Donna Hansel, an attorney from Cheboygan, was recognized at the Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners meeting April 27 for all her contributions to the Compass Academy and its students over the years.
Late last year, Cheboygan County Probate Court Judge Daryl Vizina, who is in charge of the Compass Academy Program, came before the board of commissioners to recognize two other staff members at the academy. The certificate of appreciation for Hansel was also supposed to be presented at that meeting, but she was unavailable to attend the meeting due to being in court in another jurisdiction, then things were shut down for a long period of time.
“Donna is an extremely important part of our team. We’re not allowed to necessarily have contact with juveniles on probation without an attorney present in case there’s a discussion of things that go on,” said Vizina. “So she is a required piece to have this program move forward.”
Vizina said Hansel takes part in the Compass Academy programs almost every week and she could be billing the county for her time spent and services rendered that she is normally paid for.
“She carves out two, sometimes three hours every single week on her own dime to be there for the kids,” he said. “She’s developed a great rapport with the kids.”
One of the changes recently made to the Compass Academy program is when a juvenile enters the program, Hansel becomes their attorney going forward. This has significantly increased the number of cases which Hansel handles on an annual basis than the other contracted attorneys, while getting paid the same amount as the other attorneys.
“So Donna has been a warrior for our program,” said Vizina.
Hansel also offers a lot of insight based on her life experiences to the students who are assigned to the court ordered school program.
“We have kids that maybe are struggling with certain components of their life, so it’s not just legal representation that she provides,” said Vizina. “She provides mentorship, advice to these kids and you know, I’d say as much as anybody in our program, she deserves a significant amount of credit.”
Vizina said Hansel has made a personal investment in the Compass Academy program and he feels she needs to receive credit for being an invaluable part of the team.
Hansel was presented with several items at the commissioners meeting, including a piece of artwork drawn by the students in the Compass Academy, signed by all the students, thanking her for her time and effort to help them.
“This has been a very, very rewarding experience for me, as a lawyer,” said Hansel.
Hansel said a lot of time she represents people in divorces and custody cases, domestic violence and drunk driving cases as an attorney, where there isn’t really a winner. However, working with the Compass Academy program, she gets to see the students learn the skills they need and is able to have a long lasting impact on the youth that helps them the rest of their lives.
The Compass Academy is the former Straits Area Youth Promotion Academy, or SAYPA. For the last almost 20 years, the academy has been providing services and alternative education to students from around the county who are unable to attend school in the other districts in the county.
The students who participate in the Compass Academy are court ordered to do so though the Cheboygan County Probate Court, due to legal troubles, truancy or other issues which prevent them from attending standard schools. Vizina oversees the program and Megan Fenlon is the director.
The Compass program is an intensive schooling program, in partnership with the courts, to help the students still get their education and avoid being placed in a state institution. It also does many other things for the students, such as career development, college tours and helping some to get their driver’s license.