Originally from the UK, Hazel McNeilage left for South Africa in her twenties. She then lived in Australia for 15 years and Singapore for 3 before moving to the United States. For the next several years, Hazel split her time between New York and London and eventually moved to Austin in 2018.
“Moving was always for work. My whole career has been in the finance sector,” says Hazel. “But I’m also really interested in people and cultures, so I sought out roles that gave me opportunities to explore that.” Hazel has a degree in Math, Economics and Operations Research from the University of Lancaster. She is a qualified Actuary in both the UK and Australia, has a certificate in Cybersecurity from Carnegie Mellon University and is a Board Leadership Fellow of the National Association of Corporate Directors.
I’m also really interested in people and cultures, so I sought out roles that gave me opportunities to explore that.
During her time in Australia, Hazel met her husband and had 3 children. She also raced motorbikes and skydived! “I clearly don’t mind taking risks and doing challenging things,” says Hazel, laughing. Now retired from her corporate career and a grandmother to 8, Hazel and her family take turns visiting each other in Australia and Texas several times a year.
Finishing her executive career didn’t stop Hazel from immediately looking for her next venture. “I was always so busy with work that I didn’t do a lot of community work,” Hazel explains. “I knew I was interested in children and education. So, as well as becoming a company director, one of my big goals was to give back.”
Hazel’s strategic move was to become a board member of Scholarship America, a nonprofit that provides access to college scholarships and educational support to college students. And her search for a hands-on opportunity led her to... you guessed it, CASA!
“When I found CASA, I thought ‘this seems like a real impact on the lives of kids who need it.’”
Since finishing training last year, Hazel has already been on 3 cases with sibling groups. “I have the flexibility and I like to be busy!” Hazel says. “And I love my supervisor, Lauren O’Grady. We work really well together.”
Even when things are going well, they can be one problem away from something that could really cause them issues and spiral them off course. There is no safety net.
Through her work with CASA, Hazel has seen how different life is for many of the families we serve. “I often tell my friends that this work keeps me grounded. I’m a fortunate person. I’ve worked hard for everything I have, but I had a good start in life, supportive parents, an education, etc. It’s the same with many of my friends. But I see the hardships that many of these families [that CASA serves] have, and how that impacts the kids,” observes Hazel. “What a struggle it can be for people who in many ways are actually trying to do the right thing. Even when things are going well, they can be one problem away from something that could really cause them issues and spiral them off course. There is no safety net.”
Hazel admits she “doesn’t get nervous often,” but her biggest concern when she started with CASA was if she was really doing a good job. “I would hate to let these kids down. So, I visit and talk to as many people on the case as I can. Parents, teachers, therapists, even the Director of the childcare center. I try hard to get as much information as I can to hopefully inform the safest decisions and be the best advocate possible.”
Being respectful of people, showing an interest in them and being prepared to listen, makes things easier. People warm up to you.
According to Hazel, her most effective tools as an advocate have been determination and a willingness to listen. “I just don’t give up. I’m determined that we will find the best outcome we possibly can for these kids,” she says. “And being respectful of people, showing an interest in them and being prepared to listen, makes things easier. People warm up to you.”
If you’re thinking about volunteering, Hazel wants you to know that “you can be confident that you are not doing this work alone. You will be very well supported by your supervisor. It’s not always easy, but CASA is a fantastic organization, and this is an amazingly rewarding thing to do!”
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2020 Featured Volunteer Story March Volunteer Profiles