General

Pop-Up Clothing Shop Serves People in Need

Most of us take for granted that we have the appropriate clothes to wear to work, to stay warm, and to feel good about ourselves. But that’s not the case for people in need who depend on the social service system to inch by.

Jill Aschkenasy was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan when she was exposed to the daily struggles facing the underserved in this country. Once her four children were school age, she decided it was time to serve, and spent two years talking to people within the Philadelphia social service community to determine what needs were not being met. She discovered that clothing, a most basic need, was in short supply and obtaining clothing was also mired in a maze of roadblocks and referrals.

Ms. Aschenasy founded Our Closet in 2012. It acts independently from other social service agencies and no referrals or paperwork are required to participate.

The goal of Our Closet is to meet a basic need for the underserved so they can confidently focus on handling other stressors such as securing a steady source of income, child care, or finding permanent housing solutions. ourcloset2

Our Closet runs “pop-up shops” that simulate a true shopping experience but the only difference – all items all free. Shoppers receive individualized attention from volunteer sales associates and are treated with dignity. Clothing is displayed on tables and hanging racks, transforming partner-provided spaces into small boutiques. The donated clothing is clean, quality merchandise that is sorted like a traditional store – by gender, by age, by item, by season.

Every Tuesday, men, women, and children line up to receive an entry number; each week from 100 to 150 individuals are served; and more are often turned away. About eight to 10 people may enter the pop-up store at one time and they are assisted by volunteer shopping associates who help people choose up to five items. There are dressing rooms and mirrors and stacks of clothing, shoes, and accessories. Every “shopper” is treated respectfully.

Making an Impact on the Community

While living in a nearby men’s shelter, Aaron first came to Our Closet during autumn 2012. Though clothing may have been his magnet, he quickly began getting involved by helping to set up and take down the store and explained the services to others in need. Week after week, Aaron would come to the shop, sometimes gathering five items for himself or his family, and other weeks, simply helping other shoppers find items for themselves.

In November 2012, during the annual Our Closet Coat Day, a gentleman named Virgo rushed in; he was from the same shelter as Aaron, but had custodial duties that prevented him from arriving earlier. Virgo was disappointed that after more than 400 coats were distributed, there were no coats remaining that fit him.

Aaron decided to help. He reached into his own shopping bag and handed Virgo the beautiful shearling coat he received an hour earlier from Our Closet. That moment was incredibly powerful, and tapped into the immense level of generosity, self-awareness, and connection Aaron had in relation to Our Closet. Aaron was needy, but he was so appreciative that Virgo cleaned the very shelter where Aaron himself resided, that he felt the urge to say thank you.

Shortly after this incident, Aaron stopped visiting Our Closet. However, a new shopper, who introduced herself as Aaron’s mother, shared that Aaron had secured a job nearby, and suggested that she come to Our Closet while facing a period of instability.

Aaron had fulfilled his basic need of clothing; used his time, energy, and money wisely; and found gainful employment. He had moved on, but expressed his gratitude and continues to refer others to Our Closet.

The current weekly pop-up shop is based out of LIFT-Philadelphia, an anti-poverty organization in West Philadelphia. Our Closet has recently expanded its partnerships to host additional pop-up shops in other neighborhoods.

An average of 50 bags of clothing are collected every month. Volunteers range from local high school students, community groups, and their parents, to professional groups looking to plug into the community. Partners help collect clothing donations, host donation days, and expand the donor base.

A long range plan is for Our Closet to be like a mobile pantry but with free clothes, instead.

How to help

Men’s large sizes and all men and women’s sizes are needed; shoes are especially needed.

  1. If you live/work in the Philadelphia area, collect clothing donations from coworkers and friends, volunteer to sort clothes.
  2. Start a clothing drive in your own community.
  3. A tax-deductible financial donation helps to sustain pop-up locations.

 

 

 

Posted on October 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Vermont Association for Justice: Cornerstone Stories Project

 

Joel Feldman (on right) with  VT Gov. Peter Shumlin

Joel Feldman (on right) with VT Gov. Peter Shumlin

The Vermont Association for Justice (VTAJ) recently hosted its Cornerstone Stories Project, a day of inspirational speakers featuring AAJ member Joel Feldman, the founder of End Distracted Driving. Also speaking were Gov.  Peter Shumlin, former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Chittenden County State’s Attorney, authors, and business leaders.

The speakers shared how they overcame challenges and repeated failures, and how they persevered and became successful, often against all odds.

Thank you, VTAJ, for hosting this exceptional event, providing inspiration to adults and students in attendance, and for donating the modest admission fee to a charity. And thank you, Joel Feldman for sharing your post about the event.

Read Joel’s summary here.

