Leslie Morton is the Communications and Awareness Executive Director for Texas CASA and has been with the organization for almost six years. She was hired as the Training Manager, became the Training Director, and was shortly thereafter asked to also lead the Communications Department. These two departments were divided in 2017, after which she became the Executive Director of the Communications and Awareness Department, which includes the recruitment and retention team.
Tell us about your previous work experience.
As a little girl growing up in North Carolina, I thought I wanted to be a corporate mogul. My father started his own business in the 1950s and took it public in the 60s. That fast-paced life of growth, challenge and change seemed exciting to me. With an accounting degree and a little bit of luck, I became the purchasing manager at a large Mitsubishi subsidiary and then the director of operations at an advertising agency in Atlanta. It was definitely fast paced and very challenging, but I was not fulfilled. My best friend was the executive director for a sexual assault and children’s advocacy center in an Atlanta suburb and asked if I would help with a capital campaign. At the time, I didn’t think I knew anyone who had been sexually abused – this was not a subject matter that I was particularity drawn to, and yet, once I started speaking about this organization and their mission during fundraising meetings around the city and had dozens come up to me afterwards and share their stories, I knew I had found my calling. Since that day, I discovered that several members of my family and many friends had their own experiences with sexual abuse. My past work experience and all the business books that I had read were going to pay off – not so much for me, but to be used in growing nonprofits to be successful with their mission.
I have never looked back and have had a career in the nonprofit world since the late 90s. After many years as the assistant director for Gwinnett County Sexual Assault and Children’s Advocacy Center, I decided to leave and start a nonprofit that would teach teenagers emotional intelligence. With the help of many, I started a program called Quest Teen Leadership, where teens learned the tools of emotional intelligence to support their life journey. We were able to train more than 4,000 teens in five states, and later began training and coaching sessions for adults.
What brought you to Texas CASA and the CASA cause?
I was living in North Carolina, and someone that works with AISD had hired us for a series of trainings. I fell in love with Austin and decided to stay, which led me to Texas CASA. When I took the position as Training Manager I was immediately impressed with the impact that a statewide organization could have in such a big arena as child welfare in the very large state of Texas. With this position I could continue doing the work I loved – supporting youth – and provide training and materials for the staff and volunteers that served the children in the child welfare system.
There is so much involved in truly understanding the work of CASA, and I felt that becoming a CASA volunteer would help me learn and also give me the direct service impact that I loved. I was a volunteer with CASA of Travis County for almost three years and served two teenage sisters that were eventually adopted.
Can you tell us more about your role as the Communications and Awareness Executive Director?
I love my job. Everyone in my life knows how much I love my job. I love what I do, because I believe that CASA is the premier volunteer opportunity in the country. We offer adults the chance to use the skills they have learned in their lives, add additional skills through our trainings, and volunteer for the duration of a case and impact a child’s life at a most critical time.
My personal vision is that CASA becomes a household word. Luckily, I have the opportunity, along with my team, to be a direct contributor to this vision. Our team is responsible for the statewide awareness campaign, “Every Child Has a Chance – It’s You.®” We work with our marketing partner, GDC Marketing and Ideation, to create and place TV, radio, billboards, digital and print media across the state. We also work directly with the local programs through our boots-on-the-ground coaches to support their individual recruitment and retention efforts. This is what the “Awareness” part of our department focuses on. The “Communications” side is more about the branding and communication for Texas CASA events, blogs, websites and support products that we create.
What are some of the projects your team is focusing on currently?
I must start by acknowledging the great success we have had with our short film, Emily’s Dragon. We have received national acclaim for this 8-minute film that shows the impact of a CASA volunteer on the life of a child. The project was led by our team, but much of the Texas CASA staff and their children participated in its creation. This video is being shared in presentations, on social media and more, and has had more than 270,000 Facebook views to date.
Our conference will be held in Denton this year in October, and the theme is Tune In To CASA. Communications plays a large role in the creation and production of our annual conference. On the awareness side, we have an exciting workgroup called Clergy, CASA and Community. We are creating partnerships at the state level to support the local programs with their connections in the community. As the state membership organization, we have the unique ability to partner with state offices and businesses for the purpose of recruitment and awareness. These efforts can benefit the local programs with new volunteers.
Tell us more about your plans for the future of your department.
Our team is always setting the bar higher and higher so that every event, training and product that Texas CASA produces is of excellence. We have a smart, creative team that makes this challenging goal look easier than it is in reality. We also plan to be instrumental in creating such awareness and urgency with our cause that every child in the child welfare system has a CASA. Our team is united in this vision.
In summary, I am eternally grateful to have the honor to work for such a noble cause, and one of the reasons that I enjoy my work so much is the lovely people that I collaborate with in our office and the network. Relationships are very important to me, and the relationships that I have with my coworkers make this sometimes-challenging job a true joy. As a child, I wanted to have a fast-paced career that was rewarding and would change the world. I am so blessed that my wish was fulfilled.