They need us

The girl’s eyes followed me. She glanced sideways, wordlessly imploring for help. I had to respond. But how?

Thankfully, this child was not on the street but in a photo superimposed with the words “CASA of New Hampshire.” It was an ad seeking advocates for abused and neglected kids.

Much as an image like that tugs at my heart, I like to see the big picture before joining anything.

Here’s a sketch of what I’ve learned about CASA of NH and the state’s child protection process.

CASA is a 33-year-old statewide nonprofit organization. With almost 40 paid staff and 642 active volunteers, the organization’s goal is to serve 100 percent of New Hampshire’s abused and neglected kids. In 2022 that meant 1,538 children.

When a problem is reported to the State of New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), a social worker investigates. If corroborated, a petition is filed in family court against the parent for abuse or neglect. A Court Appointed Special Advocate or “CASA” is brought in to represent the best interest of the child.

DCYF proposes a plan to protect the child, either leaving them in-home with services and check-ins or placing them with relatives or foster families. The court specifies what actions must be taken for the family to be reunified, and what supports DCYF must provide.

Over the course of the year, as the parent works to address their issues, the CASA meets once or twice a month with the child. The CASA also gathers information from the parent, foster parents, social workers, health care providers, therapists, educators and others. The CASA writes a quarterly report to the court and attends the case hearings. Everyone’s goal is to get the family back together.

A year is not a lot of time to resolve some of the most difficult physical and mental challenges a person can face — problems such as addiction, domestic violence or mental illness, not to mention housing, food, transportation and employment. Sadly, reunification is not always possible. If the parent can’t convince the court that the child will be safe and secure in their care, DCYF typically requests that the plan be changed to adoption. If the court agrees, then a different legal case is filed to terminate the parent’s rights, and DCYF works to find an appropriate permanent home for the child.

Two years in as a CASA, I am astounded at the twists and turns abuse and neglect cases can take. Much as I want to know what’s ahead, it’s impossible to predict. I do know for certain these children need more advocates as well as foster and adoptive families. They need all of us.

Susan Hatem, former Director of Programs and Grant Making at New Hampshire Humanities, is a CASA of NH guardian ad litem and a connector, mentor and writer. Email her at

Go easy on the kids

At a family picnic this summer we gobbled salads, pulled pork and pies. Lounging in the shade of a giant maple, we admired my cousin’s picture-book perennial garden and a flock of orioles flitting above. Later we cooled off in the swirling water of the Connecticut River. All the while, we swapped family news and stories, only once drifting over the line into politics. An idyllic afternoon.

Imagine my surprise when our host emailed me how disappointed she was in her teenage grandchildren. They were perfectly capable of conversation, she said, and hadn’t even tried. At one point, inexplicably, they had all marched out of the house, stood in a row holding pieces of bread, and intoned, “We found the toast.” (More on that later.) She had a mind to speak to them.

My advice: go easy. Their willingness to even show up at a family reunion testifies to the tug of kinship in a disconcerting world. While Boomers can draw on the confidence instilled in us when things seemedto be headed generally in the right direction, younger people have had vastly different inputs. Millennials grew up in the shadow of 9/11, war and recession; Gen Z in the slow burn of climate change and Covid-19. For better and worse, they are all digital natives. The pandemic has exacerbated normal anxiety and distress, and provoked serious mental health challenges.

All of these factors impact social behavior. The rules and skills used to interact in society are not inborn. They have to be identified, modeled, practiced. Expectations vary, but at the core are respect and empathy. Saying please and thank you are basic. Being able to engage in conversation in a way that shows attention to the other person and awareness of interesting events is more advanced.

Long before the pandemic, civility itself had been eroding. In 2010 Jim Leach, then chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, visited New Hampshire on a 50-state “Civility Tour.” Leach sought to raise awareness about the danger of inappropriate public discourse and behavior. “Little is more important for the world’s leading democracy in this change-intensive century than establishing an ethos of thoughtfulness and decency of expression. … If we don’t try to understand and respect others, how can we expect them to respect us, our values and our way of life?” he asked.

About that toast: It turns out the teenagers were reaching out. One of this summer’s trends on TikTok is “#RaiseAToast.” Inspired by a scene from The Little Rascals in which Alfalfa toasts his would-be sweetheart, it focuses on celebrating the people and things you love the most.

We grown-ups were the ones who missed the social cue.

Caring for each other

From war to climate change, gun violence to inflation, it can seem that everything is going wrong. A recent conversation with Becky Field, New Hampshire photographer and immigrant advocate, reminded me that there is something each of us can do: We can welcome the stranger. Caring for one another is the first, best step we can take to heal our world.

My parents demonstrated this years ago.

During the Balkan Wars in the early 1990s, Mum and Dad greeted an exhausted Bosnian refugee family at the Manchester airport. They hosted them in their farmhouse for a month while others worked to find them housing, health care and jobs. Tense and chain-smoking, the father finally began to relax while helping Dad “pick rocks” in a field.