Posted on September 19, 2014 at 5:57 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Ohio Lawyers and the Honor Project

The Dworken & Bernstein firm in Ohio inspired a judge to create a funding program for local charitable organizations.

When the Ohio Attorney General brought a class action against several large insurance companies, the case settled and there were class members who could not be located (for example, they may have moved or died). Instead of that unclaimed settlement money going to back to the insurance companies, the judge, John Russo, created “The Honor Project Trust” to redirect the money — $6.3 million — to Ohio charities that needed it.

Judge Russo had previously attended an event hosted by Dworken & Bernstein where the firm distributed over $14 Million dollars to local charities following a case against a large insurer that had overcharged people for uninsured motorist coverage. That event, and the concept of redirecting the money, stuck with the judge. When he had the opportunity after the Attorney General’s case, he moved forward with “The Honor Project Trust” and asked the Dworken &  Bernstein firm administer the distribution of funds, which the firm did for free.

Patrick Perotti

Patrick Perotti

Attorney Patrick Perotti heads the class action division of Dworken & Bernstein. He has taken the lead in founding and operating Ohio Lawyers Give Back through which he  uses the doctrine of cy pres to direct millions of dollars each year to charities and nonprofits.

Mr. Perotti is a member of the American Association for justice (AAJ) and and was a nominee and finalist for AAJ’s 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award. On November 7, 2014, Mr. Perotti will be presented with The Ritter award from the Ohio Bar Association.  The Ritter is the highest honor awarded by the Foundation, given to recognize a lifetime of service. The award recognizes the accomplishments of the honoree in attaining and promoting the highest level of professionalism, integrity, and ethics in the practice of law while assisting other attorneys, the courts, and the public to envision and cause changes which improve the justice system in Ohio.

 

Posted on September 12, 2014 at 6:58 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Rebuilding Homes in New Jersey

When New Jersey trial lawyer Chris Placitella saw what remained of the Union Beach neighborhood after Superstorm Sandy, he knew he wanted to help.

“It’s only a couple of miles from my office. Homes were completely gone – swept into the ocean. It felt right to help there,” says Placitella. Placitella called his friend Wade Martin. The two friends previously worked together after the attacks on September 11, 2001, to assist families who needed help rebuilding their lives.

“When Chris calls, I go running,” says Martin who is a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley. “If people can get along in the world and work together, we can really help those who need it. When you have a network to call on, you can figure out better, more efficient systems to help people.”

Placitella and Martin started making phone calls.

“We called Governor Christie’s office, and met with the Union Beach Town Administrator. We wanted to take this circumstance and create a template that could be replicated if there were a similar disaster in the future,” says Placitella.

Working with the town administrator, who is also trained as an architect, they came up with a design that used modular homes that could be built in two weeks and installed – on top of ten-foot stilts – in two days. Placitella explains that there were many groups and individuals involved.

Among other helpers and volunteers was the town administrator who secured a grant through a Hurricane Sandy relief fund; two different modular home companies that built the homes at a discount; the New Jersey State Bar Association which provided free legal assistance and guidance for immediate legal needs to members of the public; and Placitella’s law office which sent an attorney from his office to be stationed for a year at the Union Beach Town Administrator’s office to help answer residents’ questions.

These combined efforts, plus backing from the Robin Hood Foundation and Governor Christie’s wife, Mary Pat Christie, resulted in the first 15 new homes going up by June of 2014.

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 6:03 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Georgia Trial Lawyers Collect Over 47,000 Pounds of Food for Georgia Food Banks

Two weeks of competition among lawyers and legal organizations in Georgia has resulted in their raising the equivalent of 1,140,672 pounds of food for Georgia’s regional food banks and partner agencies. The Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA) collected and raised the equivalent of 47,506 pounds worth of non-perishable food items. GTLA placed second among the 270 teams that competed in the 2014 Georgia Legal Food Frenzy for the top food and fund raising spot.

“I am tremendously proud of the generous contributions of so many Georgia trial lawyers during this year’s Legal Food Frenzy,” said GTLA President Linley Jones. “We firmly believe that hunger is not just an issue of charity; it is an issue of justice. Our members have dedicated their careers to helping those in need, and it is only fitting that these efforts are extended beyond the walls of the courtroom and into deserving communities across our state.”

The food will be distributed by the Georgia Food Bank Association’s seven regional food banks across the state, which distribute food to 2,300 partner non-profits with assistance programs in all 159 counties throughout the state.

