3 Years = Big steps on our long journey towards inclusion

Jun 18 2012

By Sonia Kotecha

The first time I attended the National CASA annual conferece was three years ago in Colorado. At that time, CASA of Travis County was discussing how we could become a more diverse and inclusive organization. We wanted our community of CASA volunteers to reflect the ethnic diversity of the Austin community. I came to the conference eager to learn what other CASA programs were doing to increase diversity in their volunteer pools. What recruitment and retention strategies were they using? How were they overcoming the challenges to becoming a more inclusive organization?

I heard from other urban programs in Chicago, Miami and Louisiana, who were recipients of a National CASA Diversity Implementation Grant to formally develop a strategic diversity and outreach plan. I took rigorous notes, exchanged business cards and followed up with these programs when I returned to Austin. The information gathered informed CASA of Travis County’s strategic plan to expand our volunteer outreach and cultivate a more inclusive culture.

Fast forward three years later, and I find myself in front of a room of eager CASA staff and volunteers from across the country looking to our program for direction and guidance on how they can begin their organizational journeys in outreaching to diverse communities and strengthening the cultural competence skills of their CASA volunteers and staff.  As this year’s honoree of the National CASA Association Inclusion Award, CASA of Travis County was tasked with preparing a workshop for conference attendees to share best practices. We emphasized to participants that we are still on a very long journey and that this award is a milestone, a marker on the path. Executive Director Laura Wolf said, “Building a diverse and inclusive organization is not a task that we will ever check off our list as completed, but rather will be a continuing process of self-examination, discovery, deliberate and conscious effort.”

In my role as CASA’s Community Outreach Liaison, I shared a number of concrete strategies we have used to go beyond our walls to recruit and retain volunteers from diverse backgrounds. Many of the tactics used mirror the ways CASA volunteers serve as an advocate for a child. It’s about being consistent and building trusting relationships. One woman in particular expressed how inspired she felt after our talk. Her program has experienced a number of starts and stops in their outreach efforts, but learning about our successes, challenges and areas of growth, she felt motivated to keep moving forward. It was this very realization, the same one I took from the conference three years ago, that I hoped for all of our attendees. As I always like to tell our CASA children, if you can see it, if you can believe it, then you can achieve it!