Volunteers make supervised visitation possible

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 05:27 PM

For one hour a week, a small group of Union County residents make a huge difference in a child’s life.

Tuesday, court employees held a thank-you party for the 11 volunteers who volunteer their time with the Supervised Visitation Center of Union County.

Sometimes family courts award custody of children to one parent and not the other. And in some cases, any contact between that parent and children is to be supervised by designees of the court.

In most North Carolina counties, there are no centers to hold supervised visits, and where programs do exist, each session costs the parent a fee of $100 or more, District Court Judge Hunt Gwyn said.

“We’re very fortunate in Union County to have this program,” he said. “It’s something that not every district has.”

And because there is little overhead, the visiting parent pays a much lower fee than what other visitation centers charge.

“I tell them all the time, we wouldn’t have a center without them,” judicial assistant Michelle Phipps said. She helps coordinate the program among volunteers and visiting parents.

The center has served more than 1,200 families and more than 1,800 children in the six years since the visitation center opened, Phipps said.

“And none of that could be done without our volunteers,” she said.

Sharon Marrow has been a volunteer since the first day the center opened in 2006.

“It’s helping the community,” she said.

And it is hard not to be moved by the emotional reunion of a child and a parent separated for a long time. Like the man who drive from Florida to meet his child for the first time.

“That just makes you want to do it,” Libia Geyer said.

Some experiences are more personal than others.

“Most of the people who volunteer, I’ll be you they can tell you the one time it hits home,” Linda Porter said. “I had one where it had been a couple of years since he’d seen his daughter.”

The court made strict orders of what the man could say or do during the visit, she said. The man was aware of the orders and promised to keep the visit by the books.

“The daughter came in with a big smile and just ran to him,” Porter said. “The man gasped and looked like he didn’t know what to do, but I told him it was OK. He was so thrilled to see his little girl and she was so excited to see her daddy. He was crying.”

In many cases, the children are not aware of why one parent is not present anymore.

“I think these children need the opportunity to see their parents. And it gives them the chance to see the moms or dads that don’t live with them anymore,” said Linda Fogleman. “They need that very badly.”

For more information about the visitation center or to volunteer, call Martha Sue Hall at 704-698-3224 or Michelle Phipps at 704-698-3220.