The first time Holly met Tina, she was in a foster home in Eureka. Tina was shy – not wanting to talk – barley making eye contact. Holly had never been a child advocate before but she'd been through the CASA training and so she just began talking. "I told her all about myself," said Holly. "I just started talking and figured that maybe when she knew enough about me she would tell me something about herself."
But on that first visit Tina didn't say much to Holly. They visited for less than an hour before Tina went back home and wondered what she had gotten herself into.
"Tina's life had been very unstable for a long time," said Holly. "Prior to Tina being in foster care she didn't have housing very much. Tina would come home and home just wouldn't be there anymore. Mom or Dad, whoever she was with at the time, would have to gather what they could walk away with... She slept in parks and grew up watching Mom and Dad use a lot of drugs and make really bad choices."
Tina started doing drugs at 9 years old. "One of mom's hands didn't work very well" recalled Holly, "So when Tina was young, her mother would have Tina inject the speed into her arm for her. Tina would do it to her mom and then do it to herself."
When Tina was twelve years old, a friend of her mother's molested her. The man had been released from jail only hours before. When Tina told her father, he reported the crime to the police and Tina was put into foster care.
"When I first met Tina," said Holly's CASA case supervisor, "she was very timid - almost afraid to talk. Holly and I had gone over to Tina's house and it was awkward. But Holly just started sharing herself and her own thoughts with Tina... and (over time) Tina became much more open and sharing. Holly got to know her better than anyone."
Statistically, Tina was lucky. Soon after being taken into foster care, she was placed in the care of Sharon, a seasoned foster care provider. But Tina still had very strong ties with her mother and father.
"Tina is the parent in the relationship with her parents," said Holly. "That is very obvious for anyone who sees them. Not only does Tina have to work out her problems but her parents are always having trouble and Tina feels she has to solve their problems as well...She broke down one day and told me, I can only see my dad dying. I wake up every day wondering if this is the day he's going to die and I don't know what to do to stop it."
Over the next three years, Holly spent a lot of time with Tina at her foster home, taking hikes and building a deep and personal relationship together. Tina trusted and listened to Holly. "I've always been honest with Tina," said Holly. "As much as she wouldn't want to hear what I had to say at times – I think that honesty really strengthened our relationship. ...like learning how to say things in court. There's just a way you have to do it to make sure you're heard. Sometimes getting up and telling the truth and saying what's right and doing what's right is the hardest thing to do – but you have to do it because it's the truth – even if its the last thing you want to do in the world."
Tina continued to visit with her parents, but often brought Holly along to help her get through the difficult sessions. There were still instances of drug use, manipulation and dishonesty, but with her newfound strength, Tina began to reject these situations and make good decisions for herself. She continued taking hikes and began a swimming program.
Over the years, Tina's relationship with her foster parent Sharon, also deepened. Tina opened up to her and they shared a bond that went beyond the caregiver relationship. "Sharon and Tina are able to talk about anything," Holly said. "Even the things that other parents struggle with – sex, drugs, alcohol – they can really talk about anything at all."
Like all teenagers, at times Tina disagreed with Sharon and they would argue, but even when Tina wouldn't come home, or was placed in juvenile hall, Sharon never gave up on her. She always took her back even when other foster children moved in and out of their home.
Tina often helped out with the younger foster children she lived with, often holding their hands and guiding them when they had problems of their own.
"Some of them (the foster children) want to throw their food in your face and misbehave," said Tina. "I talk to them and try to be there for them. They don't mean it, a lot of them come from some really bad places."
When Tina neared her seventeenth birthday, Sharon asked her if she could become her legal guardian. "It's what you hope for," said Holly. "For every kid you just want someone to say, it's okay - I'll be here. That's what Sharon did for Tina. She gave her a home and a place to be."
The court didn't take long to approve the guardianship and now Tina lives in a safe home with people she can trust. "Now that she's (under the guardianship of Sharon) Tina's dealing with a whole new set of life issues," said Holly smiling. "She's not worried about where's she going to live – she's now really looking at going to College of the Redwoods. She really has her mind set on it. I've told her – we can get you financial aid and make it happen.
She's starting to look toward the future now and not getting caught up in trying to solve her parent's problems. Tina's really beginning to become her own person. She's not looking for drugs, she's choosing to go out and do healthier activities."
"I cried when Holly told me she wouldn't be my CASA anymore," said Tina. "We both cried. It was so sad. She's always voiced what I felt and wanted to be able to say. Holly just made everything easier. She was just always there and she's still there. We still hang out"
To this day you can still find Holly and Tina hiking, visiting the tidepools or working together in Holly's garden at home. Tina is getting ready for college in the fall and Holly is preparing to take another case as a CASA volunteer.
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