Michael Norton

Teaching Respect 

By Mary Beth Roach | Photography by Alexis Emm

In both his personal and professional life, Mike Norton has championed the cause of respect for women. Now a sergeant with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, Norton grew up as one of four brothers in a home where respect for women was taught at an early age. That philosophy has stayed with Mike through his professional career as well as in his role as a board member for Vera House.

“It’s foreign to me not to respect women,” Mike said.

At the beginning of Mike’s 27-year career as a sheriff’s deputy, he worked as a detective in the abused persons unit. A few years later, he returned to run the division, before starting his current position as head of the warrants investigation unit.

His work in the abused persons unit brought him into frequent contact with Vera House and the more he worked with the organization professionally, the more he wanted to contribute as a volunteer.

“My relationship with Vera House was because of my position with the sheriff’s office,” he explained, “but my desire to be on the board was mine.”

When the sheriff’s office investigates a sex offense or child abuse case, Vera House is often included from the start, Mike explained.

“They were plugged right in from the get-go,” he said.

The partnership has proven beneficial to both the victims of these crimes and the officers working the cases, Mike said. Vera House aims to help victims navigate the criminal justice system, so they aren’t forced to put their lives on hold.

“There are a lot of social service agencies out there,” Mike said, “but because of my experiences investigating those types of crimes and then running the unit, I truly believe what [Vera House does] is absolutely, positively necessary.”

Vera House’s board of directors includes representation from both the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and Syracuse Police Department. Mike is now in his fifth year of a six-year term representing the sheriff’s office on the board. Syracuse City Police Deputy Chief Lynette Delfavero represents the police department. With their law enforcement background, Mike and Lynette have a unique perspective, he explained.

“We see the worst of the worst. And then we also see the best of the worst,” Mike said, adding that, as police officers, bringing somebody to justice is the best. “There’s nothing more gratifying than getting somebody off the street.”

Being a member of Vera House’s board is also a gratifying piece of Mike’s involvement in the Central New York community. It’s one of the best boards he’s experienced, Mike said.

“They pluck people from every aspect of the community,” he said, noting that the board is composed of people from different local institutions, sectors, ages and backgrounds. “The mix is just awesome.”

Last year and this past spring, Mike co-chaired Vera House’s White Ribbon Campaign – an awareness campaign led by men in the community. “This male leadership helps to acknowledge the important contributions men have made in ending violence against women and invites others to take a role,” according to the Vera House website.

This year’s White Ribbon Campaign, which spanned the month of March, marked the 24th year Vera House took part in the global initiative. The international campaign was started in 1991 by a group of men in Canada, following a tragedy in 1989, when a man murdered 14 female classmates.

The campaign reaches not only adults in the Central New York area, but also students. Throughout the school year, Vera House works with local schools to integrate a variety of educational programs into the curriculum, including the Mentors in Violence Prevention program, the Men of Strength Club, and Coaching Boys Into Men program. This year, Mike was especially impressed by the number of students who participated in the White Ribbon Walk.

“If we can get the men [and] the boys to respect women at a young age, then I think we’re going to have an easier time when they get to be adults,” he said. SWM

For more information on Vera House, visit verahouse.org.

Join Vera House at its annual Recognition & Celebration Luncheon for the presentation of the Sister Mary Vera Recognition Award, the Vera House Special Appreciation Awards and the Annette Briggs Memorial Award.

When: Noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13.

Where: DoubleTree Hotel, 6301 State Route 298, East Syracuse.

Cost: $25.

Visit verahouse.org for more information.