CASA Philadelphia welcomed a new President of its Board of Director this June, Caroline Rosch. No stranger to the world of nonprofit management, Caroline is the Managing Director of Portfolio Management and Operations at Reinvestment Fund. “Caroline brings a strong commitment to child welfare, tremendous focus as a leader and an infectious positive energy” says CASA Executive Director Happi Grillon. “We are so pleased that she has agreed to take on the Board President role in this critical time.” Caroline sat down with CASA to answer questions about her new role as our September CASA Close-Up.
• Tell us about how you got involved with CASA? I moved to Philadelphia eight years ago to join Reinvestment Fund, in their community finance practice. Shortly after adopting Center City as my new home, I connected with Net Impact’s Board Fellows program which matchmakes civic-minded professionals with local nonprofits. When I was accepted to the Board Fellows program, I asked to be placed with CASA of Philadelphia County. I picked CASA for the fellowship because of my passion for its mission, and it was a serendipitous placement. At the end of my fellowship, CASA faced a cluster of challenges, and I was standing by to help. CASA was navigating a state budget impasse threatening program funding, and the Board was without a Treasurer. I was elected to the Board to step in as Treasurer and, later, Development Chairperson. In those two roles, I used my nonprofit finance background to lead the Board through a multi-year growth and funding diversification strategy.
• What about our nonprofit’s mission and work really motivates you? Children depend on adults. When a family is under toxic stress from living in deep poverty, or experiencing violence, addiction or other trauma, it’s obviously much harder for those adults to fully attend to their children’s needs. Failing to provide families support services when they are struggling puts children at risk for abuse and neglect. While it is the universal opinion that child abuse is tragic and wrong, there isn’t broad agreement in the United States that it is a public health crisis to be addressed through policy change. I first chose to serve CASA for largely the same reasons I serve now – I want people to understand the massive scale of child abuse and neglect in Philadelphia, the root causes, and what is lost when thousands of children are traumatized instead of nurtured. I hope to invoke awareness and empathy in compassionate people who would show up for children if they only knew how urgently they are needed.
• What do you want to accomplish as board president? I want CASA of Philadelphia County to provide a trained volunteer for every Philadelphia child who needs it within a week of a judge’s request for help. We can’t do that yet, but it’s possible. To get there, the Board is focused on three areas: recruiting and providing a great experience for volunteers, growing revenue for training and supervising those volunteers, and improving operating infrastructure for program growth.
• Which of those activities are you most excited about? All of them! CASA’s esteemed reputation nationally as well as in Philadelphia is based on the caliber and commitment of our volunteers, so their experience is critically important to me. Year-round, CASA actively recruits and trains diverse volunteers who can relate to and be trusted allies for the children we serve. Right now, we are doing a focused recruiting effort to bring on more male and LGBTQ volunteers for future cases. Every spring, CASA holds a ceremonial “Swearing In” event at Family Court, where the new volunteers take their oath and get sworn in to service by Administrative Judge Margaret T. Murphy. I love attending that ceremony and reception, meeting the volunteers and hearing why they have taken on this incredible two-year service. Growing and diversifying revenue is the most intellectually demanding Board activity I undertake and requires the most flat-out courage. I am not a salesperson by nature and asking people for money gives me butterflies every time. But I embrace this aspect of Board service because attempting only the things I know I can accomplish won’t get CASA where it needs to be, and it won’t make me very proud of myself. When I speak to new prospective Board members who share their concerns about their own ability to raise money for CASA, I understand their apprehension. It’s fair to say there’s a small mountain in front of us, and none of us are world-class hikers. But relentlessness and grit are as Philly as the cheesesteaks. My Board and I are gritty if we need to be, so we will lace up their boots and get climbing. Our operating infrastructure work won’t go viral on Twitter, but I’m excited about it. Anyone who’s ever worked at a nonprofit organization understands customer information, outcomes and other business data can overwhelm program staff. Small nonprofits need to measure and report program impacts, often to multiple standards and formats simultaneously without a dedicated data analyst. A nonprofit with a well-designed information solution can connect with more donors and take on major grants. CASA is making this investment now for sustainability and growth ahead.
• What should people know about CASA that they might not? Every child relying on Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services for safety and nurture needs at least one attentive, consistent adult fiercely advocating for their best interests. Before COVID the average length of time in foster care in Philadelphia was 24 months. During that time a child often moves through multiple physical placements and case workers. If a family member isn’t available to shelter all the siblings together, they are likely to be separated. Child-serving organizations are staffed by people who deeply care about children, and yet the foster care experience has always been traumatic and chaotic for the child. And that was before COVID.
A CASA volunteer is stability. A CASA volunteer visits their child every month without fail. A CASA volunteer shows up at every new home placement to be sure their child will be safe. A CASA volunteer stands next to their child every time they meet a Family Court Judge, and a CASA volunteer prepares by meeting with the relevant doctors, teachers and therapists. A CASA volunteer makes sure their child gets the services and attention they need to rejoin a loving home.