eNewsletter - June 2017

 
  
     LAF eNewsletter
June 2017     
EQUAL JUSTICE STARTS HERE.
In This Newsletter
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Celebrating
Diana White
 
 
Ask Diana White about her career and leadership at LAF, and she’ll regale you with stories of strategic plans, office moves, the world’s slowest PhD, labor strikes, broken bones, inspiring clients, book recommendations, and at least as many questions about your life as you can ask about hers.
 
It was early 1997 when Diana, then a partner at Jenner & Block, had been thinking about a career change and talking to people in various nonprofits, when she came across an ad in the National Law Journal seeking a new Deputy Director at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. She sent her application to Sheldon Roodman, LAF’s Executive Director at the time. “He called me the day it hit his desk,” she quips.
 
When Diana started that March, she understood the urgency. Federal funding for legal aid had been cut by more than 25% the previous year, and a number of experienced poverty lawyers had left LAF. Only three weeks into the job, negotiations between LAF union and LAF management broke down. Diana’s job was to make sure that all LAF’s cases got covered during what became LAF’s biggest and longest strike to date. “I knew nothing about poverty law,” she admits. “I could just about keep Medicare and Medicaid straight, if I was reminded.”
 
But with help from her seasoned colleagues, she was a quick study. Charged with overseeing LAF’s special projects — which at the time included Housing, Immigration, Children, Adult SSI, Public Benefits, and Migrant Workers — Diana had to learn about a wide range of poverty-law issues. But she did know about writing briefs, organizing trial teams, and conducting discovery. And she quickly developed a deeper understanding of poverty and the systemic injustices that foster it.
 
“I think most people have no real conception of what poverty does to people, or how completely constraining it is when you can’t see any way to improve your situation and there’s no one you can rely on to help you,” Diana says. She recalls a case she worked on with Rich Cozzola, now Director of the Children and Families Practice Group, during her first few years at LAF. Their client, who we’ll call ‘James,’ had a daughter with a woman who turned out to be a prostitute. The mother disappeared one day, having sold the baby to a crooked lawyer — now disbarred — who arranged her adoption by an affluent family in Florida. James was unemployed and living on the south side of Chicago, and the adoption had been done quickly and without his knowledge.  At trial, the judge concluded that James was a fine father, but that his child would have a much better life if she stayed with the family in Florida. LAF and James knew they had to appeal, but that process could take years — and James’ daughter might not even know him by the time the appeal was over.
 
“I remember thinking, how do we get him down there, so he can at least have visits? I didn’t know what to do,” Diana recounts. But James was determined to be with his daughter, and managed to save up enough money for a bus ticket to Florida where he stayed with his uncle and got a job working the night shift at a factory. They won the appeal, and James was able to be part of his daughter’s early childhood and eventually bring her home, thanks to his hard work and tenacity and Diana’s inexhaustible dedication to his case.
 
“Those are the sorts of things people don’t realize — the impossible choices people in poverty are faced with.  They’ll say, how could someone have made that decision which, in hindsight, looks like a mistake?  How could you have spent your rent money on textbooks for your oldest child, the first in the family to go to college? Well… how can you not?”
 
After ten years of working with remarkable clients like James, Diana began her decade-long tenure as LAF’s Executive Director in 2007. “There were so many things I wanted to do — not glamorous, but practical things. And this was my chance to do them,” she explains.
 
One of her first acts in her new role was to enlist a consultant to develop a strategic plan for LAF. At the time, LAF had a central office, but most staff worked in offices located in various neighborhoods throughout the city. After surveying staff from each of the neighborhood offices, it became clear that LAF needed to centralize its intake. “Because the neighborhood offices were so small, if someone wasn’t there, they just didn’t function. And staff from different offices weren’t communicating much with each other,” Diana explains. “So I thought, here’s a piece I can fix.”  At the end of 2011 LAF moved to a central office and restructured into the five practice groups we have today. “Once people got down here, they enjoyed the chance to brainstorm and collaborate. The quality of the practice improved a lot.” Under Diana’s leadership, LAF also formed the Community Engagement Unit, which helps LAF maintain its presence within various communities after the neighborhood offices closed.
 
