Great Women of Texas 2019: Kara Waddell

Kara Waddell, President and CEO of Child Care Associates. (Photo by/Sharon Ellman)

Kara Waddell

CEO and President

Child Care Associates

Kara Waddell is the president and CEO of Child Care Associates, the  largest child development nonprofit in North Texas.

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CCA, with a budget of $90 million, manages 23 early childhood campuses across Tarrant County serving more than 2,300 children from impoverished families with a whole child/whole families approach. CCA offers support in areas such as mental health, emotional development and nutrition for low-income children ages zero – 5 years old.


CCA’s efforts have not gone un-noticed, as evidenced by the accolades the organization has received from Mayor Betsy Price, business leaders like Happy Baggett and others. But it recently more widespread notice when federal officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services selected Fort Worth for a conference to discuss innovative solutions to reduce the cost of childcare through public-private partnerships.

Before coming to Fort Worth, Waddell served as a state executive in Oregon leading childcare for the state.

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Prior to Oregon, Waddell, proficient in Mandarin, lived in China for 12 years leading a countrywide nonprofit with a program in poverty alleviation, child wellbeing and community development.

Waddell has a B.A. from Duke University and her MPA from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. While at Harvard, Waddell served as a Fellow in Philanthropy at Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.

– Robert Francis

What advice would you give young women rising to a position of prominence?

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Identify success for yourself early on. It’s easy to rise in prominence and lose other aspects of your life or family life that are important to you.

You could choose to spend your time many ways; why do you choose to spend it the way you do?

Know thyself. I’m a bit of an introvert and if I spend all my time out with others and doing, I feel way too poured out. I get energy by being alone, having periods of rest and time to think. I go pretty fast and hard so planning out time each week and each quarter just for me is important. Otherwise, I come home feeling too spent to give to the people I care most about.

Who is the most significant role model and/or mentor in your life?

I always dread the mentor question as I’m not sure I’ve really had a formal mentor. I tend to pick and choose wise advice and suggestions from a lot of different men and women. So to answer the question of “who?”: People unlike yourself. People who say things that make you want to lean in and hear more. People who give back. People who are older than I. Women who are very comfortable in their own skin.

What book, movie, TV series or play influenced you growing up?  Why?

The film The Missionfrom the mid-80s was a powerful portrayal of redemption. That penance scene of a man climbing the steep falls tied down with extra weights is a vivid one for me. Perhaps it was the score – the music and story are still haunting to me. Oh, and Chariots of Firewith the story of runner Eric Liddell (who later in life was a missionary in China and died in a prison camp). Liddell’s quote of “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure” was an attitude I like – to do what is in your soul just feels right.


What would you like for us to know that we might not know to ask?

I lived in China for 12 years and met and married my husband, Bill, in China. Our boys were “made in China” and born there. Living cross-culturally has been such a labyrinth of the wonderful and the challenging. I don’t think I could have ever married someone who had not lived overseas and had that as a formative experience.