Just Cause: RESTORE among beneficiaries of Signature Event fund-raiser

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 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
 
There is a certain trickle down effect to the 13th Annual Signature Event, the Oakland County Bar Foundation gala that will take place tonight at Oakland Hills Country Club.
 
It’s hard to quantify the exact impact of raising more than $200,000 at one special occasion, but OCBF President Patrick McCauley knows that the money will go “a long way” in supplying funding support for a variety of legal aid causes, educational endeavors, and treatment and rehabilitation programs in the community.
 
The RESTORE Foundation, the nonprofit funding wing for the Oakland County drug courts, has been among the beneficiaries of the OCBF’s fund-raising efforts, regularly receiving grant awards to help defray costs of the juvenile and adult treatment court programs.
 
The Oakland County drug courts, like others nationwide, were launched in 2001 with the help of federal funds that served as seed money to implement and expand participation in a program that combines treatment with accountability, according to court officials. The program is designed to curb the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol, and to reduce recidivism in drug-related activity. It is widely viewed as a viable and less costly alternative to incarceration, and focuses on treating drug users and transforming them into productive members of society.
 
The availability of funds from federal and state sources, of course, has become problematic in today’s tough economic times, forcing supporters of the drug court programs to look toward the private sector to keep the system afloat. Nearly four years ago, drug court proponents created “The RESTORE Foundation” to help supply funds for the juvenile and adult treatment programs in Oakland County. 
 
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Wendy Potts was instrumental in creating RESTORE and serves as president of the 14-member board of directors, which includes many prominent members of the community. Earlier this year, the board appointed Suzanne Okun as the interim executive director of RESTORE, a move intended to boost fund-raising efforts for the organization and to heighten its visibility in the community.
 
Okun, who has served as an honorary board member of The RESTORE Foundation, became involved with the organization through the Joshua Charles Short Drug Court Scholarship Fund, a program that annually provides up to four $1,000 “educational scholarships for eligible drug court graduates to pursue their career goals.” The scholarship program is named after her son, who died of a drug overdose in 2008 at the age of 20.
 
Currently, the Adult Treatment Court has 56 participants in the program, 34 males and 22 females, according to county officials. The ATC has admitted 399 participants since the program’s inception in August 2001 with 110 graduates. Circuit Court Judge Joan Young has presided over the men’s program since 2002, while Judge Colleen O’Brien has been in charge of the women’s program since May 2003. The judges keep twice monthly tabs on participants, meeting in open court with them every other week to assess their progress.
 
Participants must complete a series of treatment phases before they are eligible for “graduation” from the program. Treatment includes intensive group and individual therapy sessions; attendance at AA and/or NA meetings; weekly substance abuse testing; and community service work. On average, the program takes 14 months to complete, according to county statistics.
 
The Juvenile Drug Court, over which Judge Mary Ellen Brennan presides, currently has 14 participants, 12 males and two females. The JDC has admitted 234 participants since 2001 with 116 graduates, a nearly 50 percent success rate.
 
“RESTORE has funded an additional probation officer at approximately $50,000 a year, inclusive of benefits, commencing in 2012,” Potts said. “By adding additional personnel, the juvenile drug court will be in a position to expand the number of participants.”
 
Like all drug courts, the Oakland County program utilizes a “non-adversarial approach,” where “prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants’ due process rights,” according to county officials.
 
RESTORE was founded in 2008 in an effort to ensure that the county’s drug treatment programs are able to become financially independent, Potts indicated. The goal is to “reduce or eliminate financial dependence of the county’s drug court programs” on state and federal grants for their operational budgets, she stated.
 
“We are grateful to the Oakland County Bar Foundation for its continued support of RESTORE and the drug court programs,” Potts said on the eve of the April 20 Signature Event.
 
In February, RESTORE held a reception at the newly-opened Roadside Bar & Grill to thank program supporters, while setting the stage for a grand gala event this fall at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills.  
 
For those interested in supporting the cause, donations can be made to The RESTORE Foundation, 5413 Pleasant Lake Drive, West Bloomfield, 48322. For more information on the Foundation and the fall gala, contact Okun at (248) 318-0825.

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