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Once torn apart, five siblings reunite — thanks to CASA

Pictured: Kelia, Kayla, Khalill and Tanisha Mayes.

A few years ago, Shaniquah Nelson would never have dreamed that her five children would be living under the same roof again, getting ready to celebrate the holidays together – and that she would get to celebrate with them all, too.

But today, they are reunited — thanks to a tenacious CASA volunteer, a relentless CASA supervisor and a caring foster mom who’s adopting all five kids. On top of that, this amazing foster mom is also welcoming the children’s birth mother to play an active role in their lives.

“She’s their mom. She’s always going to be their mom,” says Tanisha Mayes, who adopted Shaniquah’s youngest child, Kamiah, as a baby; recently she added 15-year-old twin girls, Keila and Kayla, and their 10-year-old brother, Khalill, to her family, and is working to adopt their other brother, 11-year-old K’San.

The twins and their 10-year-old brother officially reunited with their baby sister in a New Jersey courtroom on November 14. The adoption ceremony was a joyous moment – one full of happy anticipation for the future that lies ahead.

During the four years since CASA stepped up for the children, more than a dozen officials have been involved with their case: four judges, five law guardians, four deputy attorneys general and three case managers with the state’s child welfare division.

From start to finish, CASA has been the only consistent presence in the children’s lives.

Together, CASA volunteer Burujah Abdul’Ahad and CASA supervisor Suzzy Pelissier have spent countless hours meeting with the children and working with foster parents, school teachers, case managers and others to make sure the kids were getting what they needed.

It was hard work, but every time Burujah and Suzzy encountered an obstacle, they figured out a way around it.

When Keila and Kayla needed paperwork completed so the girls could attend a prestigious honors school for the arts, their CASA advocate helped to get them enrolled and overcome barriers that could have prevented them from getting to school each day.

When Khalill needed help with reading and counseling for social and emotional problems, Burujah got involved and made sure Khalill got the help he needed.

Most recently, CASA played a key role in reuniting K’San with the rest of his siblings.

This family reuniting all started back in 2012. Soon after Tanisha welcomed Kamiah into her family she reached out to CASA, eager to give her baby girl a chance to build relationships with her birth mom and siblings. Tanisha could see that the birth mom, Shaniquah, had a good heart despite her struggles with drugs and alcohol.

“I knew I needed to get myself together,” Shaniquah says. “I wanted to see my kids for more than an hour a week. When I met Tanisha, all the stuff I used to do … I just stopped doing it.”

This year will be the first time that Shaniquah gets to celebrate the holidays with all of her children all at once. Tanisha hasn’t thought twice about including her kids’ birth mother in Thanksgiving, Christmas, other holidays and day-to-day life.

“It’s basically catching up on a lot of lost time,” Tanisha says.

Both moms are grateful – for each other and for the children they are nurturing together.

“If it wasn’t for CASA, we wouldn’t be here,” Tanisha says. “This is a family that’s gone through so much heartache. Not anymore. Our tears are happy now.”

Thank you to Essex County CASA for introducing us to this story.

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The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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