Anna Futral is committed to Waco — all of it

Editor: In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring interviews with local women leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media.

By Emma Porter

Anna Futral, executive director of CASA McLennan County, came to Waco in 2004 as a Baylor University student. Sixteen years later, she still lives in Waco, now alongside her husband and three children. Initially, business kept Futral in town, however she said it didn’t take long for her and her husband to call Waco home. 

Anna Futral

“We liked it a lot, and we really chose to just dive into Waco and build our life here,” Futral said. 

As fresh college graduates and newlyweds, Futral and her husband found exploring Waco to be one of their favorite activities. In college, the couple worked with Habitat for Humanity, which Futral said prompted them to see Waco in a broader light than most students. 

From hiking in Cameron Park to eating at mom-and-pop shops, and even working with nonprofits, the Futrals did not hesitate to become a part of the community. 

“I go across the river to Lula Janes a whole lot more than I should. It’s too good,” Futral said.

Futral mentioned several local spots she loves to eat at, including Lula Janes, Helados La Azteca, Baked Bliss, and a number of taquerias. She said not only is the food amazing, but they also love to support local businesses, especially during the pandemic. 

When the Futrals adopted their children in 2015, they knew they wanted their kids to be immersed in their community. The Futral kids love the Mayborn Museum, the Cameron Park Zoo, and hiking with their parents at Cameron Park.

“Waco has a wonderful entertainment and education scene for children,” Futral said.

Like many, the Futral family loves to visit Magnolia Market. The company has brought more business and tourism to Waco, but Futral said one of the best parts is that the Magnolia Foundation has donated to many local organizations, including CASA. 

As a female leader in Waco and a Baylor alumna, Futral said she has seen great strides in the city’s economy over her 16 years, however there is still much to be done.

“There are so many folks that genuinely love Waco, and I would encourage them to remember that there are individuals in Waco, members of our own community, that are hurting in some way,” Futral said. “Whether that’s folks experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, or low-income families, we need to consider that there is more to Waco than the business scene or tourist and outdoor parks scene. Those things are all wonderful, but remember that at the heart of our city there are still a lot of folks that need you to tune into their situation and remember that they’re there.”

Futral has worked for CASA for five years. CASA is a nationwide nonprofit that recruits, supports, and trains volunteers who advocate for the safety and best interest of children in foster care.

“We have a really healthy nonprofit scene in Waco. There are groups serving the various populations so there is no lack of ways to get involved,” Futral said.

One way to get involved with the Waco community is through the CASA Christmas store. Each year, Futral said CASA gathers Christmas lists from the 230 children that CASA serves. If someone signs up to be a donor they get matched with a child and given their Christmas list, the donors then have the opportunity to shop and wrap the gifts for their partnered child.

Emma Porter is a freshman journalism major at Baylor University, who fell in love with journalism while writing blog posts about mission work in Guatemala. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

From Russia with love: Baylor student advocates for foster children


By Lucas Land

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) all have their own story about how they became advocates. Not all of them start in Russia.

Sasha Messer

Sasha Messer is a senior psychology major at Baylor University, but when she was 4 years old, she and her brother were adopted from Russia. She grew up in Dallas and says it was often difficult growing up. “I didn’t always understand what people were saying when I was learning English and knew from an early age that I was different,” Sasha says of what she remembers from that transition.

Overall, she had a good experience and was raised in a very stable home with two good role models who provided what she needed. However, because of her experience, Sasha can understand what children in foster care are going through in a way that many of us can’t. So, when she learned about CASA on an episode of Dr. Phil, she knew she wanted to help out. 

CASA is part of a nationwide organization of advocates, with 948 chapters in 49 states and more than 97,000 volunteers. CASA volunteers are everyday people – teachers, business people, retirees, stay-at-home parents, and grandparents – who are committed to making a difference for children who might otherwise slip through the cracks in an overburdened foster care system. 

