Whatever else you want to say about it, 2016 has undoubtedly been an interesting year. For our client community, there have been some good developments, but also many developments that present new and even more daunting challenges. For our take on the election, please click here. You can also read more about our work over the past year in our 2016 Annual Report.
But, for purposes of this blog, I thought we would focus closer to home. As the year ends, please take a few moments to read about some of the things that happened at Legal Aid in 2016, highlighting some milestones, records, and accomplishments as individuals and as an organization.
We end the year on pace to have had more lawyers on staff and to have helped more people than ever in our history. Embedded in the thousands of people helped through Legal Aid’s housing, family/domestic violence, public benefits, consumer, and appellate work are thousands of stories, a few of which you can read about here.
This past year, we established four exciting new projects:
- The Consumer Law Court-Based Legal Services Project which provides same-day representation to low-income D.C. residents in debt collection matters. This project was started with funding from the D.C. Bar Foundation’s Access to Justice Grant Program.
- A Community Redevelopment Project focuse exclusively on representing tenants and tenant groups to help preserve their affordable housing. This project was funded by a bank settlement grant from Citi, which was administered by the D.C. Bar Foundation.
- The expansion of our Foreclosure Prevention Project, also funded by the bank settlement grant from Citi, allowed us to hire an additional staff attorney to help us respond to the extraordinary surge in the need for legal assistance in judicial foreclosure matters.
- The Domestic Violence Economic Security Project, which focuses on increasing economic security for low-income survivors of domestic violence in the District of Columbia. The Project, made possible by the generosity of Latham & Watkins LLP through Equal Justice Works, will represent and educate survivors in the areas of public benefits, child support, and employment law.
We don’t have our figures for 2016 yet, but we are confident that we will have a record-setting year in pro bono as well. In 2015, Legal Aid’s wonderful volunteer community provided more than 33,500 of pro bono hours, valued at more than $17.5 million.
- We successfully advocated with the D.C. Council on behalf of thousands of D.C. residents (which includes thousands of children) relying on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to ensure that they are not cut off from much-needed benefits;
- Legal Aid worked on mold legislation that would, for the first time ever, create one of the strongest regulatory frameworks in the country for ensuring that tenants do not have to live with life-threatening conditions as a result of mold;
- We led a coalition of advocates in a successful effort to persuade the DC Council to increase the unemployment insurance weekly benefit, for the first time in more than 11 years;
- We worked closely with a coalition of advocates to secure the passage, just last week, of a DC law that will significantly improve the ability of individuals with criminal records to secure housing; and
- Our Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Project continued to argue important, precedent-setting cases before the D.C. Court of Appeals that will protect the rights of persons living in poverty for years to come.
- Legal Aid was awarded the top 4-star Charity Navigator rating for the fourth year in a row for sound, financial management.
- We were ranked ninth nationwide in the Best Nonprofits “Best Places to work” in 2016.
- We honored Marian Wright Edelman and Thomas S. Williamson, Jr., two extraordinary individuals who have embodied service to and dedication to civil legal services, with our highest honor, the Servant of Justice Award.
- We honored Brendan Carroll of Alston & Bird with the Klepper Prize for Volunteer Excellence.
- We also initiated our Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award, giving one to Joseph Patry of Blank Rome at our Generous Associates Campaign and Pro Bono Breakfast and the other to Judith Harris and Vicki Morris at Reed Smith’s holiday party.
- We raised a record-breaking $1.2 million this year for our Servant of Justice Awards Dinner.
- Not to be outdone, our Generous Associates Campaign raised a record-shattering $1.475 million!
- As of today, 4,532 individual donors have supported Legal Aid in 2016 compared to 4,257 in 2015 – a 6.5% increase!
- Similarly, in 2015, we had 374 generous donors give $1,000 or more during the year to be part of our Making Justice Real Giving Circle. As of today, we have more than 420 members in our 2016 Making Justice Real Giving Circle!
- This past year, we surpassed the 50 employee mark and we now have 53 employees on staff.
- There were also many joyful tidings in the extended Legal Aid family as well: we welcomed 8 Legal Aid babies in 2016, with one more expected before the end of the year!
As you can see, Legal Aid has had a full year of success and growth. I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish thanks to our amazing staff, our dedicated volunteers, and our generous donors. Without you, we could not do what we do.
As we enter 2017, I hope you will help us continue this momentum. More and more people walk through Legal Aid’s door every year and we must continue to grow in order to serve our community.
For those of you in a position to do so, I urge you to consider making a year-end gift to Legal Aid before Dec. 31 to help us make justice real. If you have already supported Legal Aid with a gift this year or have helped our client community in any other way, please accept our profound thanks for your generosity.
Thank you so much for supporting us. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!