DANNY RECIEVES CERTIFICATE … Danny Mendez on the right received his graduation certificate from Judge Robinson on the left. (PHOTOS BY JACOB KESSLER, STAFF)
By: Jacob Kessler
The Fulton County Drug Court held its eighth graduation ceremony on Thursday at the outdoor pavilion at the Homecoming Park in Wauseon.
The Fulton County Drug Court was started by Erica Burkholder, who is the Drug Court Coordinator, and Fulton County Judge Robinson with support from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and the Fulton County Prosecutor.
“It was designed to help people get their lives back, help them become productive members of society, become the family members that they have always wanted to be and have the lives they deserve,” said Erica.
Each participant in the drug court program makes a commitment that lasts anywhere from 18 months and can last over 2 years. They go through three phases after the introduction that all leads to graduation.
Entry into the program is through an application process that is followed up by an assessment. The treatment team then meets to make a determination to give to the Judge. Completion of the Drug Court program then becomes a condition of their probation.
“There is a lot expected of them. Its lots of tears, hard to get them to trust us and that takes time, but we find connections and develop friendships. It becomes a family,” Erica said before the ceremony. Judge Robinson was also very pleased with how far they had come and added, “This is not a journey that follows a straight line, there are many ups and downs.”
Many past graduates also come back to give support to newer graduates. Jacob Maberson was the first ever graduate for the Fulton County Drug Court Program.
He explained that when he was able to change who he associated with, it was much easier to follow what he needed to do and made the difference that helped him stay clean. “Change is inevitable, growth is an option. Which way the change goes depends on you. Every day you change,” Jacob said.
Judge Robinson started the ceremony and called up the first graduate Danny Mendez.
Danny shared his story of how drugs had affected his life and what he went through to get to this point. He started by saying, “Hi, I’m Danny and I’m a child of God.”
He spoke about how it hit him after leaving jail and wanting to go home but realized that he no longer had a home to go back to. The only thing he had were the clothes on his back. He was sent to a lockdown rehab facility called S.E.A.R.C.H. where he used this time reading the Bible and learned new coping skills.
Through this, he was able to enter the Drug Court’s program. He pushed forward and reached a year of sobriety and was able to reunite with his family. Things were going good until March 29th, 2020. He had come home from working third shift and found his wife and daughter sleeping in the bed.
He decided to let them sleep but tried waking his wife later on. She was unresponsive so he pulled her to the floor and started CPR and called 911 but unfortunately passed away. Three weeks later he was laid off from his job due to the Covid-19 quarantines taking place.
With all of this heartache and stress he still pushed forward and was able to stay sober. “I believe God has a purpose for each of us. I’ll never be perfect, I thought I’d fall short,” Danny said.
Danny also wanted to thank his mother for being his hero and hanging in there with him throughout all the years. He also thanked Erica for always being there for him. For over six months they talked every day and it helped him out a lot.
Danny also let everyone know that he welcomes anyone who would like to meet Jesus to come and talk with him afterwards. He would love to spread the word of God to anyone that needs it.
Judge Robinson then came up and presented Danny with his graduation certificate and congratulated him for all that he had done. “I don’t think we’ve had another graduate with this much personal tragedy,” Robinson said after thanking Danny. He then introduced the next graduate Eric Yingling.
ERIC RECIEVES CERTIFICATE … Eric Yingling on the right received his graduation certificate from Judge Robinson on the left.
Erica spoke before Eric and shared how they had rough times in the start of his time with the program. Erica recalled how one time in the office she had gotten so angry and called him Billy.
After that it had turned into a nickname for Eric. Erica continued to congratulate Eric for his incredible job. As Eric came up, he was wearing a shirt that stated, “I did my Shit.” Judge Robinson explained to everyone that he would always tell people all the time that they just needed to do their stuff.
One day he had gone as far as to say, “just do your shit”. And so, Eric wore the shirt with pride because he had done what he needed to do.
Eric began his speech by saying “Graduation is as much for the treatment team, as it is for the graduates.” Eric talked about how he was a tough one for the program because of how institutionalized he was.
Eric mentioned that the program was “like a shiny gift that made it so that he did not have to take the bus back to prison.” He had been on that bus many times following the example that his father had given.
In a previous edition of the Village Reporter Eric had talked about how his childhood was shaped by his parents. “My father taught me to hate the system and authority in general because he broke the law and got into trouble. My mom taught me to hate the system because she called the authorities who applied the laws, and I hated getting into trouble.”
Eric spoke about how when he first started the program that line of thinking was still there. “I didn’t trust the system. I didn’t trust any of these folks,” Eric said. Through time those feelings changed.
Eric continued with how they were pushed to be more responsible and develop discipline. “Trust, and be willing to be accountable. You have to be willing to know that what you did before isn’t going to work.”
Judge Robinson came up and presented Eric with his graduation certificate and congratulated him for all that he had done. He then introduced the next graduate Danyel Vanarsdalen.
Danyel also wore the “I did my shit” t-shirt. Danyel shared a bit of history that led to her being in the program. She had to grow quickly in order to take on a more adult role at a young age. Through the years using drugs became more and more of a way out.
DANYEL RECIEVES CERTIFICATE … Danyel Vanarsdalen on the right received her graduation certificate from Judge Robinson on the left.
After leaving jail Danyel went to Serenity Haven, which is a rehab center for women, before joining the drug court program. Danyel spoke about how she got a divorce in order to leave a bad situation so she could focus on her children, the rest of her family and fixing her life.
Danyel told everyone that it was “the scariest but most beneficial decision I have ever made. Looking back, I never thought any of this was possible.”
Judge Robinson joined Danyel and presented her with her graduation certificate and congratulated her for all that she had done. He then let everyone know that there was a lunch for everyone that had attended and that everyone was welcome to help themselves. The lunch was provided by Sully’s in Wauseon as well as SG Cupcakes.
“My life today is sober, legal, stable and productive because of the Fulton County Drug Court,” Eric said after the ceremony had ended.
Danyel was “happy and excited” when asked how she was feeling after graduating but noted that “the real journey is going to start now.” Danny was feeling “excited and optimistic,” after graduating and is looking forward to the future.
Jacob can be reached at email@example.com