CASA advocates are appointed by a judge and assigned to a case where they spend time getting to know the child(ren) involved. Their purpose is to gather as much information about the child(ren), as well as all the stakeholders in their life, such as family of origin, foster placement, doctors, teachers, CPS workers, etc. All of this information is then compiled into a report for the court.

But CASA advocates have to be 21 years or older, so Sasha looked for other ways that she could help. She worked answering calls for the National Suicide Hotline, where she talked to a lot of kids and heard about the difficult things they were going through. 

During the pandemic Sasha learned how to make candles, and during the summer of 2020 she started Walking Stick Candle Co. to sell them at a new market in Celina. She still wanted to give back so she decided to donate a portion of her proceeds to CASA of McLennan County.

“I looked into different organizations and knew that a lot needed extra help. Hearing stories about kids left at home in difficult situations without the usual escape of school made me want to help kids in foster care,” Sasha said.

In 2020 Sasha also turned 21 and decided it was finally time to become a CASA advocate. She applied and completed her training in October 2020, attending three evening classes via Zoom and completing many hours of online reading and work. She was sworn in by Judge Nikki Mundkowsky on Nov.3, 2020, to officially become a Court Appointed Special Advocate. She has now been assigned to her first case and is looking forward to working on it.

Sasha is also looking forward to graduating, but hasn’t made definite plans yet for after graduation. No matter what, it is clear that she will continue to find ways to help others and make a difference. If you are interested in making a difference for children in foster care, you can learn more about becoming a CASA by visiting casaforeverychild.org, calling (254) 304-7982, or emailing recruiter@casaforeverychild.org.

Lucas Land is director of communication and development for CASA of McLennan County. He loves living in Waco and finding ways to connect, get to know, and give back to this community. Lucas lives in the Sanger Heights neighborhood with his spouse, three kids, and their dog, Jayber.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Men can volunteer, too – The need for male CASA volunteers

By Lucas Land

With the new year beginning, people around the world take on the practice of making resolutions and goals about what they want to accomplish in the upcoming year. Resolutions can range from trying to eat better, exercise more, or spend more time with friends and family. But one resolution that should be directed toward the men in McLennan County is to consider becoming a CASA volunteer and help make a difference in a child’s life. 

While men and women can both be CASA volunteers, the numbers of male volunteers are particularly low for McLennan County. Only 21% of CASA volunteers in McLennan County are male, while 53% of the kids in need of an advocate are male. And though women make wonderful CASA volunteers, they aren’t able to completely fill the hole of a positive male role model. 

CASA volunteers not only advocate for the child throughout the entire court case, but they also meet with the child and provide a consistent positive influence for them during a very stressful time. They are the positive role models that children need when they are in foster care. Women are often seen as being more compassionate and caring toward children in difficult situations, but men are able to be just as compassionate and are equally as essential toward the growth and development of a child. 

Growing up, every child wants to have a chance to spend time with a father figure and nurture a relationship that contributes to their development, but this is particularly important for young men. Male children with a positive male role model are more likely to perform better in school and have more career and economic success. Male role models foster more confidence in male children and contribute to stronger communication skills, as men often communicate in different ways than women. 

CASA volunteers are required to maintain a year-long commitment to their case, and most volunteers meet with their child at least once a month and research the case for around 15 hours a month. During this new year, men should consider becoming CASA volunteers to help shape and contribute to the lives of children who need them in McLennan County. 

If you are interested in supporting the work that CASA does to serve children in this situation, consider becoming a CASA volunteer. You can learn more about it by visiting https://casaforeverychild.org/volunteer/become-a-casa/

Lucas Land is director of communication and development for CASA of McLennan County. He loves living in Waco and finding ways to connect, get to know, and give back to this community. Lucas lives in the Sanger Heights neighborhood with his spouse, three kids, and their dog, Jayber.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Not Home for Christmas –The Holiday Experience for Children In Foster Care

For many, the holidays are a time of tradition, new memories sprinkled among old memories, and the comfort and certainty of family.  As we all know, 2020 and COVID-19 have thrown the holidays for a loop this year!  We are scrambling to alter or cancel plans for safety, figure out new ways to carry out old traditions and keep in touch when we can’t be face-to-face.   This admittedly feels chaotic, unwelcome, and out of our control. 