Another challenge Diana faced head on was the changing nature of legal aid funding.  Because of recurrent cuts in government funding for legal aid — at the local, state and federal levels —LAF needed financial support from individuals, law firms, and corporations in order to keep its doors open. Thanks to Diana’s leadership, LAF has built a strong donor base, particularly in the Chicago legal community. “Chicago has this amazing civic pride,” she says. “I’ve lived in a lot of cities, but it’s really something here.” She sees LAF’s next big challenge as reaching people outside the legal community — helping them understand civil legal aid and its importance in fighting poverty and building stronger communities everywhere.
 
After 20 years of dedicated service at LAF, Diana looks forward to retirement with enthusiasm and welcomes incoming Executive Director John Gallo. Up next for Diana? Gardening, reading, volunteering at LAF’s Woodlawn Legal Clinic, traveling, and maybe even taking up the piano again. We are deeply grateful for Diana’s leadership and wish her a stress-free, well-deserved retirement.
 

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A message
from LAF's
Acting
Executive Director
Kate Shank
At LAF’s Annual Luncheon two weeks ago, over 500 people celebrated the impact of LAF’s work in our community. We honored Kelly McNamara Corley of Discover Financial Services for her dedication to pro bono services for people living in poverty, and Dennericka Brooks for her passion and commitment to our clients. We also heard from Lynkisza Sweezy, a former client whose housing is now stable and whose children are able to excel because of LAF’s help. Finally, we recognized Executive Director Diana White’s retirement, after 20 years of dedicated service to LAF and to our clients. If you would like to make a contribution in Diana's honor, you can donate to LAF here
 
And now we move on to the future of LAF. Diana officially retired at the end of June, and I am humbled and honored to take the reins of LAF as Acting Executive Director until John Gallo can take over full time by October. You can read more about Diana and John in this eNewsletter. The face of LAF may change, but our work, providing the highest-quality civil legal services to people living in poverty across Chicagoland, will remain the same as ever.  
 
Best,
 
 
Katherine W. Shank
LAF Director of Volunteer Services
and Acting Executive Director
 
 
Annual Luncheon Success! 
See Event Photos Online Soon
 
 
LAF's 2017 Annual Luncheon was another rousing success.  Check out photos from the event, which we'll post on LAF's Facebook page here later today!
 
 
John Gallo Appointed
LAF Executive Director 
Passing the Reins over the Summer
 
 
LAF has appointed its new Executive Director, following the retirement of Diana White this summer. John Gallo, currently head of litigation at Sidley Austin LLP and former Assistant U.S. Attorney, is active in civic work in the Chicago area. “When the opportunity to join LAF presented itself, I recognized immediately that it would allow me to follow my passion to provide a voice for those in need while helping an incredibly deserving organization continue to grow,” John said. “I’ve always felt that, as a lawyer, I have a responsibility to use my skills to provide services to individuals that otherwise could not afford legal representation. It is an honor to be selected to lead the city’s preeminent provider of legal services to people living in poverty and other vulnerable groups.”
 
Diana White said, “John is a great lawyer. He is also a real leader, helping people on his team do their best, and most satisfying, work. John is friendly, open-minded, enthusiastic, and empathetic. LAF is lucky to have found him.” You can read the full press release about John here
 
John will take office at LAF in the early fall, and will spend the summer getting to know us, our clients, and our work. Until John arrives, Kate Shank will be LAF’s Acting Executive Director. We are excited to welcome John to LAF and look forward to all he will bring to our work providing free civil legal aid to people living in poverty across Chicagoland – and getting them back on their feet.
 
 
Celebrating Pride 
 
 
We celebrated Pride month with a Continuing Legal Education seminar led by John Knight from the ACLU of Illinois on the rights of transgender students and how to best stand with them!
 
 
Francisco and Margareta 
A World Elder Abuse Awareness Story
 
 
On June 15th, the UN recognized World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. According to their research, as many as 10% of older people globally may experience some kind of financial exploitation. Such abuse often goes unreported, due to shame and embarrassment on the part of the victims or their inability to report it. Advocates at LAF work every day on behalf of senior clients who have been taken advantage of, by family members, scheming contractors, or others, to protect their safety, homes, and savings. Many of those clients are like Francisco and Margareta.
 
