Texas CASA Spotlight: Founding CEO Jane Quentan Piper

Jane Quentan Piper, Texas CASA’s first CEO, founded Texas CASA in 1989 when she saw a need for a statewide hub. Since then, CASA in Texas has grown from 13 CASA programs to 72 strong, with nearly 11,000 volunteers serving more than 30,000 children in 217 of our state’s 254 counties. In this month’s Texas CASA Spotlight, Jane joins us to reflect on our movement’s accomplishments over the years, and to kick off our year-long 30th Anniversary celebration.

Texas CASA Founding CEO Jane Quentan Piper and family. Bottom row (left to right): Carolyn Gump, Erika Gump, Harper Gump, Jane Quentan Piper, Emma Jane Gump, Leigh Ann Willis. Top row (left to right): Tara Reimers Gump, Shep Gump, John Gump, Cory Willis.

Let’s get started with you telling us a little bit about yourself and how you joined the CASA movement.

I grew up in Texas, in Dallas, in a pretty big family. Graduated from the University of Texas in 1975.

I became a CASA volunteer at Dallas CASA around 1980. I was in the Junior League and I saw that CASA needed volunteers to be advocates for abused children in the court system. I quickly became sold on the whole concept.

Dallas CASA was actually called “Focus” at the time. As you can imagine, way back then, there was barely a National CASA organization. It was all just so new. There really weren’t standards or brand consistency… nothing. Marjorie McAdams, first director of Dallas CASA, she’s passed on now, but she had the passion that all of us have for abused children. She was a real pioneer in my mind. She was my mentor for a while for sure.

My family and I moved to Austin a few years later, and there was no program in Austin at that time. So I helped start the program in Austin, CASA of Travis County, and that was a hoot! But it was not easy. I mean, nobody had heard of CASA.

Can you tell us more about your time as a CASA volunteer?

CASA volunteers are able to say to the child, to the relatives, “We are a volunteer – we don’t get paid for this. We’re doing this because we love children. We’re doing this because we care.” The experience of being able to say that is so powerful. When I said that to my CASA child 30 plus years ago… they listened. And they understood. I think that’s huge.

Also, when you go into court, the first person the judge listens to is us, and they give huge weight to what we do.

My passion for CASA and helping these children is real – I know the difference that it can make in a child’s life. We’re angels. We’re those children’s angels.

Tell us the story of Texas CASA’s founding in 1989.

We discovered a need to have a statewide organization, because all of us were kind of floundering because there wasn’t much guidance on what to do, how to do it… no governing body. Nobody to help get us all together in Texas. And obviously Texas is big.

So, this is how Texas CASA was formed: In the kitchen of one of the most dynamic people I know, and her name is Marty Braniff. She started the Houston program, just the same way we started the Austin program – without much help from anybody. She cared about children so much. So the two of us got together in her kitchen and decided we needed a statewide organization, and that’s how it got formed. And they elected me to lead it, and so that’s what I did!

Our mission at the time was to realize that, first of all, Texas has 254 counties, and we wanted CASA in every county. At the time we had just 13 CASA programs. So we had to go after funding. We got grants from the Hogg Foundation and the Meadows Foundation, and we formed a board of directors. And I got to travel around Texas forming programs. I traveled around this great state and we started forming more CASA programs to serve children, and we grew and we grew.

Later, our mission changed a little bit – we go to do training and give more funding to the local programs, and focus on serving more children and making sure that we were doing it with volunteers, not staff.

When you founded Texas CASA in 1989, with the then-13 programs, did you ever imagine you’d be reflecting on 30 years of growth and impact with us today?

No. It feels fantastic… it is fantastic. And I tell people without any reservations that I am very proud of what I did for sure, but what you all are doing, and the volunteers are doing, and the staff is doing everywhere around Texas… I’m totally proud, that’s all I can say. I’m humbled. I can’t believe it. I don’t think anybody could realize how much going from where nobody’s heard about CASA to “Wow, I know what that is!” … just blows me away.

It’s also been amazing to see a real shift in our state leadership’s relationship with CASA over the years. When I first was onboard and trying to sell the CASA movement and the CASA program, judges and legislators didn’t really understand. When I was talking to legislators trying to raise money and get our first funding in the legislature, I followed men into the men’s room! They were hard to convince. But as CASA became better known, and as leadership became more diverse throughout the years – more female judges and legislators, for example – that made a big difference. Once that started turning around, oh my gosh, yeah, they started listening! They became more invested.

I am the luckiest person in the world. People say you should have a job you love, and I did. I could not have been happier every single day I went to work. I was doing what I felt like I was meant to do. I loved every minute of what I was doing because I knew I was making a difference for so many children, and now, I look at the numbers and I’m totally amazed and so proud.

You currently serve on the Texas CASA Emeritus Board and the fund development committee – What keeps you motivated to stay invested in the CASA movement?

The volunteers. I just can’t get over it. Every time I’m in a room with all the CASA volunteers my stomach just goes crazy because I am so amazed at their work and commitment. That’s truly what keeps me going.

What I also love is the passion that’s still there. With Vicki as CEO and the staff at Texas CASA, I’m just amazed, and like I said before, so proud. I was so worried when I retired that CASA might become a bureaucracy. But it’s not. I hear the passion in each one of you. So I keep going. I want to be involved because I know the passion’s still there and that’s what we’re about.

What are your dreams for where the CASA network could be in 30 more years?

I think we need to be in all 254 counties. We’re almost there. As we’ve already said, I’d want a CASA on every case, for every child. And keep the passion, and keep it volunteer based.

I’m just very, very proud, and very happy with the direction that CASA is going and Texas CASA is going. I really can’t be more proud.

Check out our other Texas CASA spotlights!