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2023 Illinois CASA Annual State Conference

Thank you for attending the 2023 Illinois CASA Conference. ​​​​Listed below are presenter biographies, slide decks and handouts from our workshop sessions. For assistance please contact:


Workshop Presenters

  • Dagené Z. Brown
    Dagené Z. Brown

    Dagené Z. Brown serves as the Director of the Office of Racial Equity Practice, overseeing the Department’s initiatives to address systematic and institutional racism that perpetuates disproportionality for black and brown children in Illinois. Dagené joined the Department in 2019 as the Deputy Chief of Staff and has been instrumental in leading the statewide implementation of the Department’s program initiatives. She specializes in leading multi-disciplinary teams to deliver effective programmatic and operational solutions in a fast-paced execution environment to achieve organizational objectives, particularly in achieving systems integration and program alignments. Ms. Brown, a licensed social worker, has more than 20 years’ experience in advocating on behalf of families. Her background also includes extensive experience in delivering social work services in the education and nonprofit arenas, as well, in healthcare. Ms. Brown is a 2023 recipient of the “Women Making History” award from the National Council of Negro Women. She is a graduate of Bradley University and the University of Chicago, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

  • Ashley Deckert
    Ashley Deckert

    Ashley Deckert is the Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for the Illinois Collaboration on Youth. ICOY represents more than 100 community-based providers serving young people and their families with a mission to promote the safety, health, and success of Illinois’ children and act as a collective voice for policy and practice, and by connecting and strengthening the organizations that serve them. Prior to joining ICOY, Ashley was the Deputy Director of Child Services for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. As Deputy Director, she had the oversight and responsibility for four state-wide divisions: Residential Monitoring, Residential Recruitment, Foster Parent Recruitment, and Juvenile Delinquency and Restorative Justice. Ashley was with the Department for 13 years having served in various roles from direct service in the Intact Family Services Division, Supervisor in the Division of Child Protection, to various leadership roles within the Division of Licensing.

    Ashley received both her undergraduate degree in Sociology and graduate degree in Social Work from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2018, Ashley went back to graduate school to obtain a Master of Arts in Public Policy from the University of Chicago due to her desire to impact change at the legislative level.

    Lastly, Ashley is a Chicago native, but has been a resident of Champaign, IL for over 20 years. She has a 14-year-old daughter and they both love to travel, eat at different restaurants, and are especially fond of boating season!

  • Brad McMillan
    Brad McMillan

    Brad McMillan is the Coordinator for the Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership program and has been teaching graduate and undergraduate leadership classes at Bradley University for the past 15 years. Brad has provided leadership for statewide and regional nonprofit organizations for over 25 years. Currently, he Co-Chairs CHANGE Illinois and serves on the Illinois Nature Conservancy Board. He has his Juris Doctorate from Southern Illinois School of Law and his Bachelor of Arts from Illinois Wesleyan University. Brad believes that “the Heart of Leadership is in the Heart of the Leader.”

  • Beatriz Valdez
    Beatriz Valdez

    Beatriz first joined the CASA family in 2015 at the local program level. Beatriz has been with the Illinois CASA office since August 2019. She has served as the Director of Accountability and most recently in her current role as Deputy Director since 2020. At the state level, Beatriz has been instrumental in elevating the state office into a robust and actively engaged organization supporting the various needs of the Illinois CASA Network. During her tenure at Illinois CASA, Beatriz led the transition of the local programs to Optima providing various trainings on the topic throughout the years. Beatriz currently chairs the Equity Task Force and the Data Task Force within Illinois CASA. While at the local program level, Beatriz served in several different capacities including Advocate Supervisor, Internship Coordinator, Director of Programs, Interim Executive Director, and Director of Operations. Beatriz understands the multitude of skills necessary to run a program, as well as the challenges faced by programs. Prior to joining the CASA family, Beatriz worked as a foster care case manager, foster care supervisor and clinical screener with Spanish speaking families involved with DCFS in Cook County and throughout Northwest Illinois. Moreover, Beatriz has worked in the area of immigration, one of her other passions besides working with vulnerable children and families. Beatriz holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Master of Social Work from Loyola University Chicago, and a Juris Doctorate from Northern Illinois University College of Law. Beatriz has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Illinois since 2010. Beatriz is also licensed as an attorney in the State of Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.

