Elizabeth Mast, Grants Management Specialist, serves the CASA network by managing grants like the volunteer travel and background check reimbursements. She studied business and economics at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, and is proud to be using her skillset to help the CASA programs and the children and families they serve.
Tell us about your background.
I moved to Texas from Pennsylvania and went to school in Virginia. I’ve always had a passion for travel, so I also worked and studied abroad in Europe.
I studied business and economics at Eastern Mennonite University. The focus with that program was economic development and helping others. So that was always part of my background and who I was.
When I moved here I started at a credit union. I liked helping people manage their finances and find a plan to pay off their debts and lower their finance costs as much as possible… Use their financial resources efficiently. And that’s the same sort of thing I see as important in the work I do here.
How did you get involved with Texas CASA?
I had a friend who was a really cool person who worked at a really cool nonprofit, and she told me based on my background she thought there was a position that might be a good fit for me. Around that same time, another friend was training to be a CASA volunteer. So I guess it was meant to be!
All the stars aligned so that I could have awesome, incredible people in my life.
Tell us about your role in the Grants department.
I’m responsible for direct grants. I manage the volunteer travel and background check grants that allow CASA volunteers to get reimbursed for travel – which is important and everyone should take advantage of that!
It’s a great opportunity to help volunteers because a lot of kids are placed long distance, and they’re already putting a lot of time in. We want to minimize their financial burden as much as possible. I’m really proud and happy that I can help programs do that.
I also manage the Courtesy CASA grants and projects that receive grant funds, such as Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) and Computers for CASA.
You’re also a CASA volunteer. Tell us about that!
We need volunteers and we need a CASA for every kid – and I felt like, why not me?
Our office has volunteer hours and that’s something to take advantage of. Even if I’m not necessarily in a role where I’m getting trained in direct services, I’m getting that peripherally. Getting information on how to be an effective advocate. There’s a wealth of information here at Texas CASA, and I thought that was something I could offer to the children – my experience here and the wisdom and knowledge I’m surrounded by. And I know that if I ever have any questions I can not only ask my CASA supervisor, I can also ask the coworker next door!
In my last case I was a CASA for four kids. From the beginning, their grandma was able to take them and provide for them, and be their caregiver and their parent. She’s been great throughout, and there was never any question about where the kids should go. Family is really important, and they were lucky to have a wonderful caregiver. Ideally, they would have returned to their mom, but it wasn’t possible. They were lucky enough to have a grandma who had helped raise them already and been a big part of their lives.
So it was really exciting a couple of weeks ago to see that happen officially on Travis County Adoption Day. I didn’t know what to expect walking into the courthouse, but it was a party, and they made it that way. They had people dressed as Wizard of Oz characters, food, teddy bears, stuffed animals… they made a special experience even more special.
What does CASA mean to you?
The thing that comes to mind is the best interest of the child, and being able to speak up for that and give children a voice. Build a relationship and look for things that might fall through the cracks otherwise. Filling the gaps that are there when a child enters the system. Also, the broader advocacy Texas CASA is able to provide. The holistic approach we take, trying to do everything we can at every angle to do what is best for these kids who are in such a vulnerable position.
Every day I’m impressed by the passion that I’m surrounded by in the office. Everybody truly cares about what is best for these children and is doing their best within their role to do that, and I think that makes our organization unique. I know everyone here is truly caring and truly passionate. It’s something I’m blown away by and makes me happy and proud to work for Texas CASA.