Posted December 10, 20204:35 pm
On Tuesday, December 8, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland held its 115th Annual Meeting as an online livestream at noon. For the first time ever, the event was free and open for all to join, thanks to support from more than 40 sponsors.
The poignant, condensed program began with Legal Aid Executive Director Colleen Cotter, Esq. introducing the theme, which was a quote from the eminent suffragette and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells (1862 – 1931): “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Wells’s role in U.S. suffrage movement was inextricably linked to her lifelong crusade against racism, violence, and discrimination towards African Americans. Born a slave, she went on to co-found the NAACP and led an anti-lynching crusade for which she won, posthumously, a 2020 Pulitzer Prize.
“We at Legal Aid are inspired by Ida B. Wells.,” Cotter said. “Last year, nearly 17,000 people were impacted by our cases; thousands more empowered by our community legal education and outreach. We stopped evictions, we increased safety, and we saved our clients more than $13 million dollars.”
Mike Ungar, Esq., Legal Aid Board President and Partner at Ulmer & Berne, then delivered an impassioned message of gratitude for all of the staff members, board members, and volunteers who rose to the challenges 2020 posed and contributed to Legal Aid’s success in helping those most in need during a global pandemic. He also spoke to the impact of The Campaign for Legal Aid, which enabled the organization to grow its staff by 20 percent in 2020. As of this writing, Legal Aid has raised $14 million towards its goal of $15 million for the Campaign. These funds support Legal Aid’s efforts to grow and sustain existing programs while developing new opportunities to serve clients and communities throughout its five-county service area.
Keynote remarks from the Honorable Justice Goodwin Liu, Associate Justice of California’s Supreme Court, emphasized the justice gap and untenable inequality in our society. “The pandemic has affected everyone, but not to an equal degree,” he said. “For millions of people, the pandemic has meant economic struggle, insecurity, and serious health risks …. The work you are doing to provide legal aid to those who need it is urgent work of the highest priority.”
While 2020 has been characterized by great uncertainty, Legal Aid achieved much success: The organization has sustainably grown its programs, expanded partnerships, and implemented new service delivery models for a socially-distant world. Staff and volunteers helped thousands of Northeast Ohio residents weather the coronavirus pandemic and secure basic needs such as safety, shelter, economic stability.
A number of awards were presented during the program. Among the staff honored was Susan Stauffer, Esq., an attorney who has worked at Legal Aid for 50 years – since 1970. She will be presented with the C. Lyonel Jones Lifetime Achievement Award, named in honor of C. Lyonel Jones (1932 – 2006), who himself dedicated his entire legal career to Legal Aid and served as Executive Director. In addition, Tracy Ferron, Hilda Hernandez, Heather Lynch, and Laura Post were presented with the Claude E. Clarke Award, and Deborah Dallman, Esq. was presented with the staff Leadership Award.
Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program proudly presented the Community Impact Award to attorneys Jason Dawicke, Donna Kolis, Betsy Rader, and Christina Royer. These individuals were pivotal to the successful launch of Legal Aid’s new Virtual Advice Clinics during COVID-19 to ensure legal information, advice, and guidance was provided to people facing employment and unemployment compensation issues. Nearly 200 Legal Aid clients and their family members were served by these four volunteers in the past year.
Finally, the Legacy of Justice Award was presented to Ann McGowan Porath, Manager of Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Program. Ann is retiring this year, and Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Committee unanimously voted for her to receive this award in recognition of her exemplary 38-year career at Legal Aid. The Volunteer Lawyers Program Ann built from the ground up is a model for legal aids around the United States. She has made an indelible impact on attorneys, law students, paralegals, clients, and the broader Northeast Ohio community.
If you weren’t one of the 450 people who watched the show live (or the additional 1,500 who viewed it later on Tuesday), you can access the recording at www.lasclev.org/2020event. And if you are wondering who contributed that gorgeous background music: local violinists Isabel Trautwein of the Cleveland Orchestra and Ariel Clayton Karas of Opus 216 recorded two songs especially for 1) Legal Aid’s video about how Change is Happening and 2) a highlight film about Legal Aid’s recent success.