  • Sharie Dodge
    Sharie Dodge

    Sharie Dodge is the Advocate Engagement Manager for the CASA of McHenry County program. Her career in social work began with in-home therapy for foster children and working in Lake County Jail as the on-staff social worker. After a hiatus from social work, which she spent working in roles that allowed her to be the primary caregiver for younger children, she returned in 2020 to work with CASA.

    Sharie has been training in various capacities since 1993, when she began training clients on new processes and computer systems. As her career diverged from the tech industry, she began developing high performance teams and implementing organizational change projects for HR units. At CASA, she recruits and trains all new Advocate volunteers in McHenry county, and she supervises a caseload of Advocates assigned to cases.

    At CASA, Sharie participated in the state-wide task force for Educational Advocacy and now participates on the Data Task Force. Along with these initiatives, she uses her past experiences to develop clean and robust processes while fine-tuning the data so that the program can more efficiently and accurately serve the children who rely upon CASAs.

    Sharie received her undergraduate degree in MIS and HR from Miami University, Oxford, OH. She received her Master of Arts in Social Work from the University of Chicago. She is a Licensed Social Worker in Illinois and studying to receive her Certification in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. She lives in Cary, IL, and she spends her free time with books and art.

  • Dr. Doris Houston
    Dr. Doris Houston

    Dr. Doris Houston is the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Illinois State University (ISU) where she leads campus-wide efforts to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). This role extends to university and community stakeholders and includes partnerships and engagements with students, faculty, alumni, civic leaders, and business leaders invested in educational access in higher education.

    Prior to joining the Office of the President in 2020, Doris served for two years as Interim Director of the School of Social Work at Illinois State, and thirteen years as a Social Work faculty member. She is the founding faculty researcher for the School of Social Work’s “Illinois Permanency Enhancement” racial equity initiative, which began in 2007 as a partnership with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She is the co-founder of First Star Academy at Illinois State, a college-readiness program for high school students receiving foster care services.

    Prior to joining ISU in 2005, Doris served as an Outcome Evaluation Specialist at the Center for Prevention Research and Development (CPRD) at the University of Illinois. She began her professional career as a Child Welfare Specialist and Adoption Specialist with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, where she later held the position of Field Office Supervisor at the Urbana, Illinois field office. She received her masters and doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in Human Development and Family Studies.

    In 2020, Dr. Doris Houston was honored with the McLean County YWCA Woman of Distinction Award and in 2018, she was named recipient of the ISU David A. Strand Diversity Achievement Award.

    While originally from Chicago, Doris has called Central Illinois her home for 25+ years. She serves on the Board of the McLean County Center for Human Services, the UIUC Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) External Advisory Committee, and the UIUC Student Affairs Advisory Council (SAAC). Doris is also a member of the McLean County NAACP, and the founder of the Illinois State University Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Leaders Circle.

  • Natalie Beck
    Natalie Beck

    As president and CEO of The Community Foundation of Macon County, Natalie provides the vision and leadership for shaping the Foundation’s role as a civic leader, philanthropic partner, and charitable giving vehicle. She brings together a rich background in philanthropy, nonprofit administration, and public policy advocacy. Since taking the helm at CFMC, Natalie has championed efforts to increase local giving from CFMC donors and she believes in philanthropy’s unique ability to deliver “innovation capital” while leveraging partnerships. Under her leadership, the CFMC, which is among the eight largest Illinois community foundations for total giving and assets, has adopted a strategic focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

  • Honorable Judge Ericka Sanders
    Honorable Judge Ericka Sanders

    Judge Ericka Sanders is an Associate Judge from Marion County, Illinois, appointed in 2010. Sanders presides over juvenile abuse, neglect, dependency, and delinquency cases, as well as problem solving courts, in multiple counties in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. She serves as the chair of the Fourth Circuit’s Juvenile Justice Council and is a member of the Illinois Supreme Court Committee for Juvenile Court. Judge Sanders was recipient of 2022 Illinois CASA Judge of the Year Award.

Our impact this year has changed our community!

  • Children Served in FY22


  • Volunteer Hours in FY22


  • Volunteer Advocates in FY22


  • Number of New Volunteers in FY22


Thank you to our generous sponsors:

  • National CASA
    National CASA
  • Illinois DCFS
    Illinois DCFS
  • The Office of Illinois Courts
    The Office of Illinois Courts
  • Illinois Attorney General
    Illinois Attorney General