Bar News - April 20, 2007
Attorney Makes a Friend, and a Difference
By: Anita S. Becker
Lawyer Beth L. Fowler has touched the life of a young teen at risk in a very personal and unexpected way; and a relationship that began as once-a-week visits has evolved into a true, lasting friendship for both.
In February of 2003, Fowler, a tax attorney with McLane Graf Raulerson & Middleton in Manchester, was matched as a mentor with an at-risk, 12-year-old girl through the Junior/Senior Friends initiative of The Friends Program, based in Concord. The girl [whose name is being withheld for her privacy] is the middle child of seven children, all of whom have a common mother but different fathers. The girl lives in poverty and has spent much of her young life moving from one temporary home to another.
Fowler first became involved with the Friends program because her husband had been a mentor and—in observing what it entailed—she felt she would like to try it herself. The girl was Fowler’s second match through the program’s one-on-one mentoring program. “When I met her, we clicked,” said Fowler. “I discovered that we had more in common [than with the first child].” She said the two enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities; going to museums, cultural events and the movies; or just hanging out together at Fowler’s home talking and playing with the dogs.
As part of the program the volunteer must agree to commit at least three hours a week to the child. Fowler met with the girl once a week for a year as part of the mentorship and then kept in contact with her regularly after the girl dropped out of the program to move again with her mother.
Throughout the years, Fowler has made an effort to keep in touch despite the girl’s frequent moves. “I was afraid to lose her.” Fowler gave her a phone card so that she could keep in touch. Why did Fowler go through the extra effort once the mentorship had ended? “We’re friends; that question was easy,” she said. “We get along really well and we like each other. She needs someone reliable in her life and I try to be someone that she can always count on to turn to.”
The relationship does not stop with recreational activities and companionship. Fowler is there to help the girl with her homework and lends a listening ear when her friend needs to talk or assistance when she is having difficulty with her troubled family life.
“She is trying to make something of her life. And, if she wants to make something of herself, then I want to be there to help her along the way,” said Fowler.
The teen had a major setback a couple years ago when her mother impulsively moved to North Carolina with a boyfriend, the girl and some of her siblings. Fowler lost touch with the girl while she was down south, but in February 2006, she received an e-mail that said her friend was back in New Hampshire.
Fowler became worried when the girl did not respond to further contact and set out to find out what was happening in her life. Fowler, who had been recovering from surgery, was walking for exercise to rehabilitate her leg. One day, she set out to walk to the address she had for the girl and was distressed at what she found; a run-down, practically empty apartment and the now 15-year-old there alone. The mother had abandoned her younger children with friends and older siblings. The teen was dropped off at her 23-year-old sister’s door with only a backpack full of clothes. The sister, who was working but barely making ends meet before the girl’s arrival, had very little herself in the way of money, possessions, furniture or staples.
The home had no phone, computer, or television. The only furniture in the girl’s room was an air mattress and futon on a plastic frame that served as her bed. Her sister’s room was similar. They had one set of sheets for each bed, two skillets, one saucepan, eating utensils and little else. The house the two young women lived in had been robbed and Fowler helped them fix the broken door and add security devices. She also set them up with phone service.
Although the girls qualified for government aid (because of the abandonment and their low-income status) they had to establish a legal guardianship for the young women to benefit. Fowler used her skills as an attorney on a pro bono basis to help the older sister to set up an ex parte [temporary] guardianship to legally care for the younger one.
Soon after discovering the two young women’s living conditions, Fowler posted an e-mail asking her co-workers for help. “People immediately started collecting money, household goods, and school supplies,” said Fowler. McLane information technology department workers volunteered their time to set up a donated computer for the teen to do her school work. The sisters also received bedding, dishes, cookware, a television, furniture, and gift cards for clothing and groceries.
At the beginning of the school year, the teen received school supplies and an Old Navy gift card purchased with contributions from the co-workers to buy school clothes. “It was the first time in her life she was able to buy something for herself with her own money,” said Fowler.
“She was overwhelmed by the response,” said Fowler of the girl’s reaction to the generous outpouring. “I want her to make it,” said Fowler. “But, it requires more resources than she has.”
Fowler and the teen continue to go out and do activities together. She encourages others to volunteer for programs like The Friends Program. “You could change someone’s life. If there is a child that’s on the edge, maybe you can do some good and be the one to pull her back.”
If you want to help the sisters, contact Fowler at email@example.com. For more information about The Friends program, which is a subsidiary of the Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association and provides volunteer services through offices in Concord, Laconia, and Somersworth, go to http://www.friendsprogram.org/.