by Megan Phillips
Ms. Phillips, a Kansas City native, served eight years on the Missouri CASA board of directors and two terms as President. She is an attorney and judicial clerk for the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District and was previously a teaching fellow for the Family Violence Clinic of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. Ms. Phillips is Chair of the Missouri Joint Commission for Women in the Legal Profession and former President of the Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater St. Louis.
Jackson County is one of 21 local CASA programs under the statewide umbrella of the Missouri CASA Association (MOCASA). As a state office, MOCASA doesn’t provide direct services. Rather, its role is to support local programs with technical assistance, funding, grant compliance, resource-sharing, and policy advocacy.
Currently, there are over 12,000 children in foster care in Missouri. About 3,300 of them benefit from the powerful advocacy of the 1,300 CASA volunteers throughout the state. Jackson County CASA is one of the largest local programs, serving approximately 1,000 children with the help of over 320 volunteers. MOCASA’s mission is to help existing programs grow – particularly in smaller communities with fewer resources and staff – and to establish new programs where needed in order to deploy more volunteers to serve more children statewide.
MOCASA employs a highly competent and effective staff. Beth Dessem, our Executive Director since 2002, possesses a wealth of institutional knowledge and expertise and is highly respected both in Missouri, as Chair of the Children’s Justice Task Force, and within National CASA, as a former officer on its board of trustees. Deputy Director Leanne Reese, joined MOCASA in 2008 after years in private law practice, bringing an invaluable skill set to the team. Operations Manager Marilee Fischer handles office administration and accounting with competence and a smile. Finally, MOCASA is now hiring a director of development and community relations. Everyone on the team wears a variety of hats. Thanks to their remarkable effectiveness, MOCASA has become a leader and model for other state CASA offices across the country.
MOCASA’s board of directors is comprised of dedicated citizens from a variety of regions and professions. You can read more about them here and we are always looking for new members to help us strengthen the organization in order to expand our reach and help more kids.
Last but certainly not least, MOCASA is fortunate to benefit from the insight of Jackson County’s Martha Gershun, who currently serves as the local programs’ representative and liaison to the MOCASA board. The program director has a critical function on the MOCASA board by conveying the needs and concerns of the local programs. Martha is the zoom lens through which the state board, flying at 10,000 feet, acquires an accurate view of the local programs’ work in the trenches. We appreciate the passion and dedication of Jackson County CASA staff, volunteers, board, and other supporters, all who make a difference in children’s lives every day.