may not feel you are doing a good job. I feel Texas CASA is important because we can be there to help lift with support, encouragement and lots of resources. We want to bring the very best to the programs to help them to continue to be their best. Who wouldn’t love this job? I get excited when I hear from an ED or recruiter if they had a successful event, whether they recruited one person or 50 people. I know that it is all possible.

How does it feel to be a part of an organization that changes the lives of foster youth and children?

It feels great to be part of an organization that strives for excellence and being change agents. To know that what I do may help a CASA program get the best advocate for these children makes me smile and sleep great at night. It is great to do something I love.

I want to send a “shout out” to all the recruiters in the CASA network. Thank you for all you are doing, and for what you are about to do!

The Recruitment and Retention team has a huge year ahead, with the Volunteer Power Unleashed Summit coming up in February, the faith-based community initiative and the many resources being released to the CASA network. Jackson is proud to be an integral part of helping the CASA network in Texas achieve our goal of a CASA volunteer for every child who needs one!

Check out our other Texas CASA staff spotlights!