Staff

Mary Jo Burgess
Executive Director/CEO

Mary Jo earned a Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of North Texas with a double major in Personnel Management Organizational Behavior and Administrative Management.  She is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration with a focus in Nonprofit Management from the University of Texas at Tyler.

Mary Jo worked for the Dallas American Red Cross, National Office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Meeting Professionals International, and Texas PTA.  Working for CASA combines her passion for helping victims and ensuring that children have an opportunity to be successful and thrive.  She strongly believes in supporting the community through volunteer service.

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…. but the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a child.”  Forest Witcraft

Katherine Elliott
Development And Facilities Director

Kathy attended Tyler Junior College and Texas Eastern School of Nursing.

Kathy started her extensive career in the medical field and then worked as a Child Support Officer III at the Attorney General’s Office for the State of Texas.

During that time, Kathy and her husband became a Fictive Kinship Placement for a CASA newborn and eventually adoptive parents for this same precious child.  They both served as CASA volunteer advocates and Kathy realized this was her true calling. She originally joined CASA for Kids of East Texas as a Case Supervisor and has held numerous staff positions, now serving as Community Engagement and Development Director.  She is very proud and passionate about our mission and the work that we do. Ask Kathy about ways to connect with CASA. 

“There are no hopeless children, only those who have yet to experience hope.” 

Jerid Watson
Community Engagement Director

Jerid received his BFA from UT Tyler in 2017 with a concentration in Ceramics and Alternative Firing Methods, as well as an Advanced Certificate in Non-Profit Management from UT Tyler in 2022.

His journey with non-profits began as a volunteer in 2018 with AmeriCorps, where he served two years working with youth in foster care and Title I schools.  This led him to continue to work with youth in vulnerable situations, including those in Domestic Violence and Residential Treatment Centers.  As an organization, CASA aligns with his core values and he is passionate about the mission. Jerid has been with CASA for Kids of East Texas since May of 2022 and is honored to work with such passionate and selfless volunteers.

If you are ever interested in learning more about what our volunteers do, please do not hesitate to contact CASA! We love sharing our mission and what our volunteers do to help our community.  

Sonya Burris
Community Engagement Coordinator

Sonya studied math and sciences at Henderson County Junior College.  Certification as Animal Technician Registered.  Many courses in sales, recruiting, and computer programs.

Sonya has always had a strong heart for children.  She counts it a blessing to be a part of the CASA team since 2021, helping abused and neglected children in our area.  “As a bonus, I get to use my favorite parts of past work experiences – recruiting and training – in a completely different way to help the children.”

Sonya would love to talk with you and any of your groups or organizations, large or small, about how you can be a part of making lives better for the children in our area who are the most vulnerable.  There are so many ways to help.  Please reach out so we can explore all the possibilities.

Make Happiness a Habit!

Stephanie Taulli
Community Engagement Coordinator

Stephanie received her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas at Tyler.

Stephanie worked with children for many years in an early childhood setting, ultimately leading her to study juvenile justice and research the implications of the criminal justice system on children and families. She started at CASA for Kids of East Texas as a volunteer advocate and began working on the Community Engagement staff soon after. Stephanie has been with CASA since 2023.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” -Nelson Mandela

Bailey Baxter
Community Engagement Associate

Bailey graduated from Jacksonville High School, obtaining her Associate’s Degree in Social Work from Tyler Junior College, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Prior to joining the CASA organization in 2023, Bailey worked and interned in the healthcare field, ranging from Assisted Living to Home Health and Hospice. She has a strong passion for Geriatrics but felt she needed to venture out to experience all spectrums of the social services field. During her time at CASA, “My eyes have opened significantly to the reality of child abuse and neglect and how prominent it is.” She enjoys the work at CASA and the impact that can be made, whether small or big, to give our children and teens the voice and advocacy they deserve!

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” R. J. Palacio

Amy McDonald
Program Director

Amy attended Northwestern State University, where she earned her B.S. in Psychology.

