If Angela Campbell could have selected her successor to lead CASA of Yellowstone County, that person would have been a lot like Cass Staton.
Beginning Monday and after her hiring by the agency’s board of directors, Staton, 29, is set to become executive director of the local chapter of Court Appointed Special Advocates, which works with the court system to protect abused and neglected children.
Campbell joked that she and her husband, T.K. Kantner, are going to “embrace our love and addiction” by repurposing antiques and launching a new business called Rusty Dog Rescued Antiques.
Staton comes to CASA after leading the Chase Hawks Memorial Association, a nonprofit that raises money and provides financial assistance to families in crisis.
Before that, she worked at RiverStone Health, served a short stint with the Yellowstone AIDS Project, and with her husband, Wes Stanton, was a Peace Corps volunteer working with disadvantaged youth in the Northern Andes Mountains in Peru.
Staton has proven fundraising and public relations experience, Campbell said, and those are skills that CASA needs at this time. She’ll be the third executive director in the 15-year history of the local chapter, which was founded by Shirley Folkwein.
“I feel great about the work Angela has done, and I feel great about the outstanding staff we have,” Staton said Tuesday from the CASA office at 1201 Grand Ave. “I do feel daunted by the number of kids entering the child welfare system.”
Last year, Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office filed 182 new cases in the court system, Campbell said. During the first six months of 2015, 215 new children entered the court system.
“Never has there been a more pressing time for growth of the CASA of Yellowstone County program than now,” Campbell said.
CASA can serve more children only by training more advocates. Staton said the next training session will begin Sept. 16, and she intends to enroll in the training herself.
“I truly believe any investment in the children of our community will never be wasted,” she said. “These are the children who need us the most.”
Campbell said that the growth in the CASA program is a credit “to the community that stepped up when we made the call.” While the agency had about 40 trained advocates 5 years ago, it now has more than 100. The number of children served has more than quadrupled over those same 15 years.
“That growth is the exciting part,” Campbell said. “It’s no longer the question, ‘Do you have a CASA for this case?’ Now it’s, ‘Who is the CASA for this case?’”
Advocates are also getting younger, and Campbell said a person Staton’s age can help accelerate that demographic.
“We used to be a predominately retired volunteer experience, but we have a lot of folks in their 20s, 30s and 40s,” she said. “There are now a lot of young parents (volunteering) who know exactly what it is like juggling child-rearing, a full-time job and this child with special needs.”
“We have changed a lot,” Campbell added. “There are a lot more men now because so many kids have no strong male figure in their lives.”
Helping children through the foster and legal systems resolves their cases sooner and leads to more stable children and parents and less drug and alcohol abuse and lower unemployment, Staton said.
“As we continue to educate community members,” she said, “I don’t think there’s anybody who will deny that this is a good thing.”
While people hesitate to discuss the “ugliness” of child abuse, “it is right there at your Thanksgiving table,” Campbell said, “or next door or with the friends of your neighbor. It’s there in that kid in class who will never look up, and we need to talk about it, no matter how hard that is.
Learn more by visiting www.yellowstonecasa.org or by calling 406-259-1233
Join us Tuesday, July 28th from 11 a.m. -2 p.m. at the CASA office for our Open House!