From the doctor’s office to the court room, Mary Ferguson has been a lifelong advocator. After hearing about CASA of New Hampshire from an active volunteer advocate at her church, she quickly decided that she wanted to volunteer when the time was right for her. Shortly after Mary’s retirement from more than 40 years of nursing, she applied and completed her CASA volunteer advocate training.
“I am so distressed about the amount of child abuse and neglect that goes on in our state,” Mary said of what about the work of a CASA speaks to her, “I want to do what I can about this.”
CASA volunteer advocates serve as the eyes and ears in the court system for abuse and neglect cases that come in to New Hampshire family courts. They are often the one constant in the turbulent lives of children who have been victim to abuse or neglect
“There was no way I was going to stop helping people when I retired,” Mary said, “it is something I am comfortable with, and I know I am making a difference.”
Since becoming a CASA in 2016, Mary notes how much she has learned about the court system, the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), and how to communicate and connect with people in stressful situations.
“Things take time, and can be hard to figure out,” Mary said. “You cannot fix people, but you can help, even if in a small way, and it is worth it.”
While Mary admits the court room is not her comfort zone, she pushes through her challenges to be the voice for three children who need her. Suffering from neglect due to parental opioid abuse, these CASA children have lost the sense of what “home” truly feels like.
Mary has been able to connect with the youth on her case through games, laughing and talking. She visits her CASA kids twice a month, and watches their eyes light up as she comes in the room because they know visits with her are always fun.
A five year age gap between two siblings means her methods of communication have to be a little different. When Mary finds communicating with the older child to be a little difficult, she turns to her Program Manager to give helpful hints about how to connect with a youth that has endured so much trauma. Mary finds it essential to remind the siblings that they deserve affection and that they are important. In such a transitional time in their lives, she does what she can to be steady support for the children.
Mary has also found herself in the role of advocating for a newborn child to grow in a safe, loving home. When a child cannot speak for themselves, the CASA’s role becomes incredibly important. Mary will help ensure that this infant is getting the proper services, is living in an environment in which she will be able to thrive, and that all needs are met for this child’s life.
For Mary, being a CASA is not just about the children, but the people she works with and the experience she is gathering following retirement.
“CASA staff, volunteers, DCYF workers, and attorneys, I have not met one stinker,” Mary said jokingly. “I am always impressed at the devotion, kindness and professionalism.”
Mary feels that even through the new challenges, becoming a CASA has enriched her life in a way she could never imagine.
“It is an incredible journey not to be missed, if you have the time and desire, anyone can do it” Mary said. “It is the greatest feeling when you know you have made a difference.”
Mary encourages anyone contemplating becoming a CASA volunteer advocate to “just jump in!”