Heartwell Picks Up Annual Liberty Bell


    GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Bar Association (GRBA) will hand out its annual Liberty Bell Award tomorrow night at a special presentation in conjunction with the American Bar Association (ABA)’s celebration of Law Day. And this year the Liberty Bell rings for Susan Heartwell, executive director of the Children’s Assessment Center (CAC).

    The Liberty Bell Award honors a non-lawyer or non-profit organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the cause of justice or to advancing public understanding of the Constitution and the legal system. This year’s theme is “Protecting the Best Interests of Our Children.”

    Judges based their decision on promoting a better understanding of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, encouraging greater respect for law and the courts, stimulating a deeper sense of personal responsibility so that citizens recognize duties as well as rights, contributing to the effective functioning of our institutions of government and fostering a better understanding and appreciation of the rule of law.

    Heartwell has been with the CAC since 1994 and under her leadership it has expanded to make services available to children throughout Kent County on a 24-hour basis and responds to over 800 cases annually.

    The center provides multi-disciplinary intervention to investigate suspected cases of child sexual abuse and reduce the trauma experienced by the child.

    CAC brings together medical and law enforcement professionals, mental health counselors and child protective services workers, thus eliminating repeated interviews and questioning by those who may be inexperienced or untrained.

    Co-workers at the CAC described Heartwell as “completely devoted to the development of the CAC,” and one who “shines in this galaxy of stars as a powerful leader in the community.”

    Heartwell has long been an advocate for children and other victims of crime. A former pre-school teacher, she has worked in the Kent County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and managed and directed the Kent County Victim/Witness protection program.

    She currently serves the community through the Spectrum Health and Grand Rapids Symphony boards and has previously volunteered with the Silent Observer board, Kent County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, MADD and the Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan.

    Heartwell was honored not only with the award but also with the people who nominated her. The list included her husband Rev. George Heartwell, CAC board member Kathleen Maine, Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan, his predecessor William Hagarty and Child Protection Team medical director Dr. Vincent Palusci.

    Since 1962, the GR Bar has been honoring Liberty Bell winners since 1962.

    In 1998, Leona Spencer was given the award for her tireless work in the community on behalf of children and families.

    Dr. Glenn Barkan of Aquinas College won the Liberty Bell Award in 1999, and City Middle School government teacher Wayne Bentley earned the honor last year.

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