Even in a year when we aren’t facing a global pandemic, children in foster care experience sudden and drastic life changes that feel chaotic, unwelcome and out of their control.  Through no fault of their own, they are removed from their original family due to allegations of abuse or neglect, causing many facets of life as they knew it to suddenly shift.  In addition to the initial trauma of the abuse or neglect they may have experienced, they now may be placed with relatives, foster parents, or in a residential facility, possibly in another city, likely enrolled in a different school, away from friends and familiar faces.  Their life becomes inundated with new faces…caseworkers, attorneys, therapists, teachers, foster parents, or caregivers.  For many children in foster care, the only constant is change. 

If you pull this description into holiday time, you can see that it sets children and youth in foster care up for a holiday experience they didn’t bargain for.  Caseworkers work hard to set up holiday visits with families of origin, but they often do not fall on the holiday itself and, this year due to COVID, are likely virtual.   Some of this likely sounds familiar to a lot of us who have had our own holiday plans upended.  There is a string of similarity between those situations and the reality of children in foster care during the holidays.  It’s all in the interest of safety.  Safety for our health, safety for children. 

The hope in both situations is to be able to return to our prior norms in a safe manner. Just as we all look forward to the day when we can return to our routines without threat of COVID, the hope is always for children in foster care to be able to return to their family of origin, if it has been deemed safe.  As we experience this unique holiday season, may we remember the young members of our community in foster care and hope for their safety and wellbeing.

If you are interested in supporting the work that CASA does to serve children in this situation, consider becoming a CASA. You can learn more about it by visiting https://casaforeverychild.org/volunteer/become-a-casa/. You can also give the gift of CASA this year by donating at http://casaforeverychild.org/give/.


Though born and raised in Fredericksburg, Anna Futral has called Waco home for sixteen years. She is a graduate of Baylor University, where she received her Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and a Master of Taxation. She built her career as a Certified Public Accountant at JRBT, where she worked for over ten years, specializing in service to nonprofit clients, prior to joining CASA of McLennan County in May of 2017. In addition to her business acumen and administrative leadership skills, Anna brings to CASA a deep-seated passion for children in foster care. She and her husband, Trent, are former foster parents and adopted their three children from foster care in 2016. When she’s not busy leading CASA forward or chasing her kids, ages 5, 6, and 7, Anna enjoys reading, spending time with good people, and working with her husband on their 120-year-old house in the heart of Waco.

Foster Care to Adoption: Our family’s story is unique and precious

By Anna Futral

November is National Adoption Month. CASA volunteers stay by a child’s side throughout the case, advocating first for reunification with the child’s parent(s) when safe and possible. If reunification is not safe or possible, CASA volunteers will advocate for the child to be adopted by, or live with, other relatives or family friends. If that is also not possible, CASA volunteers will work towards adoption by a non-relative. ⁠

Adoption is a beautiful thing, and just like any other major life decision, it’s not always easy. Some of our CASA staff have been through this journey to adopt. Here is our Executive Director, Anna Futral, and her family’s story.

In the summer of 2012, my husband, Trent, and I had been married four years, had the house, the cars, the jobs, and by all normal accounts, having a baby would be a next logical step in our life at that point.  But we’ve never really followed convention, meanwhile, every time the baby conversation came up between us, we both ended up feeling somewhat ambivalent about it, like it wasn’t the answer for us, like there was a different plan in store for our hopes of building a family.  Turns out…we were right.