Francisco and his wife Margareta are in their late 70s and speak very little English. Last winter, they called a company to repair their furnace. A man named Jake from the company came out and agreed to fix the furnace for a price of $1,000. He had Francisco, who is nearly blind, sign a document that offered him a discount to the $1,000 rate. Francisco gave his credit card number, but Jake said that the credit card would not work, so Francisco gave a second credit card number. The next day, Jake and a few workers from his company came back out. They brought more documents and, folding the paper over so that only part was visible, insisted that Francisco sign again. This time the amount was blank. Francisco signed, and the workers went downstairs to begin work. A few minutes later, Margareta went downstairs to demand a copy of the document that her husband had signed. She was given a copy which showed a charge of $13,500. A few minutes later, she looked out the window and saw the workers loading their central AC unit onto their truck. This made no sense since the contract was merely to fix the heater. They also loaded the furnace on their truck. Frantic, Margareta called her daughter, who got on the phone with Jake and demanded that he stop all work. While Jake was on the phone with her, his workers drove off with the AC unit and furnace. They also charged $6,000.00 onto Francisco’s credit cards, and recorded a mechanics lien on the home for $13,500.
 
That’s when Margareta and Francisco came to LAF. LAF prepared for a serious legal battle, but Margareta and Francisco convinced LAF and Jake to settle before they went to court. They just wanted their house adequately heated. In the end, they received new heating and central AC units and repayments of most of the fraudulent credit card charges. Jake’s company was also forced to release the mechanic’s lien, so that Francisco and Margareta own their home again outright. Finally, their heat has been restored and, because of LAF’s help, all of the other trouble Jake’s company gave them is over.
 
Sometimes justice isn’t a long-fought legal battle. Sometimes it’s just holding contractors to the promises they make to their customers. LAF is here to make sure vulnerable seniors are protected and their homes, savings, and health are safe.
 
 
Let's Do Lunch 
Brownbag Roundtable Series takes on
Medical-Legal Partnerships
 
We don’t usually think of lawyers as being needed to improve your health. Although a lawyer can’t prescribe the medicine to treat the pain of chronic disease for an elderly man, she can fight to ensure the patient’s electricity stays on so he can keep his medications refrigerated. A child with asthma will never get better if he lives in an apartment that is infested with mold. A disabled veteran whose apartment isn’t handicap-accessible risks new injuries at home and misses important medical appointments because he can’t get to them. That’s where lawyers come in and that’s why LAF has formed several medical legal partnerships to improve outcomes for low income residents of Cook County.

Please join us for LAF’s one-hour session, Take Two Lawyers and Call Me in the Morning, on Thursday July 13th, at noon at LAF, to learn about our Medical-Legal Partnerships and how they are changing lives. You will hear compelling client stories and gain a greater understanding of this unique program from LAF attorneys and other local professionals.  Presenters will be LAF Attorneys Kaitlyn Quigley, Alice Setrini, Erin Sutton, MLP Project Coordinator Amelia Piazza, and Charles Small from the Rush Hospital’s Road Home Program: a Center for Veterans and Their Families.

Feel free to bring your lunch and plenty of questions. This event is eligible for 1 hour of CLE credit for attorneys. The event is free, but space is limited and seats are filling up quickly. You can RSVP here
 
 
2016 Annual Report Released! 
Read up on Stories from
2016 and the Past 50 years
 
 
Though we are well into 2017, we are still celebrating the last 50 years of LAF's history. The 2016 Annual Report, just released, tells stories from last year and from the 50 years before it. You can read it on our website here. In it, you can read about Richard, who LAF helped protect while he fought an orange-sized brain tumor, Roberta, who sought asylum in the U.S. with LAF's help, Christina, whom LAF has defended from her abusive ex-husband for more than a decade, and many others.
 
You can also see our list of major donors from 2016. And if you haven’t had the chance to secure your place on that list for 2017, you can make a contribution online today.
 
 
Check out LAF on Social Media!
 
Follow us on Twitter at @ChicagoLAF, like our Facebook page, catch up with us on Instagram, and read our blog at lafchicago.wordpress.com to keep up with all our work!
 
 
Sign up for Monthly Giving
Pledge your ongoing support to LAF and
make your recurring gift today!
 
  
LAF
EQUAL JUSTICE STARTS HERE.

For more than 50 years, LAF has provided free legal services in non-criminal matters to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community, ensuring they have the same access to legal services as those who can afford it.  By resolving critical legal problems that systemically trap people in poverty, such as domestic violence, consumer fraud, and unfair evictions, LAF has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals get their lives back on track and given them hope for a brighter future.  
We rely on the generosity of individuals and companies to provide the private support we need to fulfill our mission.  
 
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