Children in L.A. County’s foster care system have a passionate booster in Charity Chandler-Cole. As the new chief executive officer of CASA of Los Angeles, she is fully committed to being a champion for youth and recruiting others to join the cause.
CASAs, Court Appointed Special Advocates, provide guidance and support to children who have entered the juvenile dependency system due to abuse or neglect by their parents. Chandler-Cole, who is the organization’s first African American CEO, brings a powerful combination of senior management expertise and lived experience to the nonprofit agency.
“I really had a lot of hands-on experience. I was a nonprofit executive with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation where I oversaw a $35 million budget,” she explained about her previous position as national director of AHF’s Contracts Administration Department. “Most importantly, my experience comes from being a former foster youth in L.A. County and bringing a lot of advocacy around child welfare for the last 10 years.”
Chandler-Cole’s background includes creating Transformative Management Solutions (TMS), a consultancy she founded that is focused on aiding nonprofit, public and political organizations in implementing social, educational and racial justice as well as child welfare initiatives; serving as chair of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), a group focused on empowering formerly and currently incarcerated people; and being vice chair of Fostering Change Network, a global consulting body dedicated to improving child welfare policy.
She was also a member of the Juvenile Justice Standing Committee, which was created by the Board of State and Community Corrections to address concerns impacting adolescent offenders; as well as served on the Prop 47 Executive Steering Committee, which she described as “guiding the process for awarding the majority of the state’s Proposition 47 savings to help rehabilitate and provide resources to those coming out of prison.”
In addition, Chandler-Cole was elected president of the Black Los Angeles Young Democrats, a political action committee that trains young African American leaders in advocacy and activism “to strengthen our influence in politics and policies that affect our lives,” she said.
Also, she received a Masters in Public Administration from Cal State University Northridge, a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from Loyola Marymount University, and is currently finishing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University. She is a mother to four children, and relative caregiver to her nephew.
Critical to her success – both past and future – is her “heart for young people” along with her belief that building awareness about CASAs will help foster children and communities as a whole. However, key to raising the agency’s profile is persuading more people of color to volunteer with the organization, noted Chandler-Cole.
“We need more Black and Brown CASAs out there, so if we have a little Black kid that’s in the child welfare system, he can be partnered with a Black male or Black female, someone who looks like him and comes from his community and he can say, ‘Wow, I can actually grow up and be like this person. They’re just not my advocate in court, they’re also my mentor, my friend, my big sister or brother and they look like me.’
“In order to be a CASA, your heart really has to drive this for you. And being a CASA isn’t for everyone,” she admitted. “It’s for someone that sees the benefit in helping our children and the social responsibility of helping our children and leading from their heart in serving our children. It’s an opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life.”
And positively impacting a child’s life does not take loads of time, said the new CEO. CASAs donate an average of 10-to-20 hours a month through activities such as regular visits with the child, interacting with foster parents and teachers, and accompanying youth to court hearings and appointments. Other actions, like online reports and phone calls, can be completed from a CASA’s home.
Also, becoming a CASA is a relatively simple process. After interviews and a background check, volunteers complete 40 hours of training where they learn about cultural sensitivity, child development, psychotropic mood changing drugs and other information that may affect a child.
“Everyone has the opportunity to spend hours upon hours to help our youth, but the reality is we rely on volunteers to commit their personal time to helping transform a life. We’re very intentional how our CASAs interact with our youth, making sure that those interactions are impactful and meaningful, so that the short amount of time they spend with the youth is memorable and actually helps change their lives in the process,” Chandler-Cole said.
“But for the people that step up to be CASAs, it’s just as rewarding for them as it is for our youth, so it’s worth it for both parties.”
To build the ranks of CASAs, Chandler-Cole’s aims to encourage more older adults to donate time in the volunteer role and seek partnerships with other youth-oriented nonprofits, such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, to share resources and programs.
“We have amazing folks at home that are over 60, 65 and 70, that want to get involved. Perhaps they are not always mobile or may be health compromised in different ways, [but we want] to reach out to them to allow them to be active and engaged,” insisted Chandler-Cole, who added that the pandemic has expanded the opportunity to virtually connect with people, which helps advance communication and relationships between individuals.
Expressing optimism about the future in her new position, Chandler-Cole shared, “Having been in the system and seeing the dire outcomes for so many children who feel they have no voice and no one who cares for them, I was drawn to CASA/LA, [which] provides a direct way to change outcomes that so often seem automated in an overburdened system.
“A CASA volunteer sends a distinct message, letting everyone that interacts with that child know that they have someone looking out for them. These children are not alone, and they will not be discarded,” she said. “CASA/LA has the opportunity to upend the status quo of our Child Welfare System and serve as a transformative force in drastically changing the experience of youth in foster care.”
To learn more or volunteer as a mentor, visit casala.org.