I will never forget the first time that I met Jeremiah. He was waiting anxiously for me by the stairs of his group home. When I walked through the door, his eyes just lit up and he got the biggest smile on his face. He said, “You’re going to be my CASA, right?” I told him yes and asked if I could talk to him for a few minutes in the visitor’s lounge. One of the very first questions he asked me was, “Are you going to help me see my mom (adoptive) and brother?” His next question was, “How often are you going to come and visit me?” I told him that I was going to help him see his family. I also let him know that I could visit him every week or every other week. Without hesitation, he said, “How about every week and Wednesday’s will work for me.”
Within a month, I was able to facilitate a monthly visitation schedule with his family. I dropped Jeremiah off at his adoptive mother’s home and he spent the day playing with his younger brother, Jesse, who he hadn’t seen for several months. When I arrived at his adoptive mother’s home to pick him up, Jesse was very quiet. As I was talking to his adoptive mother, I felt a sense of sadness behind me. I turned around and Jesse was crying, tears just streaming down his face. I asked him what was wrong and he wouldn’t answer me. Jeremiah said, “Jesse doesn’t want me to leave and he is afraid that I’m not coming back.” As I was explaining to Jesse that Jeremiah would be coming back, I watched Jeremiah comfort his younger brother. He gave him a big hug and said, “Bro, don’t worry, Tara will bring me back next month.” His eyes lit up, the tears stopped and Jesse looked at me and said, “You are going to bring my brother back again?” I said yes, and next time we will go to a park together. He got a big smile on his face, but my heart just ached at the pain in this little boy’s eyes.
After our first visit with his family, Jeremiah was very quiet on the ride home. I decided to take him out so he had some time to process the visit before returning to the group home. We decided to spend the rest of the day at a park. We walked along the beach, picked up seashells and laughed as we almost got drenched by the waves. As we were leaving, I asked him if he enjoyed his day. He looked up at me and said, “Tara, this has been the best day of my life. I got to see my mom, my brother and walk the dogs.” I also asked him if he liked the park. He said, “This has been the best park that I’ve ever been to in my life.” The happiness in his eyes and the smile on his face filled me with such joy. I felt so blessed to have been assigned to this young man and at that moment, I knew that I would be working with my CASA youth for as long as he needed my support.
On our second visit, I took the boys to a National Monument. They had never been on a hike before and they were so excited that they could barely contain themselves. Jeremiah was sitting in the front seat and his brother was in the back. On the way to the park, I pulled over so I could get the boys a cinnamon roll. Jeremiah looked up at me and said, “Tara, would you mind if I sit in the back with my brother?” I told him of course he could, gave them each a giant cinnamon roll, and we were off. I’ll never forget looking in my rear view mirror and seeing the frosting on their faces and fingers. At that moment, it didn’t even matter that I had frosting all over my seats, what mattered was that I was giving these two brothers the precious gift of being together. To hear the echoes of their laughter and excitement in their voices was so special. I just sat back, smiled and gave them the time to be brothers.
On the way home that day after dropping off Jesse, Jeremiah sat staring out the window, silent and contemplating his day. About twenty minutes later, he started talking to me about wanting to live with his family. Unfortunately, this was not the plan and when I reminded him that he wouldn’t be going home, he responded by saying, “Tara, but how could two moms give me away?” My first one gave me away because she was on drugs and now this mom is giving me away? How could they do this to me?” My heart ached to look at this wonderful young man and see so much sadness and confusion in his eyes. Not only was he removed from his adoptive mother, but he was also torn away from his brother.
Unfortunately, I cannot change this situation, but I can ensure that while Jeremiah is in foster care, he will always remain connected to the family who means the world to him, who he loves with all his heart. As long as I am his advocate, he will have many more visits and trips with his brother. He will be reminded by me all the time that his mother loves him dearly. He will know that it isn’t that his mother doesn’t want him, but that she is not capable of caring for him anymore. He will know that he can always count on me, no matter where he is moved. I have been with him through six placements in seven months, and each time he moves, he says, “You always seem to find me.”
When I was leaving after a visit one day, Jeremiah gave me a big hug and said, “That’s the first time that I hugged you first.” I smiled and reminded him that he is a very special young man; he got a big smile on his face. I also told him that I thought it was time to go visit his brother and eat giant cinnamon rolls again. He smiled and nodded his head. On the way home, I sat silent. The impact that this young man has had in my life was so unexpected. The laughter, the walks, collecting seashells…they have all brought such joy to my life. I feel such a sense of happiness to know that I am, and will continue to be, a consistent and positive role model in my CASA youth’s life. I look forward to listening, guiding, mentoring and advocating for this young man for many years to come.
Read Stacey and Lisa’s stories here.