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Gift to Legal Aid Society Helps Push Goals Forward

Posted March 4, 2020
6:00 pm

Written by Karlynn Wells in Spectrum News on 03/04/2020

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Vanetta Jamison knows first-hand the impact support for the Legal Aid Society can have on people’s lives.

“I had very little funds and did not know anything about how to do it or what to look to do or how to keep myself and my children safe in the process of it and to keep our home,” said Jamison. “I contacted Legal Aid and they were able to not only assist me and my legal needs, but to encourage me to look beyond the obvious, and the story goes on from there.”

  • The organization impacts close to 20,000 people per year, working on 9,000 cases
  • 20 percent of their cases are handled by pro bono attorneys
  • The funding will allow them to help more families and children

Since 1905, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has helped individuals facing civil legal issues that relate to safety, shelter and economic security.  They provide representation at no cost.

“If somebody is arrested and they’re read their rights, and you have the right to an attorney if you can't afford one, well, that's true in the United States, but only in criminal cases. There's no general right to counsel on the civil side of the law if your home is being foreclosed or you have a legal issue related to your benefits or immigration or some other civil issue,” said Melanie Shakarian, of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

The organization impacts close to 20,000 people per year, working on 9,000 cases.

Melanie Shakarian is an attorney and serves as director of development and communications for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. She says thanks to a $2 million gift the George Gund Foundation made in honor of Geoffrey Gund, who worked at local Legal Aid Society offices in the 1960s, even more people will now be helped.

“It’s so terrific. We are going to be able to help more families and children because of this funding. Right now Legal Aid is in this really important growth moment and the campaign for legal aid is helping us raise sustainable funds to help us grow and extend justice in the community,” said Shakarian. “We want to be where and when our clients need help, and we're doing that by expanding our partnerships in the community, doing more cases to remove barriers to opportunity and ensuring that our attorneys, our catalysts for community change, are at the table talking with policymakers about really important issues.”

Legal Aid attorneys help clients in cases regarding evictions, foreclosures. wage theft, social security, denials of public benefits and safety issues — including civil protection and divorces.

After receiving divorce assistance from a Legal Aid attorney, Jamison decided to pay it forward and begin volunteering at the organization. She says she never would have imagined being asked to join the organization's board years later.

“The board regulates how Legal Aid services are provided. So, we make the decision as what strategically needs to occur in the community in the five counties that we serve. We also assist in making sure that those services are exactly what's in line with what is going on in society,” Jamison said.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland will soon launch the Geoffrey Gund Fund for Families and Children.

“The work that they did for my friend, did for me and have done for so many others after me, the work that they are doing in the community, not just divorces or foreclosure or eviction notices, they are helping people stand up so that they can stand to build their own communities,” said Jamison.

Click here to read the full article on Spectrum News.