Karen Demangos, then executive director of Joyful Connections, was recently honored with the Larry L. Noblitt Liberty Bell Award. The accolade was given by the Ottawa County Bar Association for outstanding service to the community for her work at the supervised exchange and visitation site in Oak Harbor.
“It was very exciting,” Demangos said, but not just for personal reasons. “I’m just glad for Joyful Connections to get this recognition.”
May is Supervised Visitation Awareness Month and the local organization is using this — and the representative orange ribbon — to get the word out about what they do. There is a coloring contest, the Rally for the Kids event last weekend in Bassett’s Market parking lot and literature being handed out around town.
The board for Joyful Connections was formed in 2007 as a Leadership Ottawa County class project. Next came bylaws, 501(c)(3) status, the hiring of an executive director and securing the site at 8200 W. Ohio 163, Oak Harbor.
“There was nothing here but junk,” Demangos said.
Which stands in stark contrast to three living room-style visitation areas filled with comfy furniture, games and toys for all ages. Families use these spaces for supervised court-ordered visitation. According to Juvenile and Probate Judge Kathleen Giesler, the court uses the site primarily in cases of abuse, neglect and dependency.
“It gives a place where children can visit with their parents where they continue to be protected but they’ve made it as close to a home environment as possible,” the judge said. “It makes families comfortable.”
And since the end goal of any of these court cases is reconciliation, Giesler said the service is invaluable. The visits allow the children to maintain or rebuild relationships with a non-custodial parent. In addition, the site offers a neutral site for custody exchanges.
Although both services are offered for a small fee — $14 for exchanges or $15 for visitations — no one will be turned away for the inability to pay. Funding for the site comes through grants and generosity. From the carpets on the floors and the cleaning products in the cabinets to the computer equipment in the office, the site is literally filled with donations.
Joyful Connections sees 22 visits and four supervised exchanges a week. Thanks to the support the organization has received over the years, it has served more than 140 families since its inception.
Get involved or learn more
To learn more about Joyful Connections, set up a tour of the site, volunteer, join the board or donate, call 567-262-3181. To see a list of needed items or read the organization’s newsletter, visit www.joyfulconnections.com.