Baldwin boy reunited with his father

BALDWIN — Bryson Hyatt, a sixth-grader at Baldwin Community Schools, experienced a significant life change when he recently learned about the father he never knew he had.

Bryson's grandmother, Patricia Hyatt, who has custody of him, contacted the Lake County Prosecutor's office when Bryson's mother disclosed the name of his father last October.

"When I learned the father's name I went to the courthouse to get help finding Bryson's dad," said Hyatt. "The courthouse was able to get a hold of his father, Ben Collins, who lives in Scottville."

After Collins was contacted, he and Bryson took a DNA test and waited about a month for the results, explained Hyatt, who said everyone was on pins and needles anticipating the results. The tests came back positive, confirming Collins was Bryson's father.

Ben Collins said learning he had another son was very exciting.

Bryson got to meet the rest of his family, including three sisters, a brother, and grandparents, Barb and Fred Smith.

"All this time I never knew I had another kid," Collins said. "Everything is going very well and I am getting to know Bryson more and more all the time. He seems to really get along with everyone in the family, and we are ecstatic to have him. He and his brother have gotten very close. He is definitely one of the gang."

Bryson and his father spent Christmas together, and Collins got him a fishing pole so they can go fishing together, said Hyatt.

Hyatt recalled the day the DNA test results came back, on Oct. 28.

"The day the DNA was confirmed, we met with Bryson's dad for lunch. We spent about five hours catching up. Since then, Bryson's dad took it on himself to spend time with Bryson for a few days, and now Bryson goes to see his dad every week. He has joint custody with me over Bryson. We signed joint papers. "

Hyatt said since getting to know each other, she noticed Collins and Bryson have many similarities, including sharing a March 16 birthday, and both have similar health issues, which helps Collins relate to Bryson's needs and handle them in an effective way. She also mentioned Bryson and his dad have very similar looks.

"B. J. Fornino, who works in the prosecuting office, pursued Bryson finding his father really hard. Prosecutor Craig Cooper helped put all the documentation together to make it final," she said. "The courthouse went above and beyond to find his father. So many people who work at the courthouse were excited for Bryson as they watched everything unfold," Hyatt said.

Cooper explained how he and Fornino worked together to locate the father.

"Our child support team worked to try to get support for Bryson," Cooper said. "Finding a father always gives comfort to a child. This is one of the examples of people wanting to do what is right. It takes a village to raise a child, but they need their parents."

Fornino explained finding Bryson's father was a true team effort which involved pulling resources and help from Lake, Mason and Manistee counties. The Department of Health and Human Services, and police officers from these counties played roles in making everything come together.

"This was truly a team effort," Fornino said. "It really takes a village and a team, and this case took tremendous man power. Lake County gave an amazing effort. Cooper's vision of going forward as prosecutor was providing better services for the community so we can serve people and help kids like Bryson. The Prosecutor's Office is not just about prosecuting people, but making the world a better place one case at a time. I can't say enough about the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and this staff. In cases like Bryson's, this should be the norm, not the exception.

"All Bryson wanted was to find his dad. It meant the world to this kid. I want people to know, our office is very approachable. If someone has a question, call and ask us. We love people coming in and getting the help they need, like Bryson's grandmother did," Fornino said.

Hyatt explained Collins has been a great help with Bryson. When Bryson is dealing with a problem, he talks to his dad on the phone, and he talks Bryson through it, calming him down right away.

"It is like they have always known each other," said Hyatt. "Bryson said he feels whole now he knows he has a father. I am excited to have Ben in Bryson's life. Everyone needs a father and now he has one. Everything just came together. Now he has his dad involved in his future.

"I have noticed a major change in Bryson. He is a happy, happy boy now. There is a bigger smile on his face. He still has to deal with physical issues, but he handles them better now. I am excited to see what this next year will bring for Bryson and to see how he will bloom now he has his dad in his life," she said.