True Knight: Glen Casel ’92 ’97 Slays Dragons for Foster Care Children

 In News

When his phone rang at 3:30 one morning, Glen Casel ‘92 ‘97 MSHSA woke up and glanced at the caller ID. “John K. Polk Correctional Institute” were the ominous, glowing words on the screen. With Glen and Tara Casel’s daughter and two sons accounted for, Glen knew it must be one of their other children.

Glen Casel and a marketing piece to encourage people to become foster care parents

“I always tell people that we have 3,003 children,” Casel said. “Our biological children, plus the approximately 3,000 Central Florida children in foster care at any given time.”

Casel is the president and CEO of Community Based Care of Central Florida (CBC), the nonprofit lead agency for foster care and other child welfare services in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.  He also leads the entire CBC Family of Companies, which includes for-profit businesses whose revenues are infused into CBC to help fund items that will improve the quality of life for children in foster care, but are not part of the goods and services provided by the State of Florida.

The concept of partnering a nonprofit organization with a for-profit business is known as social entrepreneurship, and CBC’s strategy to bring an extra layer of caring to children in the foster-care system is not only the first partnership of its kind in the state, but perhaps the nation, Casel said.

And, Casel adds, it’s a partnership that he would like to see replicated throughout the nation. Casel and his team have already worked with representatives in Texas to help transform that state’s foster care system based on Florida’s innovative privatized model.

How Casel has Grown

Casel started working for Florida’s Health and Rehabilitative Services (a precursor of the Department of Children and Families) shortly before obtaining his bachelor’s degree. His older brother, Steven, was a year ahead of him at UCF, so Casel figured he should go there.

“I followed him around like a little puppy.” Glen said he was “extremely introverted” in high school, but blossomed when he got to UCF, thanks to Steven’s intervention. Glen also joined Sigma Chi, again following in his brother’s footsteps.

Fortunately, Glen Casel has more in his arsenal than finger guns as he fights for Florida’s foster care children.

Mark Jackson ’89 met Casel when the two were undergraduate students. As members of Sigma Chi, the two shared a bond of being fraternity brothers, but Jackson said he noticed something more about Casel.

“He was highly thought of,” Jackson said. “He had a great attitude, and he displayed leadership potential.” Casel and Jackson helped raise funds from alumni for the construction of the Sigma Chi mansion on campus.

As the two have grown in their respective businesses, Jackson noticed something else about his friend: “He is extremely passionate about his kids – and he really feels that they are his kids.”

Casel ascended quickly through the ranks at DCF, but demurred that he was simply in the right place at the right time. With an office in the administrative building, Casel said that “People knew me. It was a remarkable opportunity for me.”

Building a Model that Works for Foster Care Children

Casel, who ironically taught a course on the history of DCF as an adjunct instructor after graduate school, was part of the historic events during Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration that led to the statewide privatization of foster care. In this model, nonprofit agencies like CBC administer many services – “from tennis shoes to open-heart surgery and everything in between,” Casel said – while DCF remains responsible for investigating charges of abuse and neglect.

It’s a model that has led to some impressive statistics, including a reduction in the number of Florida children in foster care by 33 percent. “There is an element of celebration in that number,” Casel acknowledged, “But we have failed some kids.”

David Bundy

“Glen exhibits the best traits of a leader,” said David Bundy ‘97.  “He is passionate about his work, builds strong teams, motivates others to excellence, leads by example and works hard to achieve the best results possible.” Bundy has known Glen for more than 20 years, and worked together at Children’s Home Society of Florida and as community partners in child welfare. Bundy also worked at UCF from 2014 to 2017 as the Director of the Center for Community Schools.

“Glen is smart, savvy and always seeking a better way to accomplish better results for the children and families of Florida. He recognizes the value of building community partnerships and creating an environment where many organizations can work together effectively.” Bundy also said that “Glen is a great husband, dad and friend.”

Making things better for children in foster care keeps Casel up at night. In his more than 25 years as a child welfare advocate, Casel and his team – who share his passion – have experienced all the highs and lows with their kids that “real” parents have.

Dick Batchelor

“As the president of CBC, Glen has rightfully positioned himself in a role that allows him to be the dynamic child advocate which is his true passion to the core,” said Dick Batchelor ’71, former member of the Florida House of Representatives and one of the nation’s foremost advocates to children’s causes. “Moreover, he has attained a role to be able to deliver on that passion.”