“We would like to congratulate the DeKalb Solicitor’s Office on being the only legal organization in Georgia to outraise GTLA in this year’s Legal Food Frenzy,” continued Jones. “More than one in four children in Georgia struggle with hunger, and the summer months are particularly vital for our community food banks. Almost 60 percent of Georgia’s children are enrolled in a free or reduced cost lunch program but less than 15 percent of them have access to the lunch program during the summertime. Through GTLA’s participation in the Legal Food Frenzy, we are able to do our part to keep food on the table for our state’s most vulnerable citizens”

GTLA geared up for the competition by ensuring that its members had plenty of opportunities to give. At the GTLA Annual Convention, lawyers were encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and contribute on site via computers that were dedicated for collecting electronic donations.

GTLA members could also contribute by dining out during the competition period at restaurants that donated 15 percent of the meal proceeds toward the Legal Food Frenzy. In addition, GTLA partnered with several GTLA members’ firms to provide convenient drop-off points around the state at which members could make contributions. And GTLA hosted a happy hour for which the entry fee was contributions of canned goods or a financial contribution for the Legal Food Frenzy.

Posted on June 4, 2014 at 4:56 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

FL Lawyer Starts Disability Rights Non-Profit

Matthew Dietz decided to follow his heart. After 15 years as a disability rights lawyer, he decided to turn his for-profit law firm into a non-profit.

“My heart is really in this,” says Mr. Dietz, a Miami lawyer. “There is a lot of need out there and not a lot of places in the country that have disability lawyers.”

Now when trial lawyers have clients who are horribly injured and need accommodations and information about their clients’ rights, they can turn to the resources provided by the Disability Independence Group, founded by Mr. Dietz.

“All too often, people are not aware of their rights as a person with a disability. We can provide help to lawyers who are in other parts of the country and want to take on these cases,” says Mr. Dietz, who is a former chair of the Civil Rights Section of the American Association for Justice.

For Dietz, the focus is always on meeting the needs of the whole person with a disability, whether it is to maximize the person’s choice to live in the community with needed supports, to have a job, or to have physical or communication access.

Thirty percent of his cases involve representing deaf clients who need a sign language interpreter at hospitals. On their behalf, for example, he will file a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that his clients will have access to an interpreter so that they can make informed decisions about their health and medical care.

Other cases might include helping a veteran get clearance for his service dog to live in a condominium complex that has a policy against dogs over a certain weight. Or, helping children come home from institutional care and ensure hat they have access to similar care and services in their homes.Dietz sign

“We want to advocate for persons with disabilities and their needs in the courtroom as well as outside the courtroom. This includes having clinical programs, fellowships, consulting and providing information to persons with disabilities to avoid litigation and to be able to live and work in the community,” says Mr. Dietz.

To read more about this exciting new resource, please visit www.justdigit.org.

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 2:20 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

A Culture of Philanthropy at Denver Law Firm

Bachus and Schanker 1Colorado attorneys Kyle Bachus and Darin Schanker were two of the more than 1,100 trial lawyers who volunteered after the September 11th terrorist attacks to provide free legal services to any family who applied for help from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The client they helped is, to this day, a friend, and the experience of giving back inspired them to do more.

They continued to give and participate in causes locally and decided to formalize their giving in 2009 by creating the Bachus & Schanker Cares Foundation. In 2013 the foundation contributed more than $85,000 to 19 organizations. Since the 2009 launch of foundation, it has donated nearly $350,000 to local nonprofits.

Kyle Bachus addresses the crowd at an event sponsoring Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Kyle Bachus addresses the crowd at an event sponsoring Mothers Against Drunk Driving

And beyond the money, is the time. The Bachus & Schanker attorneys and staff have given approximately 600 hours of their time to support nonprofits across Colorado in 2013 alone. Employees have done road races, packed toys, given out candy, built houses—among other things—to help the organizations and causes that have applied for help.

“There are so many reasons to interact with the community, make a connection, and show them that we care,” says Schanker.

He explains that while the financial support to the organizations is critical, it’s also important to figure out how to involve everyone on staff. To that end, employees at the firm can be on the Bachus & Schanker Cares Foundation board. It’s the board who reviews the various applications from community groups and organizations and decides where the money goes and in which projects to participate.

With their bright green T-shirts, Bachus & Schanker staff get to work!

With their bright green T-shirts, Bachus & Schanker staff get to work!

They’ve sponsored everything from Boo at the Zoo, to food drives, to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to Dolls for Daughters, and the Brain Injury Foundation. If a former client has started a foundation or supports a particular cause, Bachus & Schanker will often fund it.

“The relationships that we have built with members of our community, and the privilege of helping others—it’s humbling and awesome,” says Schanker.

For 2014, Schanker estimates that they will start their budget of giving where they ended last year, at $85,000. But, he expects that number will be up around $100,000 by year’s end.

“When some other good causes apply for help, we increase our giving,” says Schanker.

He hopes that other firms that have not yet developed a community outreach or volunteer program will be inspired to start.

Staff select the charities and participate in fundraising events.

