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Cass County Bar Association honors SMC graduate

Cass District Library Director Jennifer Ray, a Southwestern Michigan College alumna, received a Liberty Bell Award from the local bar association for Law Day on May 1. The award is given to non-lawyers to honor outstanding local citizens who give of their time and energy to strengthen the effectiveness of the American system of freedom under law, keeping with the spirit of the Constitution.

Recognized service may include promoting a better understanding of the rule of law, encouraging greater respect for law and the courts, stimulating a sense of civic responsibility or contributing to good government in the community.

“Jennifer is a jewel. She collaborates with many different agencies to make our community a great place to live and work,” Chief Judge Susan Dobrich said.

Ray chairs the Human Services Coordinating Council, a collaborative forum that brings area agencies together. Most recently, the Niles High School graduate partnered with Cass County Friend of the Court so the library could host its Parenting Academy on a monthly basis to provide the community with an interactive learning opportunity for parents raising children in separate households.

Ray also partnered with the courts to host a Michigan Legal Help self-help center within the CDL’s main Cassopolis branch with library staff trained to serve as navigators so community members could enjoy better access to justice and legal information and create a greater sense of understanding and respect for the legal system.

Ray has also facilitated use of the library as a site for parenting time for parents with open court cases.

She purchased and maintained specific resources for Cass County’s many treatment courts so the court system and participants can access up-to-date legal and scientific information about evidence-based protocols.

“If you want an engaged community partner,” Dobrich said, “Jennifer is your go-to person. She always has a pleasant and approachable manner that puts people at ease. She is always willing to collaborate with other community partners.”

The Cass County Bar Association also recognized James Kusa, who retired after a 40-year career with the Dowagiac Police Department. Kusa devoted years to teaching crime scene investigation to middle schoolers at SMC’s summer CSI Academy and mentoring its award-winning criminal justice students.