Adoption had always been in the back of our minds.  My husband and his sister were each adopted, so that has always been a piece of our puzzle.  As baby conversations continued to stall out, we decided to be proactive and research, listen and learn, not knowing that this new path would take hold of us so quickly and so firmly.  We heavily researched international adoption, domestic adoption, and that scary thing called foster care, initially setting it on the shelf as something for people more mature than us in our mid-20s, or at least who have some parenting experience.  Taking care of a child and then possibly letting them go, abuse, neglect, court dates, birth parent visits, potential behavior and medical problems, social workers, therapists, so many unknowns… 

Nevertheless, we sat down for a meeting with a foster care agency, thinking we were just gathering information.  Afterwards, we got in my car and I turned it on but we didn’t go anywhere for a few minutes, even though we both needed to get back to work.  He said “That felt really, really normal to sit there and talk about all that.”  I said, “I know.”  There was a strange mixture in our hearts and gut of both peace and fear, both “Yes, this is right” mixed with “You have got to be kidding me.” I stared wide eyed over the steering wheel with tears on my cheeks and Trent stared wide eyed at me.  Then we went back to work.

Looking at the world around us, we see so much hurt and pain.  We can look overseas at the extreme poverty, starvation and orphanage there.   In the summer of 2012, we looked right out our door and realized there are children needing a home right in our own community.  Without getting into a debate about which is more important (both are extremely important in our world), we decided that our hearts lie in our local community.   So we jumped all in.

The next several years were intense yet exciting, complex yet contained some of the easiest and clearest decisions we’ve ever made.  As we opened our home to two and then three children, we were surrounded by caring support and capable professionals.  Though the details of our family’s story are our own, a winding path with many curveballs across several years culminated in our open adoption of three biological siblings.

Our family’s story is unique. Our family’s story is challenging.  Our family’s story is precious.

We honor our children’s past, celebrate their present and eagerly anticipate their future.  We have good times and we laugh so, so often.  We work through life’s plain ole challenges as a plain ole family.  We face confusion and questions about their tricky start in life when they rise up and we block out the rest of the world, plop down on the rug, hash through it all, say as many words and cry as many tears as we need to until we are as much at peace as we can be in that moment. 

Being an adoptive family isn’t always easy. Turmoil pops up and trauma surfaces.  Strangers make ignorant comments about our family and people assume things about our story that are entirely false.  But we rally as their parents and circle around them.  At times we will take the blows on their behalf and shield them entirely, other times we will jump down into the trench with them.  Still other times we will sit back and cheer them on from afar as they live out their unique, challenging, precious story with strength, confidence and love.

To learn more about CASA’s work advocating for children in foster care please email recruiter@casaforeverychild.org or call (254) 304-7982 or visit casaforeverychild.org.


Though born and raised in Fredericksburg, Anna Futral has called Waco home for sixteen years.  She is a graduate of Baylor University, where she received her Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and a Master of Taxation.  She built her career as a Certified Public Accountant at JRBT, where she worked for over ten years, specializing in service to nonprofit clients, prior to joining CASA of McLennan County in May of 2017.  In addition to her business acumen and administrative leadership skills, Anna brings to CASA a deep-seated passion for children in foster care.  She and her husband, Trent, are former foster parents and adopted their three children from foster care in 2016.  When she’s not busy leading CASA forward or chasing her kids, ages 5, 6, and 7, Anna enjoys reading, spending time with good people, and working with her husband on their 120-year-old house in the heart of Waco.

What is it like to be a CASA Volunteer?

By Charles Borsellino

I was recently asked by my CASA supervisor if I was available to take on a new CASA child.  It made me think about the road I took to be a CASA volunteer.  I left Waco in 1975 to pursue a career in Houston and moved back in 2012 after retiring a second time.  I would hear occasional radio spots about CASA, something I guess I overlooked in Houston for the 37 years I lived there.  My involvement was a very slow process, but I eventually took time to find out what CASA was all about.  After doing so, I realized that this might afford me an opportunity to actually make a positive and lasting impact on a child’s life.   I retired from teaching and found some of the students who showed so much promise in my classroom had been pushed into troubling situations as they got older.  As a teacher, you have the opportunity and means to prepare and motivate children, but it is only for a short time.  Outside of school, many grow up in troubled homes and surroundings that have more impact than I, as a teacher, could ever hope.  

