My name is Dallas Pender and I have served as the CASA of Yellowstone County Board President since 2021. I grew up in Odessa, Texas, and after graduating from Texas Christian University, I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to complete a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of North Carolina. I met my husband, John, while there and we lived in eastern North Carolina for 15 years before moving to Billings with our two children. I currently work for Rock Creek Teletherapy, providing speech and language therapy via teletherapy to schools in rural areas of Montana.
When I am not serving CASA as the board president, I enjoy running, skiing (downhill and cross country), hiking and mountain biking. My most recent adventure was completing a 40-mile backpacking trip with the Boy Scout Troop 7 at Philmont which is the national Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I serve as an adult leader for my son’s troop. I have a daughter in college in Tennessee, and my son is completing his junior year of high school at Billings Central Catholic High School.
Prior to moving to Billings in 2015, I had heard of CASA, but incorrectly assumed serving as a “court appointed special advocate” would require a background in law. As I started making friends in the Billings community, I realized several of my friends were involved with the local CASA organization, as volunteer advocates or board members. Not a single one of these folks had a background in law, rather, they had diverse experiences in accounting, healthcare, business, education, and real estate. It seemed the only requirement for CASA involvement was to have a heart for service. My husband and I attended a CASA Underground dinner, and I learned what an important mission this extraordinary organization strives to fulfill: to advocate for safety and permanency for children in the foster care system.
I became involved in CASA of Yellowstone County in the fall of 2020 after a good friend asked if I would be interested in serving on the CASA Board of Directors. Nine months later, I had the privilege being elected president of the board. This opportunity has allowed me to more fully appreciate the dedication and hard work of the CASA of Yellowstone County staff, peer coordinators, and advocates. I have been a part of various volunteer organizations in the past, but never one that delivers the kind of high-level training and support which CASA of Yellowstone County provides. The generosity of our volunteers and donors is truly inspiring! None of the work accomplished would be possible without the financial support of community members, and the service hours donated by volunteer Advocates.
At each Board of Directors meeting, we start with a “CASA Moment,” which is often a short story about a successful family reunification that occurred with the help of one of our Advocates. One story stood out to me involving a young child who had not attended school regularly until he was in foster care. The child was assigned a CASA, and the CASA quickly identified several educational concerns to be addressed, including a need for speech therapy. Working with the foster parents and school, the CASA was able to secure beneficial services for the child. As a speech-language pathologist myself, I was struck by the positive impact this one thing would have in the life of this child. With improved communication skills, this child would have the tools needed for self-advocacy and success in the future.
One of the most rewarding things about being involved with CASA of Yellowstone County is seeing the countless ways volunteer Advocates can make a real difference in the lives of children who have been put in complicated and difficult situations, through no fault of their own. I would strongly encourage anyone to become more involved in CASA, as an advocate, board member, or donor. Another great way to support CASA of Yellowstone County is to spread the word. Tell your friends and family about the need for additional volunteer advocates to serve children in foster care. Having a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate on a case can significantly change the trajectory of a child’s life and ensure they don’t slip through the cracks in an overburdened system. Many people have misconceptions about what CASA does, so my advice is to do some research and invite friends to one of our events, such as an Information Session, Coffee with CASA, Underground Dinner, or the famous 0.5K “Run”.