SMC hosts youth council, lawmakers

Cass County Youth Council welcomed U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, state Sen. John Proos and state Rep. Aaron Miller to Southwestern Michigan College April 22 for its seventh annual Child Abuse Prevention Luncheon.

Also speaking to 102 in SMC’s Mathews Conference Center East on the Dowagiac campus were Cassopolis Family Clinic Network CEO Mary Geegan Middleton; Dr. Matt Cripe, who fielded questions in an Ask the Dentist segment; Katlyn Nichols Taylor of Sturgis, a Glen Oaks Community College student who wants to transfer to Michigan State University in 2017 for social work; and Treasurer Jason Wilt, SMC housing director.

“Youth Council’s mission is preventing child abuse and neglect in Cass County,” said President Sarah Mathews, assistant prosecutor and SMC’s first lady.

“From October 2014 to April 2015, 21 children came under the jurisdiction of Family Court,” Mathews said. “From October 2015 to April 2016, 71 children came under the jurisdiction of Family Court. Our numbers are going up. As a community, we need to work to prevent this by learning to spot red flags so we can help. Last year we learned about safe sleep. Today we’re learning about proper dental care.”

Mathews, addressing an audience that included SMC child psychology students, Judges Susan Dobrich and Stacey Rentfrow, Edwardsburg County Commissioner Roseann Marchetti and Porter Township Supervisor Dan Harvey, introduced Upton, Proos and Miller.

The non-profit derives half its funding from a Michigan Children’s Trust Fund grant and half from community donations.

Upton, oldest of five children, said, “My dad was a Whirlpool vice president. My folks became foster parents licensed by the state. We took in two dozen foster kids while I was still in school.”

SMC President Dr. David Mathews presented Upton a cupcake for his 63rd birthday April 23. His Sixth District encompasses six counties and 720,000 people. Upton worked for President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Rep. David Stockman prior to his 1986 election to Congress.

Upton in 2010 became chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, with jurisdiction over health care, the environment, telecommunications, manufacturing and trade.

“My parents a decade ago adopted two young girls who were wards of the state,” said Miller, R-Sturgis, accompanied by his 11-month-old daughter.

“We don’t want to think sexual abuse or domestic violence happen in our communities,” Proos, R-St. Joseph, said, “but they do, every day. Seventy-five percent of the prison population has mental health or drug or alcohol abuse issues which exhibit themselves as crime in our communities that creates victims. I run the judiciary and corrections budgets dealing with the same concerns — crime that leads to criminal justice costs and victimization. We all have a stake and need to break down silos to address problems in a coherent, consistent manner.”

In 2009, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus supplied $75,000 more annually “to do more for more people,” Middleton said. “We decided to do more in oral health care than screening. In Dowagiac, Jeff Elliott and the health department built a wonderful dental clinic. We started an outreach program for Cassopolis Public Schools with a thousand packs of toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss and an age-appropriate brochure distributed by Sparkle Man. Our program reaches 6,500 kids in Cassopolis, Niles and Brandywine.”

Planning for the new Cassopolis Family Clinic in 2012 incorporated a dental clinic that opened in November 2014 with seven chairs; an eighth is being added.

Care was provided to 1,557 patients in 2015 during 4,000 visits.

“In March we added a second fulltime dentist,” Middleton said. “We’re renovating an existing medical building across from the hospital in Niles we’re going to turn into Niles Community Health Center Dental with 11 chairs, opening in September. We’ve recruited two dentists joining us this summer. When both clinics are fully operational, we expect to serve nearly 6,000 people through 16,000 visits.”

Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter, community college, founded in 1964. The college averages in the top 10 percent nationally for student academic success based upon the National Community College Benchmark Project. Southwestern Michigan College strives to be the college of first choice, to provide the programs and services to meet the needs of students, and to serve our community. The college is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges.

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