Texas CASA Spotlight: Jenny Haynes

Jenny Haynes serves as Texas CASA’s Board President and has been a member of the committee for several years. Haynes is a retired professional in public relations and communications with 35 years of fundraising, marketing, communications and governmental affairs experience. She has been a CASA volunteer in Collin County since 2008 and is chair of the CASA of Collin County Legislative Advocacy Team.

Tell us a little about your background.
Professionally, I’ve always held communications positions. During the last 20 or so years of my career, I headed up the corporate communications departments for large public companies, which typically included marketing communications, internal communications, governmental affairs, investor relations, public relations and often the corporation’s Political Action Committee. I’ve also done fundraising for nonprofits professionally and on a volunteer basis.

Tell us about your involvement with CASA of Collin County.
I’ve been involved on various nonprofit boards for many years. As I reached an age when I began scaling back my professional work, I started looking for a nonprofit where I could work directly with clients; that is, not be on a board, but work with those the nonprofit served. A friend who was familiar with a large number of nonprofits in the Dallas area suggested several nonprofits that I might be interested in—I was especially focused on agencies involved with children. I set about researching those agencies, interviewing their leaders and the like. CASA of Collin County was just perfect for me—I felt the management was very professional and the cause was one I could really get excited about. That was in 2008 and I’ve been a volunteer advocate in Collin County, where I live, until recently when I’ve taken a break in order to focus on the work associated with Texas CASA and my president position.

In addition to working with my CASA kids, I worked with Collin County CASA staff to start our Legislative Advocacy Team (LAT) and headed that team for several legislative sessions. I’m still on the Collin County LAT. LATs and legislative advocacy are very important and I hope local CASA programs that don’t have a LAT will work with the Texas CASA staff to establish one.

How and when did you get involved with Texas CASA?
About 7 or 8 years ago, Texas CASA established a task force of CASA volunteer advocates to improve its services for local CASA programs. I was lucky enough to be nominated for that task force by CASA of Collin County. It was a great learning experience about Texas CASA as well as the various local programs that the other volunteers on this task force represented. From that experience, one of the Texas CASA staff members recommended me and another volunteer on the task force to be considered for the Texas CASA board.

What has your experience been like serving on the Texas CASA Board of Directors?
Building on the foundation created by past board members and Texas CASA staff and executive directors, in the years I’ve been in the board, Texas CASA has made significant advances. It’s exciting to experience that, and be part of that, as a board member.

Let me give you just one example. Our vision – as stated in our strategic plan – is “a safe and positive future for all Texas children.” One of Texas CASA’s tactics in support of that vision is to work towards serving all of the children in the child protection system. That is, to help local programs serve more and more children. In 2016, CASA programs were serving 54 percent of the children. A year later, FY 2017, we are now serving 58 percent of the children in the child protection system.

So what has Texas CASA done to help local programs increase the number of children they serve? For the past several years, we’ve spent more than a million dollars annually on a statewide media campaign which has caused a large increase in the number of people interested in being a CASA volunteer. We’ve established a team at the state level to help local CASA programs attract and retain more volunteers. We’ve been able to increase the financial support provided to local programs so that they can hire more staff—one staff member can supervise approximately 30 volunteers who in turn can be assigned to two or three cases per volunteer. We’ve worked with community leaders in areas of the state where there was no CASA program to establish one. And, we’ve improved and expanded our training and technical support for local program volunteers and staff.

Those are just a few examples of how we’ve gone about increasing the number of children we serve. But we also want the lives of children in the system to be better, and I could list so very many examples of things we’ve done in that regard recently—our collaboration with the Department of Family and Protective Services to create meaningful and lasting connections for children in foster care, our work to ensure that all child abuse and neglect reports are investigated consistently and in a timely manner, our voice in the ongoing changes in the child protection system and many more examples over the years. I’m proud of the successes. Which is not to say that our job is done, but we’re making good progress.

Can you expand on your vision for Texas CASA as Board President? 
One of the most important aspects of a board in any organization, I think, is looking forward. What does the future look like? What should we be doing to address the future? What should we be worried about? What changes are happening in the environment in which we operate which affects us? How should we address these changes? Our success is dependent on people—how can Texas CASA make its staff and the [program] staffs and volunteers statewide better?

We’ve done some of this questioning and future gazing as a board, but we’ll be more intentional in our forward thinking.

We also need to review, revise and update our strategic plan. I don’t expect our vision “A safe and positive future for all Texas children” or our mission “to support local CASA volunteer advocacy programs and to advocate for effective public policy for children in the child protection system” to change. But many, if not most, of the tactics identified in the past have now been completed or need some updating. We will tackle that process in the fall, which will lay a road map for the next several years.

What has been a highlight of working with Texas CASA?
For the past several years, I’ve been involved in a small way with National CASA and met many leaders of CASA state organizations around the country. I burst with pride about how much both the national and other state CASA organizations look to Texas CASA and our local programs for leadership. For example, we have several local program executive directors and other staff member and Texas CASA staff on national leadership councils. Our Texas CASA staff is often called on by their counterparts in other states for ideas and advice. And our public policy work, in large measure due to our LATs, makes a difference not only in Austin but also among those that have moved on to Washington as elected officials or staffers. While none of our stated goals call on us to make a difference nationally, we certainly are doing that.

Why is CASA meaningful to you personally?
CASA—the volunteers and staff at the local and state level—really make a difference in the lives of our kids. Sometimes the difference is obvious and sometimes it’s not, but after many years being involved with CASA and with the kids, I know we make a difference. And what more could a person ask than to have a positive impact on the life of a child?

Check out our other Texas CASA staff spotlights!