Even though the thousands of children in CBC’s database have case managers, social workers and other advocates assigned to them, Casel said it is difficult not to get personally involved sometimes, because there are the kids who “touch your heart somewhere along the way.” Kids like “Sophia.”

A Tough Love Approach

So when Sophia woke Casel up that early morning, he listened for a moment as she poured out her heart to him, telling him it was all a misunderstanding, and could he come and get her please. Casel interrupted her. “Sophia, what have I always said to you as long as you’ve known me?”

Sophia sniffled, “You said that you would always treat me like you treat your own children.”

“That’s right, goodbye,” Casel said, and unceremoniously hung up the phone.

The next morning, Casel called down to the jail to find out some more information about what had happened to Sofia. “Whatever you did,” Casel told her, “It’s no reason to keep me up at night.” The same thing he would have told his three children, Casel added with a laugh.

“They have contributed to me as much as I’ve been able to contribute to them,” Casel said. “I’m inspired by their perseverance and their willingness to overcome insurmountable odds.”

Whatever it Takes - Casel's Mantra for His Kids

Casel and Jackson have remained friends since their days at UCF. They tailgate together, and serve as sounding boards for each other. A few years ago, Casel was talking with Jackson, a partner at JCJ Insurance Agency in Orlando, about a plan he was interested in developing for children in foster care. He wanted to help them get a driver’s license when they turned 16, and he was wondering how to go about getting the required auto insurance.

Jackson gently told his friend:  “No one in their right mind wants to insure those kids.” Never one to be deterred, Casel found an underwriter for qualified foster youth, and now, he says, his kids have better driving records than industry standards.

Education is another priority that Casel and his team have prioritized. “Nationally,” Casel said, “Less than three percent of foster children will graduate from college.” By comparison, in Casel’s region, which comprises Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, “Fifteen percent of our kids have a two- or four-year degree.”

Glen Casel and William Belt, former foster child and newly sworn Altamonte Police Department officer, at Belt’s induction ceremony.

“I want our kids to compare to every other kid who’s not in the system,” Casel said. “The same hopes, dreams and possibilities.”

William Belt had been in and out of foster care when he met Casel, who was the father of one of Belt’s football teammates. “He instantly became family to me, Belt said.   “I wanted to get to know him, and talk to him about foster care.” Casel was happy to listen.

“That’s what makes him so fantastic,” Belt said. Now a police officer with the Altamonte Police Department, Belt said that Casel is “a family man to all of the kids he comes in contact with.”

Dancing with Casel

Glen Casel will do anything for his kids, including learning ballroom dancing (for charity). Here he is with professional dancer Meghan McNash.

“There is no limit to what I will do for my kids,” Casel said. Including, but not limited to, using his own car to teach a foster child how to drive, or learning ballroom dancing.

In 2012, Casel’s team suggested that their newly formed nonprofit could benefit from a fundraising gala. The theme? Dancing with the Stars. As Casel tells it, they were a little short on stars, and talked him into participating. Casel, along with professional dancer Meghan McNash, rumbaed their way to the Judge’s Choice Award.

“I was way out of my comfort zone,” Casel said. “It was terrifying, and a lot of work.”

“He doesn’t like to lose,” Jackson said. As an avid golfer, snowskier and  bowler, Casel enjoys competing across a wide arena. “His philosophy is that ‘If I’m gonna do it, I’m going to win.’”

Still, the dancing thing surprised him. “I didn’t realize that he would be that good,” Jackson laughed.

Mentor to Many - Especially One

Dancing skills aside, Jackson said Casel’s leadership is evident because “the people that work with him are extremely loyal and committed to him. He is highly ethical, and willing to think outside the box.”

“I never had a mentor growing up,” Belt said. “But Glen is still always pushing me to better myself.”

There was a time, Belt said, that his “life got hard and I wanted to give up. Glen kept me going by telling me, ‘Whatever you do in your life, you will do well, but make sure it’s what you love.’”

“UCF was transformational to me,” Casel said. “I was shy, with no self-confidence and felt vulnerable and lost.” A course in public speaking led him to conquer those fears. “UCF started me on a pathway that has never stopped. I am forever indebted to that experience.”

Glen Casel, at right, and some of his team at CBC

By Camille Dolan ’98