Judge joins forces with Menominee Great Start

By Brenda Brissette Mata

MENOMINEE – For 21 years, Judge William A. Hupy has served in Menominee County courtrooms. From the bench he sees truants and delinquents, broken families and children who have lost their purpose and direction.

Now Judge Hupy, who has been chairperson of the Menominee County Great Start Collaborative (GSC) since last year, Hupy hopes that the work of the collaborative will make for fewer young people in the county's court system. 

Nicole Twork, director of the Menominee County GSC, sent Hupy a letter asking him to consider joining the collaborative in the summer of 2009.

“I receive a barrage of letters like that,” Hupy said. “I’ll be honest with you, I think I just threw it away.”

But Twork ‘s unannounced follow-up visit to Hupy’s office soon changed his mind.

“Her comments were compelling,” Hupy said. “But more than that, I recognize how very important this issue is.”

Hupy said he believes the work of Great Start - to assure a coordinated system of community resources and supports to assist all Michigan families in providing a great start for children age birth to five - is essential.

“I know what I see in the courtroom,” Hupy said. “Children unprepared for school, not going to school, finding other things to do - usually delinquent acts. There’s a reason children don’t attend school. They don’t feel successful, it’s not interesting or they’re already so far behind they’ll never catch up.”

“I remember from the Great Society initiative by (President Lyndon Baines Johnson) back in the ‘60s that statistically, children who were better prepared for kindergarten - two decades later - were found to be much better off than those who weren’t prepared.”

For Hupy, the reality of the necessity of Great Start really came home when he went to pick up his granddaughter at her day care.

“I was so impressed,” Hupy said. “This wasn’t just a babysitter. There was a concerted course of study and the teacher had two aides for a dozen little 2-year olds. I thought ‘Why can’t everybody have that opportunity? Why can’t all children? Why should just the people who can afford it get that kind of care?’”

“We are so lucky to have him working with us,” Twork said. “He has great compassion. He is already a valuable resource.”

Hupy said the economic difficulties in Michigan are multiplied in the Upper Peninsula. Because Menominee County sits on the border with Wisconsin, there are specific problems that relate to crossing the border for services: medical care and insurance issues.

“Women who smoke while pregnant are a serious problem here,” he said. “(The average) is higher here than the state average or any other average in the U.P.”

Hupy hopes that systems building and systems change will help address many of the issues in his community and that more business and community members will become part the collaborative work.

“The beauty of this system,” Hupy said, “is that the state determines the process, the county determines the priorities. We know what we need.”