Grantee Spotlight - Legal Services of Southern Piedmont Receives Nonprofit Award
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP), based in Charlotte, received the state's highest honor for nonprofits from the NC Center for Nonprofits. The Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Awards recognize organizations that use exemplary nonprofit practices to be good stewards of the community's trust and funds. The center presented this award to LSSP at its statewide conference in September, attended by 800 nonprofit, business, and government leaders. The center gives each recipient $500 for professional development of its board and staff, and a commemorative work by Durham artist Galia Goodman.
NC IOLTA has made grants to LSSP since our first grant cycle in 1985. "We were so pleased—but not surprised—to learn that they had received this honor," said NC IOLTA Executive Director Evelyn Pursley. "We are proud to see our grantees recognized as exemplary by the Center for Nonprofits—those most knowledgeable about best practices for nonprofits and most familiar with nonprofit organizations throughout North Carolina." Other long-time IOLTA grantees who have received this award are: Pisgah Legal Services in Asheville, Mediation Network, and Disability Rights NC.
For 46 years, LSSP has provided advice and legal representation for eligible individuals and groups in the Charlotte area and west-central North Carolina. Its programs range from assistance with taxes and unemployment insurance to consumer protection for clients facing foreclosure, bankruptcy, or unfair trade practices. It also educates the community about legal barriers that low-income residents face, and it helps its clients to use self-help solutions and find economic opportunities whenever possible.
"Our mission is to provide a 'full measure of justice for those in need,' not a fraction of justice, not part or half," says Ken Schorr, LSSP executive director. "We use our skills as lawyers, through the legal system, to protect basic human rights and meet basic human needs such as safety, shelter, and access to health care."
"We selected LSSP for being a masterful 'first responder' when low-income North Carolinians face new problems in the legal system, and for working creatively with other nonprofits to find solutions," said Jane Kendall, president of the NC Center for Nonprofits. "LSSP sees the problem and then springs into action to work with nonprofits, government agencies, and for-profit businesses to address it."
Innovation and Collaboration
True to its mission, LSSP pays constant attention to the ever-changing needs of their client community to ensure their services address current challenges. One example of such responsiveness can be found in LSSP's Veterans Services Project. While LSSP has provided legal aid to veterans throughout their history, in 2012 LSSP noted a pressing legal need facing veterans seeking benefits, exacerbated by administrative backlogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and they responded. Research that year through Charlotte Bridge Home identified the many challenges facing veterans, noting that approximately 20% of veterans in Mecklenburg County were homeless. Launched in July 2012, the Veterans Services Project provides dedicated attention and resources to assist veterans in accessing disability benefits and other benefits related to their military service.
The project continues to gain momentum, serving 151 veterans in fiscal year 2013, obtaining $169,753 in benefits. LSSP's outreach to the veteran community has included partnership with W.G. Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury to offer legal clinics, Community Link to provide wrap-around services to homeless veterans, and the NC Veterans Pro Bono Network. In February 2013, LSSP hosted Introductions to Representing Veterans, a continuing legal education (CLE) event. The event trained more than 70 attorneys to represent veterans on a pro bono basis.
"Each year, LSSP serves 2,400 families facing a crisis of safety, shelter, health, or income," says Schorr. "However, we are nowhere near having the resources to meet the needs of the more than 300,000 people eligible and in need of legal assistance, but unable to afford private lawyers." LSSP supplements its staff of 13 attorneys and seven paralegals with a pro bono program that taps the expertise of 100 attorneys that contributed 1,514 hours last year alone.
"Figuring out how to get the most impact for the community from limited dollars is the hallmark of an effective nonprofit," says Emily Zimmern, chair of the NC Center for Nonprofits' Board of Directors and the president and CEO of the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte. "LSSP is extremely adept at getting attorneys to provide top-quality legal assistance for its clients at no charge. These are attorneys in law firms and corporations that are usually paid hundreds of dollars per hour."
LSSP has built a broad and strong foundation of community members who are dedicated cheerleaders for the organization. This year, LSSP hosted their 8th annual Justice for All luncheon on March 25. The record-breaking event, attended by 640 guests, raised nearly $90,000 for the Access to Justice campaign, a fundraising initiative undertaken by LSSP and Legal Aid of North Carolina. The luncheon celebrated the contributions of the community and highlighted the importance of legal aid.
"Nonprofit leaders have to continue to earn the community's trust every day. Sound practices in their governance and management help them maintain this public trust," said Zimmern.
LSSP's board takes an active role in this event and other efforts of LSSP including resource and pro bono development. Board committees play a key role in operation of the organization. LSSP's board members regularly assess their collective performance, as well as the performance of individual board members and the executive director.
Attorney Bill Farthing is president of LSSP's Board of Directors and a partner at Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP in Charlotte. He says, "The keys to LSSP’s success are an absolute focus on the mission, mutual trust and respect among the board and the executive staff, and a board that holds itself accountable for fulfilling its responsibilities.”
"These are the kinds of sound practices that effective nonprofits use," says CPA Walter Davenport of Raleigh, who serves as treasurer of the NC Center.
Civil legal aid helps ensure fairness for all in America's justice system, regardless of how much money one has. As noted in the award nomination by the Equal Access to Justice Commission, "With unique attention to program collaboration, community responsiveness, and the development of strong community support, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont is a model provider of civil legal aid across the state, and deserving of recognition for their longstanding excellence with a 2014 Sector Stewardship Award from the NC Center for Nonprofits."