I finally signed up to be a CASA volunteer advocate in 2019.  I attended classes for three Thursday evenings with eight really great and caring classmates and knowledgeable instructors who were passionate about the children for which the program is intended.  We learned about the laws, procedures, and paperwork (there is always paperwork) through in-class instruction and assigned homework.  But we also got to meet seasoned volunteers at our sessions.  They answered our questions and gave us insight into the emotional highs and lows they encountered. 

We graduated as the largest class of volunteers in McLennan County.  Everyone who started the first day finished and was sworn in by Judge NikkiMundkowsky on July 30, 2019.  We soon met with our assigned supervisors and reviewed the casework for the child (or children, in the event of siblings) we had been assigned.  As I read the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) report it was hard to imagine even a little of what my CASA child had been through.  I remember wondering how a person who had been through so much could ever grow up and lead a normal and productive life.  How could any input from me be of any use?

I didn’t have long to think about it.  A court date sprang up almost immediately and I had only a short time to meet my child, the DFPS caseworker, Attorney ad litem, Assistant District Attorney, the placement (family keeping the child) and the birth parents.  I had to prepare a Court Report while trying to recall everything I had been taught in the classes.  I have to admit, it was a pretty daunting experience.  I soon learned that my supervisor was always willing to help and I have now come to depend on her whenever I encounter anything I am unsure of.  In court I was prepared to give my recommendations but found myself called to testify, something for which I was not prepared for.  That was followed by what seemed like continuous activity. 

There seemed to be one hearing or conference after another.  I observed visitations at the DFPS offices and visited the placement family that had taken my CASA child in.  I made appointments with teachers and counselors and probably learned more about my CASA child than I knew about my own.  I listened to the facts and advocated for my CASA child’s best interests.   I also discovered that some things that at first seemed black and white became gray over time.  It’s a humbling experience when you discover your beliefs about someone or something might be wrong.   Still, as chaotic as things got to be at times, a visit with my CASA child always made everything worthwhile.  That is one amazing kid.

I have gotten to know the stakeholders in the case pretty well during my time with this case, though the players seem to change.  Of course, the teachers change from one school year to the next.  Those kind of changes are expected and easy to handle.  But even attorneys involved have come and gone.  Then there are the DFPS caseworkers.   We are on our third.  I have gained a lot of respect for those caseworkers.  Here I was finding it hard to keep up with just my single CASA child while the caseworkers juggled around twenty.  Each of their cases involving weekly court appearances and court reports, and children in situations that would make nearly anyone cry.  Yet I have been impressed with each as they’ve shown compassion and a high level of caring for their charges during the limited time available.  I have spoken with ours on weekends and holidays.  I don’t know when they take a break.

After talking to other volunteers I have learned that most cases are not so active and testifying in court is very rare.  Regardless, each volunteer has one goal, to advocate for what is best for the child.  It has been a great experience and one that I hope benefits my CASA child and, in turn, our community. 

All that brings me to why I am writing this.  I feel it is important for me to remain a CASA volunteer after my CASA child’s disposition.  As the advocate for such a child I might be the only constant in an otherwise confused and sad situation.  While I don’t believe I have done anything that anyone else couldn’t have done, I do believe it is important that it was done, and I did it.

For more information about how to become a CASA please contact CASA of McLennan County at recruiter@casaforeverychild.org or call (254) 304-7982.


Charles Borsellino was born and raised in Waco, but moved to Houston in 1975 to join the Houston Police Department.  Before retirement he went back to college at the University of Houston to get his teaching certificate. He taught elementary school in Houston until he retired from Houston ISD and moved back to Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.