After college, Amy’s first professional job was in an inpatient rehabilitation facility.  She never knew the detriment substance abuse caused in children’s and family’s lives until then.  Amy began working with CASA in 2009 after 11 years at DFPS.  Seeing and knowing the difference our advocates make in the lives of children is incredible.  “I love how important they make children feel!”

In Amy’s office, She has a drawing that a very special young lady (a CASA child) drew at school that has really impacted her: “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” Ayesha Siddiqi

Joni Lunsford
Assistant Program Director

Joni attended TJC’s Child Development Associate Program. Early childhood education from birth to five years.

Ensuring children are safe and loved has always been Joni’s passion. She was involved in early childhood education as a Preschool teacher and Executive Director of a Children’s Christian Academy for nearly twenty years. Joni was a volunteer advocate with CASA and joined the staff in 2011.

“A person is a person, no matter how small.” Dr Seuss

Jenny Bird
Case Supervisor

Jenny attended Tyler Junior College – ASL Skills Certificate, General Studies.

Jenny has worked with children in many capacities over the last 12 years. She says working for CASA has been a wonderful, new experience in working with children. She has been with CASA since June of 2023 and feels blessed for the opportunity to continue her occupation in helping children reach their full potential in life.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Nichole Branch
Case Supervisor

Nichole has her Master’s in Social Work from The University of Texas A&M Commerce and an undergraduate in Psychology.

Nichole has been with CASA since October of 2019. Before CASA, she worked and trained in environments with children in the system, disabled adults and the elderly. She always knew that helping others was her passion. Working with CASA allows her to work with children and families in the community by locating resources in our community and being a voice for those in need.

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” – Madeline Albright

Keleigh Shands
Case Supervisor

Keleigh graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ouachita Baptist University; 3 Bachelor of Arts Degrees in: Psychology, Political Science, Sociology.

She has been working at CASA since 2022 and loves what she does. Her favorite parts of the job are being a listening ear and encourager to our kids who need us, and she enjoys being a sounding board for advocates who are fighting for our kids.

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” -Dolly Parton

Johana Taica
Case Supervisor

Johana has her Associate degree in music, and is pursuing a degree in psychology.

Johana was born in Columbia and moved to the US when she was 8 years old. Family is a big deal in her culture, and her experiences as an immigrant have inspired a deep love to serve children in circumstances where their voice needs to be heard regarding their family, or lack thereof. When she started working at a camp for foster girls, her eyes were opened to the need for a solid, consistent adult in these kids’ lives. That is why she is so passionate about CASA and the work we do here.

Growing up, her family was part of a missionary organization that provided resources to impoverished areas.  When Johana became an adult, she began working with teenagers and kids. She helped organize summer camps, girl’s night out events, and shopping sprees for teenage girls who are currently in the foster system.  The children in foster care captured her heart and drew her into social work. 

“Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story” – Josh Shipp CASA offers the opportunity to be exactly that, a caring constant adult in a child’s life and what a privilege it is!    

Victoria Temme
Teen Coordinator

Victoria graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler with a Bachelor of Arts in English.  

She has been with CASA since 2022. She has always worked in settings with kids and found that most of the time teenagers in foster care fall through the cracks of the system and that is what sparked her passion.

“Until they are heard.”

Laura Beam
Case Supervisor

Laura graduated from Tyler Christian Academy and then enrolled at Tyler Junior College.

Laura has worked at CASA for Kids of East Texas since 2011. Before CASA, she was employed with the Smith County Juvenile Detention Center as the Volunteer Coordinator and later worked in the Juvenile Probation Department. There is nothing like helping a child through one of the most difficult time of their lives.

She has this Bible verse posted where she can read it each day. Proverbs 31:8 “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves”. Though our means and methods may have changed since 2011 and continue to change, the mission remains the same. Our CASA advocates speak up for the children.

 
Reily Clifton
Marketing and Communications Manager

Reily graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler and has social media and marketing experience from CBS19 and CSI Construction.  Reily joined CASA for Kids of East Texas in 2024 and is excited about sharing CASA’s work with the community.