Muskegon County celebrates its second annual Family Reunification Day

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By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

The American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law has designated June as National Reunification month, and Michigan is one of 27 states that have held “Reunification Day” events in the past.

This is Muskegon County’s second year of recognizing the many professionals who support, mentor, and counsel families during the reunification process. The agencies and their representatives work diligently to successfully reunite families.

The celebration was again held at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market. Attorney Bob Engel and his wife, Jackie, provided a musical background for all those gathering between 3 and 3:30 to mingle, tour exhibitor booths, and enjoy the refreshments. Bob Engel was former Chief Family Court Referee prior to retirement. The Engels gave a very enjoyable performance.

Ceremonies were opened at 3:30 by the Honorable Gregory Pittman, presiding judge of the Family Court. He introduced all members of the judiciary present. Judge Pittman acknowledged the importance of the services of the many agencies involved in family reunification including the family court referees, CASA volunteers, prosecuting and defending attorneys involved in abuse and neglect cases, the foster parents, and the multitude of mentors and supporters working tirelessly to help reunite children with parents.

After a bit of fun addressing her as “Her Benevolent, Her Graciousness, and so on,” Judge Pittman invited Family Court Judge Kathy Hoogstra to bring remarks. Hoogstra acknowledged the many, many years of hard work by retired Judges Ruck and Mullally to help create the foundation for Muskegon County’s response to families and children in situation of neglect. “It is a pleasure to follow in the family court where these gentlemen prepared the way for myself and others,” said Hoogstra. She thanked the foster parents, CASA volunteers, case workers and attorneys for work well done and congratulated Jennifer Newmyer and David and JoEllen Strey.

Family Court Judge Brenda Sprader also brought the attendees a message filled with hope and positivity. She thanked Holly Spoelman for working to put together the Reunification Day ceremonies. “I have learned an important lesson by the way I have been treated by others. We all want to feel special and I believe that is the way people should be treated,” explained Judge Sprader. “We should strive to treat each and every person that comes through our family court as if they are very special to us and that their needs are very important. Muskegon County provides communication and cooperation between all agencies meeting the needs of the people who come before me in court. It is a team effort and those families who will participate in reunification process become part of the team.”

Judge Pittman greatly shortened Justice McCormack’s bio from last year’s introduction, but still managed to impart to those attending her amazing track record working with the numerous associations that strive to make life better for those in need, as well as her impeccable record on the bench. Pittman also mentioned that Justice McCormack was the co-founder of the “Innocence Project” for the wrongfully accused. Justice McCormack said she is hoping by next year he can cut it even shorter.
Justice McCormack’s message included her strong support of the Reunification Day ceremonies around the State of Michigan. “Michigan is one of twenty-seven states participating in recognition of family reunification,” said McCormack. “I try to attend as many as I can around the state, and this is my second time in Muskegon. Let me tell you Muskegon is killing it in the Reunification Day contest.

“When we keep families together they are safer, healthier and communities are stronger.”

“I am so glad Judge Pittman asked the lawyers to stand,” said McCormack. “You serve with your heart and we thank you.” She quoted former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots.” Justice McCormack encouraged all to help someone pick up or find their boots.

Judge Pittman invited Justice McCormack to assist in the presentation of the 2018 reunification awards. The Muskegon County Reunification Award for a successful family reunification went to Jeffery A. Hinson. Hinson was working and could not get away to attend, so Katie Norton accepted the award for him. Norton was instrumental in seeing Hinson through the process and Ed Waisura was his attorney.

The Judge John C. Ruck Award for Dedication to Reunification was presented to Jennifer Newmyer for her dedication and hard work trying to bring families back together.

“Jennifer is an amazing DHS worker,” said Judge Ruck. “She refuses to give up and tries everything possible to reunite families.”

The Judge Neil G. Mullally Award for Excellence in Reunification Support was presented to foster parents David and JoEllen Strey. Judge Mullally praised the Streys’ dedication to children who have been separated from their parents and their unceasing efforts to mentor the parents and care for the children. “They provided support and assistance for two years to get a child back to the child’s single father,” said Mullally. “They continue to help even after the reunification has been completed.”

Before adjourning the ceremonies, Judge Pittman made points by introducing a lady that had slipped in during the program. “Let me introduce you to the most beautiful woman in Muskegon County,’ said Pittman. “Please give a warm welcome to my wife.”
 

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