Jenny Stotts has served as the Executive Director of the Athens CASA/GAL Program since August, 2013. In 2016, she accepted an additional role as the Regional Director of Southeast Ohio CASA, coordinating an expansion project to develop CASA programming across Southern Ohio. During her tenure with Athens CASA, the number of active volunteers has increased by 300% and the number of staff has quadrupled. She also spearheaded efforts to bring Athens CASA into full compliance with National CASA Standards and has led the program to a regional, statewide and national reputation for innovation and excellence. Jenny was responsible for authoring and launching new training initiatives that have been implemented by CASA programs around the country. She has presented at the National CASA Conference twice and at the Ohio CASA Conference 5 times. Earlier this year, she was hired to present multiple workshops at the Illinois State CASA Conference. These are the highlights, but let's get to know our Director a little bit better as we celebrate her 5th "CASAversary."
What led you to accept the job?
This is always a question that makes me chuckle a little. When Judge Stewart offered the position to me, I felt like such an imposter. I cared about the cause, sure, but what did I know about managing a program? Not much, I had a lot to learn in those early days. I knew that I wanted to work more closely with the court system and felt like CASA was a great move for me, personally and professionally.
How did you foster so much growth in the program?
I tell this story often, but on my first day with the program, I felt so unqualified, like an imposter almost, that I actually googled "how to be an executive director." That seems funny, but it was actually more informative than I would've guessed. No, I didn't find an "Executive Director Manual" but it did help me prioritize the areas where I didn't know much. I set some early goals for my own professional development and growth. I was eager to learn everything I could to prove that I was ready to lead Athens CASA. I think that early investment in my own development has paid off for the program.
When I joined the CASA team, we were a staff of 1 full time and 1 nearly part time employee. Our volunteer numbers had dipped to less than a dozen volunteers in the months before I accepted the job. I figured out quickly that boosting our volunteer base was priority #1. Soon after, I figured out that we didn't have a lot of time or money to make that happen. Shocker. So, we developed a strategic, 5 year recruitment plan where we would focus on specific demographics each year to learn and build our recruitment toolkit. I made a decision early on that we would only utilize strategies that were proven effective. I think it's paid off as our volunteer base is larger than ever and we've been able to cultivate meaningful relationships across a variety of sectors.
Volunteers remain my favorite part of the job. I love getting to know our volunteers, learn what motivates them to donate their time and talents to the cause and what keeps them coming back. As a data geek, I wish I could fully quantify the impact of a CASA volunteer on the community and especially on the children they serve, but I've yet to find that metric. If you're a volunteer reading this, I adore and admire you more than you will ever know. Thank you.
Is it true that you have an "eccentric" office?
Yes, most people know that we sit on the exercise balls in the office. I think I started the trend and then many of the team members followed. My kids love coming to visit the office because the seats are basically toys. I also installed a "beach" under my desk. I love the ocean and visit the beach as much as I can. So, in between beach trips, I can stick my toes in the sand while I'm working at my desk. I highly recommend it to others! Our office is a loft space with no private rooms, so the entire team has learned the art of chatting while also working and we've had to get a little "creative" with storage and organization. There is not one empty nook or cranny in that little loft!
What's are some of your funniest CASA stories?
Oh gosh, I have so many! Not long after I started, I accidentally spilled my coffee on my laptop, effectively ruining it. To make matters worse, the court administrator, Debbie, was in the office. I had only been on the job for a short while, so I was nervous that she thought I was the biggest klutz ever.
Another was when we were re-arranging our office and giving the loft a little facelift. My co-worker, Tara, and I were attempting to move a small cabinet but it proved more daunting than we'd anticipated... we nearly dropped it over the banister and almost smashed another's co-worker's iMac with it (sorry, Jess). For a few seconds, I was balancing it on my back while Tara maneuvered it onto the filing cabinet. Once we caught our breath, we sat down and had a good laugh about the near-miss!
Last one, for some reason my co-workers and I have been inadvertently dressing in nearly identical outfits most days, without any coordination whatsoever. Sometimes, we try to snag a group photo, which usually involves about 7 takes and lots of laughs to get the perfect angle. The content of our jobs can be so overwhelming and stressful, so I'm glad to work among friends and to share lots of laughs when we can.
What's next for Athens CASA?
My dream for Athens CASA is that we will have a volunteer for every single child served by our program. We're still not there yet. Every child that goes without a Court Appointed Special Advocate simply because we do not have enough volunteers weighs on my heart and my mind. Everything we've implemented and grown has always been about that one goal: to serve every child.
Share a fun fact about yourself.
I don't know if this is fun or not, but I love living an authentic life. I'm a goofy human. Sometimes I'm a mess, I am always moving, I laugh at inappropriate times, and I genuinely believe in and love everything that I do. Otherwise, what's the point? I hope that comes across at CASA, because I 110% love my job and the people I call "team."