"Your Past Does Not Dictate Your Future"

Tomika Holmes, CASA Prince George's County

Before Tomika Holmes was named a "40 Under 40" by the Prince George's County Social Innovation Fund, before she was a police officer or a college student graduating magna cum laude, before she was a wife and mother, Holmes was a little girl with a CASA volunteer.

"A lot of my childhood I don't remember. But what I do remember was this young lady who was always there for me. I have a vision of her sweet face burned in my mind, memories of her sitting in the hallways of the courtroom, of her visiting me. At the time I did not know who she was, or what she was, just that she was always there."

Holmes, now 39 years old, spent the early part of her childhood in and out of the foster care system. Poor decisions with drugs and the stresses of a street life caused her mother's health to decline, and ultimately cut her life short. Her lifestyle meant that Holmes was alone a lot of the time, periodically coming to the attention of child protective services. For a while, Holmes bounced between the care of her mother and of foster parents. But by the time she was seven, her father had gained permanent custody of her.

Safe in the embrace of a loving father and stepmother, Holmes was no longer visited by the young lady whose name and role she did not know. But the memory of her remained. When Holmes got older and realized that the young woman who had stood by her during those difficult years was a CASA volunteer, she went online, researching to learn more, and eventually signed up to be a volunteer in 2008.

Holmes says that it is her own good fortune, and the trajectory of her sister's life, that inspired her to become a volunteer with CASA Prince George's County.

"My mother, bless her soul, could not resist the drugs. The world was just too powerful. I was fortunate to be taken away from that. But my sister, who had a different father, grew up in that lifestyle, she was with my mother most of her life. Now my sister's life mimics my mother's life almost identically. And that is one reason I feel so strongly about being a consistent person in a child's life. Sometimes that's all they really need to take a different path is to see that a different path is available, that there is another reality out there than the one you are currently living in."

Holmes's other inspiration is seeing the success of Dawnae, the young woman she has been working with since she became a CASA volunteer. When they met in 2008, Dawnae was a defiant 17-year-old with a mother dying from ailments related to HIV. She had been in six different foster homes and group homes and would frequently run away, to Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Today, Dawnae is raising a one-year old daughter and preparing to graduate from school as a pharmacy technician. She'll age out of foster care in the fall.

"I believe in my heart that when we met, all Dawnae knew was where she was and where she had come from. She didn't have anyone in her life that could show her that although you have this turbulent past, there is another way. I told her, 'Look, we have a similar background. I made it and you can make it too. Your past does not dictate your future. Your future is what you make it.' It took a while, but she got it. She is growing up to be a young responsible adult and a good parent, ready to create a positive future for herself and her daughter."