Lawyer spearheads boards of AWARE of LifeSpan

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Bree (Vincent) Thurlby, a partner at Marcoux, Allen, Schomer, Bower, Nichols and Kendall in Jackson, got an early start on her legal career.

The niece of Marcoux, Allen president Diane Bower, Thurlby started working at the firm as a file clerk/runner while still a student at Michigan Center High School. She returned to work at Marcoux, Allen as a lawyer in 2002, and became a partner in 2007. 

“I first said I wanted to be a lawyer when I was nine. I told Diane, and she was very supportive of the idea,” Thurlby says. “From that point on, I just knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. 

Most nine-year old girls might say they want to be a singer, or a teacher, or even a princess when they grow up, but if you had asked me, I would have told you, ‘I’m going to be a lawyer.’

“Being a lawyer allows me to deal with new situations all the time.  I enjoy the challenge of starting a new case or legal matter and the satisfaction of taking it through to a successful outcome. I also enjoy helping people.”

It looks as if Thurlby’s baby son, Evan, is getting an even earlier start on a legal career. During a recent scheduling conflict with Evan’s sitter, Thurlby took the baby to the office for a short time. When there was a knock on her office door, 11-month old Evan quickly crawled over to open the door, one of his new favorite activities. 

“Diane was on the other side and when she went to open the door she was surprised to look down and find the baby opening the door from the bottom.  She said it was like having elves in the office.”   

Thurlby’s partners have never had issues with her bringing the baby to the office when necessary.

“They are ‘family people’ too,” she says, “and they also know that babies do grow quickly. Before too long Evan will be in day care and then kindergarten, so I am enjoying getting to spend whatever extra time I can with him now.

“My family is also very supportive. My mom helps out a lot with Evan so that I can attend board meetings or work-related activities, such as bar association meetings and Law Day.”

Thurlby, a Jackson native, earned an associates degree at Jackson Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University before earning her law degree in 2002 from Cooley Law School in Lansing.

“It was a lot of work and the professors were tough,” she says. “Looking back, I can say I enjoyed making friends with the other students, some of whom are among my best friends now. I also liked learning new things, and there was a lot of that in law school.”

A working mom with a demanding career, Thurlby nevertheless finds time to give back to the community. She serves as President of the board of Potential Development Homes (PDH), operating as LifeSpan, a nonprofit providing residential and community support services for people in the Jackson-Hillsdale County area. 

“One of the firm’s former partners, Richard Lindsey, was on the board,” she says. “After learning about LifeSpan through Richard, I got involved so that I could offer my services to this beneficial organization and help the organization grow and continue to provide services to the community.” 

LifeSpan has expanded from providing residential and community support services through Hope House, Fowler House and the PICC program, to providing respite and daycare services.  Programs include the Mark DeForest Community Respite Center; and Joey’s Junction Daycare and Preschool for children with or without disabilities, from birth to 13 years of age. For information, visit Lifespancs.com.

“The work LifeSpan does is such a valuable asset to the community and helps to change people’s lives for the better. It was important to me that I find a way to contribute to the organization,” Thurlby says. 

After seeing an advertisement in the Jackson Bar Association newsletter that AWARE – a Jackson County nonprofit organization offering counseling, emergency shelter, legal advocacy, transitional housing and other services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault – was seeking board members, Thurlby jumped in to help, and now serves as board president.

“AWARE offers so many important services to members of the community who need help at a difficult time in their lives, that I felt compelled to help in any way that I could,” she says AWARE has its origins in the Jackson Area Council for Battered Women, formed in 1977.  In 1978, the founding mother of AWARE, Wanda Goetz-Beiswenger, acquired a building for use as a shelter for battered women through a grant from the Jackson YWCA Trust Fund, funds from the Michigan Department of Social Services, and $10,000 from Community Development Block Grant to remodel the building.

In 1980 the Sexual Assault Counseling program was begun, and a Transitional Housing Program launched in 1993. Collaboration with the Community Action Agency has expanded this program to provide case management and eight lease units in addition to the eight currently owned by AWARE.

In 1996 AWARE initiated a Legal Advocacy Program in collaboration with the Jackson County Domestic Violence Coordination Council. An Outreach Program began with a grant from Jackson County Family Independence Agency. In June 1997, AWARE completed renovation of a shelter facility In collaboration with Catholic Social Services, AWARE launched a Kids First program, funded by the United Way Children’s Initiative in 1999 and including Kids Club, a group treatment program for children from violent homes. Recently, AWARE added individual clinical counseling.

In 2001 AWARE finished renovation on the Barb Maes Counseling Center, adding a second floor to the Carriage House Counseling Center.  The center accommodates the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program and expanded services in the Sexual Assault Program.

“AWARE has two major projects taking place this year,” Thurlby says. “The first is a remodel of common living areas at the shelter to provide a large play area for children and to give adults their own space.

“Many volunteers and businesses from the Jackson area have volunteered their time and talents or provided donations. It’s overwhelming to see the community support for this project.”

The Women’s Leadership Council organized and solicited donations, Lowe’s provided materials, kitchen cupboards, flooring, countertops and paint. The Home Builders Association and Steve Baldwin are donating their time and skills to complete the remodel.  Gerdau MacSteel donated a flat screen TV, and several other community members – Jerry Wilcut, Terri Ann Huffman, Melissa Morse and Terri Brownelle-Jaquish – are donating their time as well.  Panera Bread, which is always ready and willing to help AWARE, made donations so that furniture and other materials for the project could be purchased. 

“The shelter was in need of some serious updating,” Thurlby says. “The staff, board members and clients are so grateful for the assistance of the community to bring this dream to realization that it’s hard to put our gratitude into words.”

The second project is the formation of a Child Advocacy Center, which will work in conjunction with local police agencies, the prosecuting attorney’s office, Department of Human Services and the Center for Family Health. Referrals are already being made to the Center, the first of its kind in the Jackson area that will offer services specifically geared toward children.

“AWARE is waiting for the last piece to fall into place, the financial protocol, before the Center can be opened,” Thurlby says. “It will be staffed by a crisis counselor who will provide services to children who have experienced domestic violence and sexual abuse.”

Thurlby adds that AWARE will host its first annual Christmas Home Tour, from 4-8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4.  For more information, visit www.awareshelter.org.
“Even though fitting my volunteer work into my schedule can make life hectic at times, I like being able to help others, so I make the time,” Thurlby says. “It’s very important to me to be able to give back to the community. 

“Good time management is key and since I like to give 100 percent to whatever I do, I try to stay focused on the task at hand. When I’m at work, it’s important to me that I focus all of my attention on being the best lawyer that I can be and when I’m at home, I focus that attention on being a good wife and mother. 

“Even when one spills over into the other occasionally, like when Evan has to be at the office, it still seems to work out.”

When her schedule allows for some spare time, Thurlby enjoys spending time with Evan and her husband Eric, and indulging in her hobbies of baking and scrapbooking.

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