Staff select the charities and participate in fundraising events.

 

 

Posted on April 8, 2014 at 3:56 pm in Charitable Foundations, Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

A Little Elbow Grease Helps Garden Grow

Injury Board members and their guests who attended the American Association for Justice Winter Convention in New Orleans spent an afternoon volunteering in a community rebuilding project in the city’s 7th Ward.

The Injury Board (IB) partnered with Hands On New Orleans, which helps coordinate service opportunities for New Orleans residents. A group of IB staff, members and their guests joined together for a project at the Boys and Girls Garden of the 7th Ward, a kids’ community garden and after-school program initiative. 

Members worked in the garden to complete projects that the children were unable to do after school. They moved and reinstalled a compost bin, cut down a banana tree, painted boards for new plant beds and cleaned and removed overgrowth and weeds in the garden. IB also donated more than $250 of gardening supplies to 7th Ward Boys and Girls Garden.

In just two hours, the volunteers were able to complete work that would have taken the children many, many days to accomplish.

“The Injury Board is composed of trial attorneys who have a strong commitment to doing good in their individual communities,” said IB co-founder Tom Young. “Extending that commitment to the cities and towns we visit is an integral part of who we are as an organization.”

group photo 2014

The 7th Ward is home to many New Orleans cultural traditions, including Social Aids and Pleasure Clubs, Mardi Gras Indians, superior craftsmanship and jazz and brass band music. In the last few decades, due to neglect and lack of opportunity, this richly historical neighborhood has been weakened by blight, crime and poverty.

The Injury Board’s good works initiatives will continue at its ROI2014 event, scheduled for May 7-10. IB has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast Wood Valley Unit in Clearwater, Fla., to participate in a group bike-building and after-school program event.

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 6:44 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Massachusetts Lawyers Provide Helping Hands at Holiday Time

Massachusetts lawyers recently gathered in Boston to help hundreds of families in need. American Association for Justice member and Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) President Doug Sheff was among the more than three dozen MBA volunteers — officers, members, staff and their families — who set aside time the weekend before Thanksgiving Day to provide turkeys and a variety of food staples to 600 families.

The turkey drive is organized by Christmas in the City (CITC), a non-profit founded on the core values of giving to others and caring for our neighbors. Other CITC programs include an

Adopt- a-Family program to assist families transitioning from a shelter to their own home. CITC also assist homeless families to help them find employment, financial aid and legal advice, daycare and other help to get them back on their feet.

“Christmas in the City is an all-volunteer organization that helps thousands of families in need each year through its programs, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to lend a hand during this year’s Turkey Drive,” said MBA President Douglas K. Sheff. “Whether through pro bono legal assistance or community service, volunteerism is built into our association’s DNA. This was natural fit for our attorney members.”

CITC Co-founder Jake Kennedy said, “[We] are very pleased each time we’re able to add new volunteers, because it means we’re able to increase our services to these courageous and deserving families. We look forward to a great partnership with the MBA.”

Posted on December 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Newtown, Connecticut: A Year Later

On a quiet Friday in December 2012, people nationwide started hearing reports of the tragic events shattering Newtown, Connecticut. By the end of that day, December 14th, we would learn that a gunman had killed 26 people — 20 of whom were children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

After that devastating day, members of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association (CTLA) gathered over the next few weeks to make some decisions. They took the position that no lawyer should profit from handling legal issues stemming from the tragedy. They decided to provide free legal services to anyone who needed help, such as a worker injured by a bullet who needed to fill out a workers comp claim, or parents who needed to take the necessary legal steps to prohibit the use of their children’s photos in news stories.

Connecticut trial lawyers also raised more than $50,000 for two charities, the Newtown Memorial Fund and the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund*, the latter of which was created by the State of Connecticut for the first responders who might need help covering healthcare expenses related to the shooting.

“As this first anniversary approaches, The Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association continues to be available to those persons affected by the shooting,” says CTLA President Doug Mahoney.  “Several members of our Board of Governors reside in Newtown and as an organization we strongly support all who have been harmed by this senseless act of violence. We hope that the families of the victims and the people of Newtown can find some small measure of solace during this holiday season.”

* Donations can be made directly to the State Treasurer’s Office for the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund. To make a direct donation to the state, mail checks (with Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund in the memo line) to Office of the State Treasurer, 55 Elm Street, Hartford CT 06106.

The United Way of Western Connecticut has also been assisting in receiving contributions for the fund. Private donations are paying for the fund, not tax dollars. Donations can be made to the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund through the United Way of Western Connecticut. Anyone wishing to donate can visit https://secure.uwwesternct.org/sandy-hook-workers-assistance-fund.

 

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm in Community Outreach, General, Pro Bono by kloiacono - RSS 2.0