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Veterans Court's Mission of Encouraging Better Fathers
By Csaba Sukosd | June 13, 2019
A Summit County veterans court's participants are not only a band of brothers trying to help each other through the trauma that led most - if not all - of its participants into the criminal justice system, many are fathers trying to fix frayed relationships with their families.
In light of Father's Day, Valor Court - an Ohio Supreme Court-certified specialized docket in Summit County Common Pleas Court - hosted an event to educate its male participants about some of the finer points of fatherhood, and inform them of available resources to help with the various issues that may be preventing them from securing visitation rights or reconnecting with a child.
"You can feel the frustration in their voice, and you can almost feel the energy of having that lack of relationship," said KT Hampton, the Valor Court project director.
Hampton coordinated with the Fatherhood Initiative - a Summit County organization dedicated to reuniting fathers who've separated from their children as the result of incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues, back child support payments, and other reasons. According to the group, approximately 36,000 children in the county - or one out of three homes - don't have a father in the household.
Fatherhood Initiative organizers spoke to the former service members about their experiences, and programs they lead within the organization's umbrella. The speakers had instant relatability to the struggles Valor Court participants experience. Along with being veterans themselves, some guest speakers also experienced the hardships of either not having a father, or not taking care of their children.
"I was a homeless father, involved with the criminal justice system, and with help from other people directing me, loving me, my dream is true today. I'm here able to help other people," said Donald Lykes, who serves both as a Fatherhood Initiative member and Valor Court mentor.
The veterans treatment court was initiated in 2013 by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones. The probationary program addresses the substance abuse and mental health issues that are most commonly the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, and at the core of crimes committed by former service members.
"A lot of these individuals coming back from the military, it's literally like folks coming back from prison. Having to reintegrate into society, the decisions they've made, the things they've witnessed, they come home, and we expect them to [operate] every day just like we do. Well, that's not possible," Judge Corrigall Jones said.
Much like the leadership group in the Fatherhood Initiative, Valor Court has mentors with a similarly lived experience. Several of the program's graduates are using what they learned to help peers persevere and combat everyday struggles from anxiety to sobriety.
"There's nothing more powerful than watching other people succeed, and so, it actually gives me hope, and inspires me to continue, because without them we wouldn't be here," Judge Corrigall Jones said.