A Dream Gone Glimmering Now Is Back

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — A not-for-profit dream of a former local attorney officially reopened last week to work with the courts, police and social agencies in behalf of children who fall through the cracks of the juvenile justice system.

The agency is the Children's Law Center, founded in 1990 by a group of area juvenile justice professionals at the urging of Nannette Bowler, then a local attorney. (Bowler, whose pre-law training was nursing and psychology, now is an instructor at Michigan State University.)

The center, located at 1695 Service Road (near Leonard and Ball Streets), now is being managed by Kevin Cronin, an attorney who was introduced to the community in a breakfast at United Way headquarters a week ago.

Cronin is a native of Chicago. 

He practiced law in the Windy City for seven years, moving to Michigan in the mid-80s. For the past decade he has practiced child welfare law, being drawn to the field because he and his wife, Eileen, have served as foster parents.  They also have adoptive children.

"So I guess you could say I know a bit about this area of the law," he chuckled to the Business Journal.

The family lives in Hopkins, in Allegan County, and while Cronin says he enjoys the commute he is not at all enamored of gasoline prices at the moment.

The United Way is the primary financial supporter of the agency which — provided it is appointed by the court — can represent the legal interests of children who, by law, generally are unable to speak for themselves.

The center, the only entity of its sort in West Michigan, serves from 250 to 400 children a year on a variety of legal issues including — but not limited to — abuse, neglect and abandonment, and in questions of guardianship and adoption.

As Bowler explained it when she served as the center's director, children's parents or other relatives often can wind up on opposite sides in litigation.  In such controversies, she said it's typical for all parties to argue that they are working in the child's best interest.

The problem, she explained, is that children often actually become a pawn and, not ordinarily being entitled to representation, therefore have no voice at all in negotiations which effect their lives.

With the creation of the center, such representation became possible when the courts felt it necessary.

The center also is able to represent children whose parents or legal guardians are absent for any number of reasons.

The center initially was funded by grants from D&W and the Steelcase, Wege, Cook and Frey Foundations.

Because the entity is a not-for-profit entity, donations to it are deductible for income tax purposes.

But as much as the center needs money, staff members also say they need volunteers' time and assistance to help restore the agency's record-keeping and accounting systems from the period that it has been closed.

 

The officers of the center's board are Steven L. Adams, president of Irwin Union Bank; Kurt Killman, attorney with Stain, Murphy & VanderWall; Ronald B. Miller, managing partner, BlueWater Partners, and Patricia Walsh, of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Directors are Christine Price Baker, CPA, Plante & Moran; Kristie Burns, marketing coordinator, Ernst & Young; Lew Chamberlain III, CEO West Michigan Whitecaps; Anthony Gauthier, attorney with Law, Weathers Richardson, and Beverly Grant, Bethany Christian Services.

Mary Judnich, community volunteer; Joseph A. Lucas, attorney, Borre, Pederson, Fowler & Reens; Pablo Martinez, Grand Rapids Fire Department; Emmitt E. Miller, Jr, Catholic Social Services, and Emily Jean McFadden, professor, Grand Valley State University.

Zorimar Sanchez, probation officer; Weldon H. Schwartz, attorney, Warner, Norcross & Judd; Frank E. Vandervort, U-M Child Welfare Law Resource Center; Wanda Wang, therapist, Arbor Circle, and Michaelene J. White, investigator, Family Independence Agency.

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