When Jeanmarie Foisie discovered CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of New Hampshire in 2013, she was in the grips of a pain no parent should ever have to bear. Jeanmarie and her husband had recently lost their 19-year-old son, and she felt as though she was walking through life in a fog of grief.
The Foisies were also new residents of the Granite State, which added further layers to navigate as they tried to find their bearings in their new reality.
One day, while she sat off to the side in a Starbucks as her daughter chatted with a friend, Jeanmarie looked up and she says it literally felt as if the fog lifted. Her eyes locked on a CASA of NH poster, and to Jeanmarie that poster shone a beam of hope into the darkness: a hope that would bring a healing sense of purpose through helping others.
Jeanmarie had been a teacher for 25 years in Connecticut, and technically she was retired since her move. Given that she had always worked to support the wellbeing of children, the role of a CASA immediately interested her. After much research and contemplation around whether working with abused and neglected children would help her, or if it would pain her more, she decided that this was a concrete and needed way to work through her grief. After completing the training, Jeanmarie was hooked. “It was absolutely the right path for me,” she says.
The CASA organization serves children of all ages, from days-old babies to teenagers right up until they turn 18 (in certain cases 21) and age out of state care. During her eight years as a CASA, Jeanmarie has chosen to work with a lot of teenagers. “I’m a believer in the importance of having that one trusted adult,” she says. “The most rewarding thing to me is feeling that you’ve made a connection with the child. Those relationships and that trust take a little time to build. With the little ones it doesn’t take long before they’re up in your lap, and they’re hugging you, and they embrace you pretty much right away. The teenagers are different, you absolutely have to build that trust.”
Jeanmarie distinctly remembers the first time, with her first CASA teenager, where she really won her trust. “We were in court, and the child’s mother, who was usually at the hearings despite her struggles, didn’t come. The child was anxious and worried about her mother. She was seated at one table and I was at another. She turned and looked at me and asked if I could sit with her. This was when I really felt that the girl now viewed me as a caring adult in her life.”
This is just one example of how Jeanmarie has been a positive force in her case children’s lives. Another is the girl she is working with now, who somedays calls Jeanmarie two or three times, just because she needs to know someone is listening to her. “Looking back at the teenagers I’ve worked with, sometimes they’re so untrusting. They don’t want to be in care and they’re fighting it. It’s meaningful when you can become that person who they call when they need someone to talk to.”
In the case of another girl who was soon to turn 18, Jeanmarie was able to guide the child to stay within the child protective system so she wouldn’t lose access to beneficial services. “She wanted to be out of care so, so badly,” recounts Jeanmarie. “I think the teenagers reach a point where they don’t want to be told what to do. When you can sit and reason with a child and say, ‘let’s look at what your life would look like without staying in care and without any support systems in place, and then let’s look at what it would look like if you stayed in care where you’re afforded these specific supports.’ When you can break through and have them come to the decision that is in their best interest, then I feel like I did my job.”
Jeanmarie encourages others to consider joining her as a CASA. “It’s one of the most altruistic organizations I’ve ever been connected to. It is filled with good people. When you take that risk and become a CASA, your thinking will expand.” She points out that, “If you have any trepidation, it’s okay. CASA doesn’t need you to be sure all the time. They want you to ask questions. Every uncertainty I had was answered, and that put me at ease. The court system can be hard to navigate, but you have so much support with CASA.”
Jeanmarie and her husband live on a farm raising 22 cows on a picturesque 70 acres with their daughter, Lily, and nearby to their son, daughter-in-law, and first grandchild. In addition to Jeanmarie’s work as a CASA, the family has established other ways to help youth in their community. A couple of years ago they created a workshop program wherein they sponsor a graduating high school senior who is interested in pursuing a trade, and whose life includes some type of hardship. They match the teen with a contractor, and for two years they mentor the student and pay their salary so it’s not a burden on the contractor. In return the contractor spends time teaching the student in a culture that is positive and supportive. This program is an enduring tribute to their son, who was a carpenter.