She remembers the date, her unsettling premonitions and the look of her infant sister’s body when CPR was attempted.
“It was July 4, 1998, and we were invited to a party,” Tiffany Jorgenson told The Gazette. “Honest to goodness, I believed in my 8-year-old heart, ‘Someone is going to die tonight.’”
Jogenson’s 7-month-old sister, Ariel, had fallen off the bed where she had been put to sleep and had been trapped between the mattress and the wall. Their mother and her boyfriend were drinking in another room.
“I immediately knew she was dead. I knew that’s not where babies are supposed to be,” Jorgenson said, recalling how she watched as Ariel was pulled from the crevice.
Nearly 30 years old now, Jorgenson still reaches for tissues to wipe the tears when she tells her story.
“It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, it doesn’t make it any better,” she said.
But Ariel’s death spurred a change and precisely 17 days later, Jorgenson said she and her remaining two siblings — a younger brother and a younger sister — were removed from the custody of their mother.
That was the start of the process that would introduce Jorgenson to the court appointed special advocate who would change her life forever. Such advocates, called CASAs, are appointed by judges to help children navigate the foster-care system and to advocate for their needs as each case moves forward.
Wednesday night, Jorgenson spoke briefly at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St., urging the crowd to give however they can to CASA of the Pikes Peak Region. The event was the organization’s public kickoff for its Community Campaign, which hopes to raise $2.8 million.
So far, the local CASA program has raised more than $1.6 million, said Keri Kahn, the organization’s communications manager.
The underlying goal is to ensure that every child in need of a CASA has one by 2020, Kahn said. The baseline comes from 2012, when CASA was only able to provide an advocate for half the children in need within El Paso and Teller counties.
“Since then, the number of children we serve has steadily increased and in the last fiscal year we served 78 percent of the kids in our community who need us,” Kahn said.
About 200 children in the region still must are without an advocate, Kahn said.
Jorgenson was joined by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who noted that children with a CASA are much more likely to be adopted and half as likely to re-enter the foster system. The advocates’ only goals are the well-being and stability of abused and neglected children “thrust into a court system they can’t and don’t understand,” he said.
Suthers’ wife, Janet Suthers, who serves as co-chair of the Community Campaign, also urged the crowd to help however they can.
“Every child deserves an adult they can trust,” Janet Suthers said.
The benefits CASAs offer are undeniable for Jorgenson, who said she first began to notice physical and emotional abuse in her family when her mother began dating a man named Michael.
“That’s when the drug abuse, alcohol abuse and the partying got worse,” she said. “There was hitting, punching, kicking. … My job was to keep my siblings safe. If I knew Michael was going on a drug binge, I would take them out of the house.”
But Jorgenson was still a child and ill-suited to the task of caring for her younger siblings, she said.
“We ate things like spoonfuls of mayonnaise, strips of bacon, sticks of butter, because that’s what kids get into,” she said.
After Ariel’s death, Jorgenson said she and her siblings were taken away from their mother and Michael and put into the local foster system. Much of that time is a blur, but around the year 2000, the children were introduced to Theresa, a nurse anesthetist, who volunteered as a CASA.
“She really dove into our case, took it to heart and really became a part of our family,” Jorgenson said.
At the time a Jorgenson and her siblings had been taken in by a couple, who she now calls her mother and father, and Theresa fought to keep all three children together and out of the poisonous environment they survived for so many years.
Jorgenson said her birth mother wanted her children back, but was ordered by a court to keep Michael out of her life. At the same time, Michael’s mother and sister fought to adopt the children.
Acting on a gut feeling, Theresa staked out a parking lot and watched for Jorgenson’s birth mother, whom she caught riding in a car with Michael, Jorgenson said. Obviously she wasn’t complying with the no-contact order.
Theresa took that information back to a judge, which ultimately kept all three siblings together and in a loving, adoptive family, Jorgenson said.
“I can see all the crazy turns my life has taken,” she said. “And I can trace it all the way back to that one moment. It changed the trajectory of my life.”
The pair remain in touch, exchanging Christmas cards and watching for new life developments, Jorgenson said.
Even when Jorgenson was considering her career, she looked to Theresa for inspiration, she said.
Now, Jorgenson is married. She has a son, McKinley, and is expecting another child in March. She owns her own business and works as a certified nurse-midwife and said she has delivered more than 150 children herself.
“Because of Theresa’s influence, I’m able to pursue my goals and become the person I didn’t know was inside of me,” she said. “My life is open and broad because someone sacrificed for me.”
Because she’s needed around the clock for work, Jorgenson said she can’t currently work as a CASA, but she can make different sacrifices and encourage others to fight for those who are too young to help themselves.
More information about the Community Campaign can be found at casappr.org/community.