Mary Jo and Chris Bearley began fostering children several years ago and have welcomed 10 children into their home. After adopting three children, they decided that they would still foster one child at a time, but did not wish to adopt anymore - until the phone rang one fateful day. WCCB caseworker, Melissa Jacobs, asked Mary Jo if she would take in a little boy, but Mary Jo quickly responded that they already had a foster child and didn’t feel they could take in another. Melissa replied that they already knew this child and fostered him as a newborn – it was Jeremiah. Without hesitation, Mary Jo and Chris agreed to take in Jeremiah and be a permanency home for him.
The Bearley’s other foster child already had a CASA volunteer, Joyce Morgan, who agreed to take on Jeremiah’s case as well. “We haven’t had a CASA with all of our children, but it’s nice when you do. Everyone should have a CASA!” said Mary Jo. She believes that the CASA is such a connecting point for the children. “No one else knows everything about the case, but the CASA is the key person who has access to everything and it makes a big difference,” Mary Jo added. When asked about her CASA volunteer, Mary Jo replied, “Joyce is wonderful! She is great with all the kids!”
Volunteer Joyce credits Mary Jo as being the best “record keeper” she has ever seen in her six years as a CASA. Joyce also states that she “really enjoyed her time with the Bearley’s and is especially pleased to see them become a forever home for Jeremiah.” Jeremiah was fortunate enough to be adopted by the Bearley family in early 2015. When Mary Jo asked Jeremiah what he thought it meant to be adopted and he replied, “It means I’ll never have to leave.” Jeremiah was only nine months old the first time he had to leave the Bearley’s home, but now he knows he’ll never have to leave again.
Tim and Sally Dingman began fostering children in 2007 and now, after adopting 4 children, their family is complete. In 2010, the Dingmans took in Emily and Andrew, 7 week year old twins that were placed into custody due to concerns for their biological parents’ mental health and parenting ability. For nearly 2 years, the Dingmans fostered and nurtured these two children as the biological parents struggled to comply with court ordered services. Throughout this trying time, the Dingmans had CASA volunteer Jennifer Cunningham advocating for the children’s best interests.
“I can’t say enough about the CASA volunteers,” Mrs. Dingman said. “Jennifer has been wonderful. She has been [the children’s] guardian angel.” Jennifer was assigned to Emily and Andrew on December 22, 2010 and she remained the voice for these children up until they were adopted in August 2012. The twins “were fortunate to be part of a really good foster family,” said Jennifer of the Dingmans.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Mrs. Dingman said about CASA of Westmoreland. “Volunteers give children a voice of their own, especially when they are little. They are making such a difference for kids, they are another layer of protection for them.” For the Dingmans, Jennifer helped them achieve their dream of having a large family. In addition to their 4 adoptive children, Tim and Sally Dingman also have a grown biological son.
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*Thank you to the Bearley and Dingman family for giving permission to share their stories.