Texas CASA Spotlight: Emma Ledford
Emma Ledford keeps the CASA network up to date and informed through her work as Texas CASA’s Communications Specialist. Emma joined the Texas CASA team initially as an intern before becoming a full-time member of the team. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.
Tell us about your background before you came to CASA.
I grew up in a small town in the Houston-area. I was always interested in writing and editing. I used to edit everything I saw anywhere I went – I knew I was a natural at that and I was always good at English class, all those sorts of things. I ended up going to The University of Texas at Austin for journalism. All of my classes that I took in journalism school really opened my eyes to a way bigger world out there that I didn’t really get to see growing up in a small town. I grew up in a loving, safe and permanent home with a loving, safe and permanent family. I was lucky. I didn’t really know a whole lot about anything involving foster care before I came here. I actually ended up interning here while I was still in school at UT Austin. I fell in love with the work and the people that I work with, and I guess it showed because they hired me after my internship. So here we are!
What brought you to Texas CASA?
When I actually came to my internship interview I knew very little about the foster care system or how many kids were in it. I knew very little about what these kids go through and how many intricacies there are to all of it, frankly. I’ve been here for over six years at this point, and the longer I’m here the more I learn. I still learn something new about the system, child welfare or my coworkers every single day. Everyone I work with is lovely and wonderful and really invested in the work that we do. Also, there are three wonderful babies in the office and that doesn’t hurt at all! We all have good days and we all have bad days, but we all really genuinely believe in the importance of the work we do.
Tell us about your role here at Texas CASA.
My official title is Communications Specialist and I oversee our email marketing efforts. I also do a lot of our content planning and management for our social media accounts. Probably the biggest thing that I oversee is our news and outreach blogs. We have two blogs, The CASA Voice and Inside CASA. Inside CASA is geared towards our internal audience, which is the local CASA programs across the state and their staff and board members. We keep them informed of what’s going on in the CASA network. Then there’s The CASA Voice which is our outreach, recruitment and awareness blog. The CASA Voice is the fun one! That’s where we get to tell those stories of the awesome work the CASA programs are doing across the state each and every day. One of my favorite things is whenever I’m doing a story for The CASA Voice and I get to interview a volunteer. Hearing someone tell their story of what it’s like to work on a case and get to know a kid like that, especially the success stories, it’s just the best. To be a CASA volunteer takes a really specific kind of person. Getting more into their motivations and what keeps them coming back case after case is really interesting and rewarding.
What does the future of your work look like?
I’m actually the lead on one of our big collateral pieces each year, which is the Texas CASA Calendar. It’s a 12-month calendar that we create and distribute throughout the network to be a conversation starter on people’s walls. We’re very excited about the direction we’re taking it this year. This time the theme is 12 Months, 12 Stories of the CASA Difference, and I’m working with a very talented staff member Jonathan Horstmann, who is an absolutely amazing artist. He is illustrating each calendar page for the stories. We’re very excited with how it’s turning out. We’re putting a lot of love and work into it.
I’m always working on improving the blogs and content we put out each month. I’ve also taken more of a leadership role in our organization when it comes to our equity and diversity work, especially when it comes to LGBTQ issues. In line with an initiative we’re doing called Leadership for Equity and Diversity, otherwise known as LEAD, we are working on ways to make our office as inclusive and welcoming as possible for people of all ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, races, ethnicities and expressions. We believe that it’s very important not only for our office, but also for the CASA network to work really hard to be welcoming for everyone. First of all, just because, but also because so many of the children in state care are minorities, are children of color, are LGBTQ… and things can be especially bad for trans kids in care. If we want to move our network towards being more open and accepting and being the best possible advocates for all, then we need to walk that walk before we talk that talk.
What is your favorite thing about working at Texas CASA?
The cause, which is the cliché answer, but it’s honestly true. Besides that, we have a long way to go, everybody does basically – but I feel like I’m in a place where I can authentically express who I am, and I hope everyone else does too. It’s really exciting that I get to take part in making sure that we are the best possible environment for people to fully be themselves. That concept really translates to our work for kids in foster care because so many of them are in care in the first place because they didn’t have a place to be themselves. Especially if we’re talking about LGBTQ kids: they get removed from homes for the same reason all other kids do, but they also have this whole other added layer of trauma that comes from family rejection so many times. The fact that I have the opportunity to make an impact for kids, who by all accounts I could’ve been if I wasn’t so lucky, is huge.
What does CASA mean to you?
CASA to me means speaking up for those who need it most, but also empowering them to speak up for themselves and to reach their full potential. It also means opportunity, because I think we still, both in our physical office and as a network, have a lot more that we can do to best advocate for these kids. I think we are taking really good steps to get there. For me personally, in the office I work in, it means happiness and fulfilling work.