Over the years, my mother chatted with the mother in the grocery store or at a local event. Mum delighted in sharing that the children were doing well in school, the mother was in job training, and their citizenship applications were in progress.

Decades later, my father spent his last months in nursing care. One difficult night I stayed by his side as late as I could, agonized at leaving. When the new LNA came in, Dad smiled, weakly but warmly. It was the Bosnian mother. As luck or God would have it, she was there to help in our family’s time of need just as my parents had been in theirs.
When I bumped into the older daughter, we talked about our parents’ encounter. She wrote on Facebook, “Saw [one of] the family that first welcomed my family to [New Hampshire]. They housed us and treated us like family. Years later my sister and mom cared for their parents. This is to say that no kind act goes unnoticed.”

Despite the enormity of today’s challenges, individual actions and interactions matter. In response to war, natural disasters and forced migration, we can make our state welcoming, whether by volunteering with or donating to New Hampshire’s two refugee resettlement organizations, International Institute of New England (Manchester) or Ascentria Care Alliance (Concord), or by supporting local public transportation, education and affordable housing. Simply offering friendship may be the most valuable effort, impacting newcomers and welcomers alike. Caring for each other makes a world of difference in how we face problems and offers surprising benefits.

Paying attention

2020 marked 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, assuring women the right to vote. New Hampshire organizations had planned events from parades to readers’ theater, from tea parties to lectures about the individuals who fought for equal rights. Instead of learning and celebrating, we spent 2020 ducking Covid. Despite #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, too many ignored how civil rights were being attacked.

Shout out to two state historians who kept going with their research about the fight for women’s suffrage: Elizabeth Dubrulle and Beth Salerno. Their work, published in the magazine of the New Hampshire Historical Society, is inspiring. The lessons in “No Longer Denied: New Hampshire Women and the Right to Vote” should be taught in every school. Their credentials illustrate the painstaking work that goes into the writing of history. Politicians and activists get the headlines, but historians provide the context.

Elizabeth Dubrulle, director of education and public programs for the Historical Society and editor of its magazine, is a down-to-earth dynamo. She earned a master’s from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with emphases in early New England history and historical editing. She was the associate editor for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’ edition of the Correspondence of Thomas Hutchinson and provided editorial support for the Writings of Henry D. Thoreau. She also wrote Goffstown Reborn: Transformations of a New England Town (2009). Sen. David Watters, UNH professor emeritus and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of New England, told me he considered her town history one of the best.

Beth Salerno is a professor of American history at Saint Anselm College, where she focuses on women’s history, the history of citizenship and public history. She earned her doctorate in American and comparative women’s history at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. As chair of New Hampshire Humanities’ grants committee, she came across as both gentle and modest, articulate and fierce. Her book, Sister Societies: Women’s Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America (2005), documented the emerging networks among women reformers. Her preface, co-written with Dubrulle, and article ‘“A Woman in Politics!”’ set the stage and the bar for the rest of the publication.

Did you know that New Hampshire ratified the 19th amendment in 1919 but shot down a similar amendment to the state constitution two years later? If the 19th Amendment hadn’t become law in between, New Hampshire women would have been left out. This week’s news of the Supreme Court’s inclination to strike down Roe v. Wade shows how fragile women’s rights still are. We would know that if we paid attention to history.

Allow the change

My new go-to is yoga. Too much hiking and not enough stretching, not to mention crouching over my keyboard, brings on unaccustomed pains. The breathing, poses and mental habits of yoga rejuvenate me. Even practiced in a drafty community rec center, yoga loosens my muscles and expands my mind.

The language is part of it. I do not mean Sanskrit, the ancient language the first yogis spoke. I mean the word patterns and translations used by my American teachers, each of whom brings their own style and experience to class. They all emphasize that practicing yoga is a personal journey. There are modifications for different bodies and room for different degrees of challenge on different days. After all, it seems, “Leg” and “Hip” and our other body parts are esteemed colleagues. It’s OK, I’m told, if “Back Body” wants to just drape in “Child’s Pose” for an hour.

The descriptive names of yoga’s poses and flows just tickle me. “Downward Dog” and “Cow-and-Cat” are well-known, the stuff of birthday card jokes. But what about “Seated Half-Fish“ or “Revolved Chair’’? I have to wonder if these sound as funny in the original. My teachers actually do refer to the final pose, lying prone on the mat in silence for a few minutes, in Sanskrit. I imagine that’s because we Americans aren’t very comfortable with death and “savasana” means “corpse.” Although there is a practice known as laughter yoga, and various animal-accompanied classes are guaranteed to make one smile (think yoga with goat, butterfly, kitten), I’m not in one of those classes. I giggle as quietly as possible at the imagery of my teachers’ words.

Physical movement is only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Breathing control, behavioral self-restraints and disciplines, withdrawal of the senses, concentration and meditation are others, culminating in liberation. A significant and growing body of research backs up what dedicated yogis have always known about the emotional and mental as well as physical benefits. Yoga reduces anxiety and depression and strengthens parts of the brain important for memory, attention, awareness, thought and language.

