CASA of St. Louis Receives YouthBridge Heritage Grant

Heritage Grants awarded by YouthBridge Community Foundation of Greater St. Louis are inspired by fundholders with big hearts who care about the financial sustainability of the nonprofits they love. After careful research and much consideration, YouthBridge determined that CASA of St. Louis fit the Heritage Grant requirements perfectly this year. The mission of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is to engage “highly trained volunteers to provide best-interest court and community based advocacy for children in the foster care system due to abuse and neglect.” With strong leadership in place and a mission that is well-aligned with YouthBridge’s focus on caring for the future of St. Louis, awarding a Heritage Grant to CASA of St. Louis simply made sense.

Barbara Carswell, YouthBridge Community Foundation CEO, was introduced to Jennifer Howard in 2019, soon after she was hired as Chief Executive Officer of CASA of St. Louis. Their shared love for children and the desire to serve those in need created an immediate bond. As their relationship grew, YouthBridge learned that the number of children needing advocacy far outweighed CASA’s capacity. Statistically, 5 out of 1,000 children are in foster care in the United States. In Missouri, however, that number is 10 per 1,000; and in the City of St. Louis, it is 14 per 1,000. The sheer volume of children affected, along with an insufficient number of advocates, contribute to the fact that these St. Louis youth average an alarming 30 months in foster care.

Many incorrectly assume that CASA advocates are employed by the state. In actuality, they are volunteers (around half of whom have full-time jobs) who complete at least 30 hours of specialized CASA training in preparation for being appointed as an advocate by a judge. Then they spend 10 to 15 hours per month dedicated to their appointed child and case. For many children, CASA advocates are the only stable, consistent adult presence in their lives. CASA volunteers get to know their child, gather information from those involved in the child’s life, and make informed recommendations to the court about what is best for the child – ensuring that the child’s voice is heard. Though it is often a challenging task, advocates consistently report that the rewards of their volunteerism far outweigh the costs.

YouthBridge’s Heritage Grant, a $75,000 award paid out over three years, is an unrestricted grant. As such, it can be used as the organization sees fit, though capacity building is usually preferred. For CASA of St. Louis, the first installment will support strategic planning. CASA’s leadership believes their goal of increasing the number of children served by 15% each year is attainable, but they need to focus on several items, including improved recruitment of volunteers. Depending on the results of the YouthBridge-sponsored Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) that CASA will use, the next step may be to add one or two more staff members to supervise additional volunteers. According to Jennifer, “Currently, CASA is only able to serve 18% of children in foster care, so it is imperative that we serve more children.”

Jennifer explained that she can’t begin to express her appreciation for the grant as well as her excitement about additional partnership opportunities with YouthBridge Community Foundation. She said that the timing for the award was perfect, admitting that CASA of St. Louis would not have been ready to receive it a year ago. CASA now has the right team and the right board of directors in place to work strategically, particularly on fundraising. CASA’s leadership anticipates meeting their fundraising goal by 2030, but senses that the YouthBridge Heritage Grant may help them meet it sooner.

Jennifer also spoke of the value that YouthBridge staff members add in helping donors “understand the complexities faced by organizations, including ensuring that expectations are accurate.” YouthBridge Community Foundation is uniquely positioned to “see both sides” as it successfully couples donors with nonprofits in a win-win fashion. With the help of YouthBridge’s 2023 Heritage Grant, CASA of St. Louis is proud to be an example of this winning dynamic.



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