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Learning to Mourn

Missi Kershner, a 2023 Darlene Kamine Advocate of the Year

ProKids has had the pleasure of working with CASA Volunteer Missi Kershner for three years. In that time, Missi has served the same four kids. For those three siblings and their cousin, Missi has been a blessing, walking with them – and fighting for them – through the many barriers they’ve faced.

At the start of the case, the mother of the three siblings, who we’ll call “Lola,” “Emmit” and “Ian,” lived with a terminal illness. But when her children entered the system, they hadn’t been told yet.

It’s something Missi never imagined, but as a first-time CASA Volunteer, she hit the ground running, working to understand their mom’s condition and give the kids the truth. She played a major role in encouraging regular visits to their mother’s nursing home — and often dropped by herself to ensure she was cared for.

Through her advocacy, Missi gave these siblings a way to rebuild a relationship with their mother, while simultaneously giving them time to process her illness. Sadly, toward the start of this year, Missi got a call from the oldest. She was sharing the news that their mother had passed.

Well before, Missi had worked hard to establish therapy and services for the children, but with the news of their mother’s death, she started making calls immediately, informing her ProKids CASA Manager, the case worker and the staff in their various placements. She ensured their supports were strong and that help was accessible.

Lola, who’s 18, is stabilized, in therapy and in an independent living setting. If all goes to plan, she’ll graduate from high school this year as a straight A student. But even with all her successes, the loss she’s experienced makes the next stages of life overwhelming. So, when Missi meets with her, they’re talking through the pros and cons of the choices ahead.

Emmit, 17, was in youth detention through this tragedy. Since he missed his chance to say goodbye to his mother before she died, Missi arranged a private viewing before his mother’s funeral. Throughout his sentence, Missi has visited him frequently – often weekly. They have long conversations about Emmit’s future and his upcoming transition to a residential treatment facility. They discuss using the time he has now (removed from outside influences) to become the man he hopes to be.

For 14-year-old Ian, who is in a residential treatment facility, Missi’s current focus is his academics. As an educator herself, Missi is well aware of his school’s responsibility to provide educational accommodations, and right now, the battle is ensuring the school remains compliant.

The final child on her caseload, the cousin of these siblings, has experienced a similar tragedy: the passing of her own mom when she was only 3. According to Missi, mental health services and residential treatment have helped this now 13-year-old learn how to grieve. And now in a loving foster home, she’s doing better than ever.

Even so, Missi knows that mourning is not a “one and done” process – for any of these kids.

They’ll feel the absence of their moms when they graduate from high school, when they get married, when they have their own children. “They’ll live on that continuum,” Missi said. But as they get older, Missi encourages each of them to seek and access help… According to Missi, it’s about loving and respecting them enough to let them walk on their own – preparing them for a time when their cases are closed and her advocacy is no longer needed.

Until then, ProKids is confident that Missi will remain a constant. For kids who have seen so much tragedy and change, her advocacy has been a gift.

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