The pandemic has caused significant mental health challenges, particularly among younger adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers. Experts surveyed by the Pew Research Center predict that some of the worst stressors — economic inequality, misinformation and “tele-everything” — will persist in the new normal. At the very least, life will remain unpredictable. We can ease ourselves into position to handle it, and help others, by stretching our bodies and minds. When my hip joints are screaming as I criss-cross my legs, my teacher says, “Breathe. Sit up tall. Allow the change.” Ever so slowly my pain, thoughts, and feelings do change.

Intergenerational ties

I find being one of my family’s elders a bit unsettling. Sure, I already embraced the gray hair. But until this year I always had someone more experienced with whom to discuss parenting, career, home ownership, the news, family history, my dreams. We didn’t necessarily think alike, but my parents and in-laws listened and shared their stories.

One thing my mother-in-law taught me was how to cook the family’s favorite Lebanese dishes. You might think she learned the recipes growing up, but her family was Portuguese, not Lebanese. Like me, she learned how to make “kibbeh” and “fatayer” after marrying into the tribe. “Kibbeh is meatloaf,” she said, “only nicer.” It’s made with ground lamb, bulgur, pine nuts and allspice. My husband and his brothers like to prove their heritage by eating their kibbeh “nayee” (raw) and telling the rest of us we’re wimps for preferring it “sineyee” (baked). Before baking, you drizzle olive oil over the loaf, draw criss-crossed lines on the surface, and poke a deep hole in the middle with your finger. When I asked why, my mother-in-law said, “Because my mother-in-law did.”

I cherish the morsels of culture that I got from my in-laws, as well as those from my own Scottish-English parents. During the pandemic, I contemplated learning to play a bagpipe, but that is a particularly inappropriate instrument to take up when family members are working at home. I content myself with humming the Skye Boat Song and being able to recognize MacDonald tartans at the Highland Games. What I really value, though, is the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

You don’t have to be related to get the benefits of intergenerational relationships. For older people, they include a sense of purpose and self-esteem. For younger people, they can provide mentorship, opportunities for meaningful service, and increased perspective and empathy. Studies show both generations are happier and more hopeful. People are now exploring how to move from the separatist practices of the last 30 years — like 55+ housing developments — to intergenerational collaborations such as residences for “grandfamilies” and community reading programs. Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D., writing in Forbes, discusses inventive organizations such as Generations United and Seniors4Seniors. In New Hampshire, AARP age-friendly communities are re-thinking everything from health to transportation, including zoning changes that could help with one of the most significant issues for young people and businesses: workforce housing.

As my family comes together for the holidays, I hope to keep both the old traditions and the sharing of new ideas alive. Baking fatayer — doughy, little, tri-cornered meat pies oozing a creamy yogurt sauce — ought to help.

Getting to Victory Day

I like to hike and to write. Both activities demand focus. One foot, or one word, in front of another. The effort distracts me from problems and surfaces memories and ideas.

As if the foliage on the Kancamagus Highway weren’t glorious enough, I recently hiked the Champney Falls Trail up Mt. Chocorua. Golden, orange and red leaves floated down from the treetops. Balsam and damp moss scented the air. Just out of sight the waterfall hummed like a highland bagpipe. Poking my poles into the leaves in search of solid ground, I picked my way among the rocks and roots. I was thinking about my mother.

Chocorua was the last big mountain my mother climbed before multiple sclerosis confined her to lower ground. Due to that disease, even her vinyl kitchen floor proved rough terrain on bad days. Remembering her determination to enjoy life and help others despite her condition, I backtracked in my mind to the stories she told us of growing up in the Depression and World War II. As a child in rural New Hampshire, she didn’t know that much about the interplay of economic, political and military forces at work. What she did understand from a young age was that she and her family and neighbors could make a difference. They needed to help with “the war effort.” They could, and did, grow victory gardens for food self-sufficiency; collect and donate scrap metal and rags; save quarters to buy war bonds; and make do with rationing. My grandmother sometimes served “peanut butter oatmeal chops” for supper. My mother knew it was her patriotic duty not to complain.

As in the 1940s, the U.S.A. now faces multiple fronts: the Covid pandemic, substance abuse, and mental health crises; financial precariousness; economic, educational and racial disparities; political stalemate; and, above all, climate change. Where are the 21st-century equivalents of those ebullient World War II posters urging Americans to do their part? Too few of us are getting the message that there is something we each can do. Too many are obsessed with protecting individual rights and ignoring societal responsibilities. Our republic is in dire danger. What to do? For starters, just get vaccinated.

I have to pause, breathing in-in-in and out-out-out. Above the treeline, granite boulders loom between me and the summit, grating my knees as I scramble up. But at the top, the blue sky, the distant lakes, the company of the other mountains, steadies me. Everything seems possible even the resolution of our nation’s problems. It is not enough to hike, though. I have to write.

Susan Hatem, former Director of Programs and Grant Making at New Hampshire Humanities, is a CASA of NH guardian ad litem and a connector, mentor and writer. Email her at

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