Mike Krizansky, retired design engineer and current volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire, is a doer. If there’s one thing that would be torture to Mike, it’s being idle. From golf, to fishing, to restoring classic motorcycles, his list of interests is robust. And just as robust is the variety of ways in which he gives back.
As a CASA volunteer, Mike advocates for children who have experienced abuse or neglect. His goal is to determine what is the best safe and permanent home for the child. Amusingly, although he towers above them at 6’1”, he delights most in working with infants.
Mike says, “When you see a child at six weeks, and then you see them at one year, you know how big that change is. They grow, they learn, they have words, they develop their own personalities. I get to see a big change, and I feel like I’m having an impact on them.”
Mike has advocated for multiple infants who were born substance-exposed, and thus the Division of Children, Youth and Families became immediately involved. “My first case ended with reunification, which I think is spectacular,” he recounts. “I was on pins and needles for the first six months, not knowing what was going to happen. There were surprises around every corner. Every court appearance had both a good outcome and a catastrophe for Mike as a CASA because my path forward would change.”
He continues, “I was introduced to the child at six weeks, and we are still in touch now, after the close of the case. I have lunch with her and her mom about once a month. Mom struggled often during our engagement, which resulted in added months to our working relationship. The division kept on with the parent, I as the CASA kept on with the child. And in the long run mom is sober, the child is in daycare and is socially active. The child just knows me as ‘Mike’, we get together and have hot chocolate or lunch, just the three of us. I was part of a solution. Mom did all the work, and I just kind of held everybody’s hand, and it worked. My greatest reward is having the friendship and trust of the parents afterwards.”
In addition to being a CASA, Mike volunteers with senior citizens at home in Ipswich, Massachusetts, providing medical transport for seniors. “The seniors all get a kick out of driving around in the red Jeep,” he says. “They just think it’s a hoot that they have to climb up a ladder to get into my Jeep.” Mike also has a once-weekly route for Meals on Wheels. “I have seven to 10 clients that I deliver meals for in the morning, and so of course I know all of them. Part of my job is to make sure I have a few words with them every morning, as I may be the only person these seniors may see during the course of the day.”
Recently, some of Mike’s charitable efforts have taken place much further afield. “I fish a lot, and I try to fish somewhere exotic and different at least once a year.” This past October, Mike traveled to Poland. He says, “I was staying about 100 km from the Ukrainian border. Before my trip I called my associate there and asked him if they were housing any of the Ukrainian refugees, and if there was anything in particular that they needed that I could bring from the states. He said because the men weren’t allowed to leave Ukraine it was only the women and children. He told me the women were really short on facial creams and hand creams. I asked about the children, and he said anything to take their minds off what was going on and wondering where dad was, why he wasn’t there.”
Mike and the colleague he was traveling with got to work. “We decided that we would take all the blue jeans that we no longer fit into and make a care package, and my friend’s wife and social circle got coloring books that were all in English, and we got crayons, and put some facial creams together for the women, and we trucked all this over in our suitcases.
“When we got to southern Poland we went to the local gymnasium, which was being used as an impromptu school, and we handed out all of this stuff to the kids. Surprisingly enough, Ukrainian children are taught and speak English. When they opened the coloring books up they knew who Mickey Mouse and Superman were. It was very heartwarming to hand these things out just to let them know that there’s somebody someplace else that’s thinking of them, and here’s something to take their mind off things.”
As for the blue jeans, he says, “I was hoping those could go to the husbands, but ultimately what the Ukrainian women did was rip them apart and they made quilts and insulated jackets to send to their husbands. It was just a warm, wonderful situation to watch this unfold and to meet these people.”
It’s clear that Mike’s love of children, and people of all ages, knows no borders. When it comes back to his role with CASA of NH, he says, “I think the most rewarding thing is knowing when I go home, that I’ve got some influence on one, two, or three children’s lives. I’m not going to get on a soapbox and say that without me they couldn’t have done it, because I’m not doing all the work. I’m just reporting, and observing, and just trying to be as kind and communicative to both the children and the parents, and the Division, my program manager, and the court as I possibly can, and maybe offering some of my influence. I get a great deal of emotional support from seeing the progress that my bio moms and dads are making and that the children are making. I use it as fuel to write my reports, to spend time to text my foster parents or my bio parents, to talk to my children and make sure I get the visitation in.”
Mike also feels supported by the CASA staff and his fellow volunteers. “If you’ve got a problem, if you’ve got a question, or if circumstances are not what you think they should be, there are other people there who have experience. It’s a nice team, a nice family. If you wear the pin, and you stop into another regional office, and it’s kind of like ‘here’s your desk!’ I guess we all realize what we all go through, and we keep that happy face on and are pleasant to each other and to everybody else. I really do feel like it’s a great family.” A family that is all the better for having Mike in it.