In 2019, Josiah Brown ’92 saw an opportunity to continue working toward social change. At the time, he was working as an Associate Director at the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, bringing together Yale and New Haven public school faculty to strengthen teachers’ preparation in their subjects. “When the opportunity arose to be the executive director of Connecticut CASA, I was eager to take it on,” he said.
Josiah Brown on the set of WTNH, February 2020
Josiah’s affinity for promoting child welfare has existed long before he joined the Connecticut CASA team. “The Dwight Hall connection was most salient in terms of effects on what I’m doing now,” Josiah recalled. From his undergraduate beginnings as a Big Brother with the Coordinating Council for Children in Crisis (now Family Centered Services of CT), Josiah has led a career aimed at advancing public service and social change. Connecticut CASA is the current iteration.
The Court Appointed Special Advocates program (CASA) was founded in 1977 in Seattle and is a national association that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children. The organization operates in 49 states and pairs volunteers from the community with children in foster care to serve as their advocates in the court system. After a CASA law was enacted in Connecticut in 2016, the National CASA Association saw an opportunity to serve youth in the state’s child welfare system, including about 4,000 in foster care. There was a large unmet need in Connecticut for CASA advocates.
“I feel privileged that I’ve grown up with two parents who emphasized education and gave me opportunities. My wife and I are fortunate to have two children. I’ve wanted to expand opportunities for additional kids for a long time,” Josiah said. Having grown up understanding the importance of opportunity at a young age and having amassed a wide nonprofit and professional network in the Connecticut region, Josiah mobilized to fill the need: “We have a series of levers we can use to address the needs of these kids. I look forward to learning every day. It’s really inspiring.”
Josiah traces his inspiration back to his days at Dwight Hall (as well as to a five-summer stint with the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, or ConnPIRG, during his high-school and college years). When he was an undergraduate, Dwight Hall introduced Josiah to the Coordinating Council for Children in Crisis (CCCC), an organization where New Haven social workers matched undergraduate volunteers as “big brothers” or “big sisters” to young people experiencing family challenges. Josiah and his “little brother” visited several times a month for three years, stayed in contact afterward, and reconnected when Josiah returned to New Haven in recent years. Josiah was also involved in Dwight Hall through the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project fast and the BRANCH tutoring program.
Josiah with his little brother, “T,” circa 1993
Since graduating from Yale, Josiah took the public service experience he gained at Dwight Hall with him. Originally from Windham County, Connecticut, he has remained connected to the New Haven region in various capacities. He has served as president for the Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, was a member of the New Haven Public Schools’ Community Engagement Team, and volunteered as a youth basketball coach for his kids. Since 2008, Josiah has been an associate fellow of Saybrook College and for years chaired the Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven, which was recently absorbed by the local United Way.
Josiah first helped found CASA of Southern Connecticut in 2019. As the only paid staff member with a board initially composed of National CASA staff, he worked to recruit nine local board members, prepare and supervise volunteers, and build CASA of Southern Connecticut to serve the New Haven Court. In July 2021, he became the inaugural executive director of Connecticut CASA, a consolidated, rapidly growing statewide organization. The CASA board now includes 18 members from around the state.
Connecticut CASA’s impact is deeply felt. “There are some stark risks associated with foster care,” Josiah noted. “Only about half of the kids in foster care end up graduating from high school and only about 3% will graduate from a four-year college. Anything we can do to help improve the trajectory will certainly have educational benefits as well as broader life benefits.” Children with CASA advocates on average spend 25% less time in the foster care system, and once they leave care, are only half as likely to return to the system. “In age-appropriate ways, we’re trying to help children develop skills of self-advocacy, and to promote resilience,” Josiah said. CASA volunteers undergo training to prepare them for this role.
July 2021 in New Haven. Left to right: Trish Hesslein; Josiah Brown; Jon Hitchcock (holding check from TEGNA Foundation grant); Eileen Condon; Dwayne Jackson; and Calvin Fang.
Dwight Hall played a small role in Connecticut CASA’s beginnings. Back in 2019, it served as a meeting space for the initial CASA volunteer trainings. By connecting Josiah to CCCC thirty years ago, Dwight Hall laid the foundation for the work he does now. Josiah also noted Dwight Hall as the space that continues to provide incubation for future social change innovators. “As an alum,” he said, “I’m a believer in Dwight Hall. I’m always inspired by the next generation coming through Yale not just applying their academic interests but pursuing social justice and public service and activist interests through Dwight Hall.”
Dwight Hall is honored to have provided Josiah the foundation to a career serving New Haven and Connecticut children. Josiah’s work is quite literally the change that happens here.
Volunteers are currently needed in New Haven and beyond. Learn about becoming a CASA volunteer today.