LSSP wins 2014 Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award from N.C. Center for Nonprofits
RALEIGH, N.C. – Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, based in Charlotte, received the state’s highest honor for nonprofits today from the N.C. 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 the award at its statewide conference in Research Triangle Park attended by 800 nonprofit, business, and government leaders.
“The legal system is not always fair to low-wage workers, minorities, children, the elderly, immigrants, and veterans,” says Ken Schorr, executive director of Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP).
“Our mission is to provide a ‘full measure of justice for those in need,’ not a fraction of justice, not part or half,” says Schorr. “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,” says Jane Kendall, president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. “It sees the problem and then springs into action to work with nonprofits, government agencies, and for-profit businesses to address it.”
“LSSP provides excellent services to individuals and families, but it also has found other ways to help millions more people across the state,” says Kendall. “It works for positive legislation and administrative actions that focus on the root causes of poverty. When necessary, it also initiates litigation to enforce the laws and to assist even more North Carolinians.”
“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 N.C. 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,” says Zimmern. LSSP supplements its staff of 13 attorneys and 7 paralegals with a pro bono program that taps the expertise of 100 attorneys that contributed 1,514 hours last year alone.
For 47 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.
True to its mission, LSSP is always on the lookout for new problems facing its clients. In early 2012, for example, it noticed that more veterans were experiencing legal problems in seeking the medical benefits promised to them. This was exacerbated by backlogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Research that year through Charlotte Bridge Home identified the many challenges facing
veterans, including that 20% of veterans in Mecklenburg County were homeless. This included both young and elderly veterans.
Long before the public was aware of the administrative logjams at the VA, LSSP launched the Veterans Legal Services Project in July of 2012. The Project focuses attention and resources on those in Mecklenburg County who have returned from military service. It helps with disability claims and appeals for disabilities and pensions, as well as housing, employment law, other legal and consumer protections.
LSSP’s outreach to the veteran community has included legal clinics in partnerships with the W.G. Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, comprehensive services to homeless veterans through Community Link, and the NC Veterans Pro Bono Network. It has trained more than 75 attorneys to represent veterans on a pro bono basis.
LSSP often uses this ripple effect to multiply the impact of its efforts. It collaborates with
dozens of other nonprofits, as well as government agencies and businesses, to take a
comprehensive approach to assisting people that cannot get full access to the legal system.
Last year, LSSP again sprung to action to help in the effort to enroll North Carolinians in health insurance plans. With a navigator grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, LSSP worked as part of a consortium of 10 nonprofits to help individuals and small employers shop for, select, and enroll in qualified health plans and access tax credits and subsidies. The consortium was led by Community Care of N.C.
As reported nationally, North Carolina was among the states in the federal exchange with the highest enrollment numbers, due in part to the swift action of LSSP and many other nonprofits across the state.
“Each year, LSSP serves 2,400 families facing a crisis of safety, shelter, health, or income,” says Schorr. “But, 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.”
Ted Fillette of Charlotte is assistant director of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) which
works closely with LSSP. Fillette says, “With 12,000 eligible clients for every staff attorney of LSSP and LANC, we have to prioritize our services. We focus on the essentials for sustaining life: income, shelter, and safety.”
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.”
LSSP’s board members regularly assess their collective performance, as well as the performance of individual board members and the executive director.
“These are the kinds of sound practices that effective nonprofits use,” says CPA Walter Davenport of Raleigh, who serves as Treasurer of the N.C. Center. “The N.C. Center for Nonprofits provides sample policies to make it easier for organizations to conduct these kinds of assessments and to adopt the policies and practices they need to follow.”
“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. “The Center lifts up these good practices and trains nonprofits to do things the right way.”
Presenting the Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award to Schorr and Farthing were Davenport, Kendall, and Trisha Lester, senior vice president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. Other LSSP attendees were Teresa Falzone, chief financial officer; Katya Riasanovsky, director of pro bono services; and Brittney Coleman, director of development.
Special guests included Jennifer Lechner of High Point and Evelyn Pursley and Mary Irvine of Raleigh. Lechner nominated LSSP for the award. She is executive director of the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission of the N.C. Supreme Court, and Irvine is its Access to Justice coordinator. Pursley is executive director of the N.C. State Bar’s IOLTA program.
The N.C. Center for Nonprofits established the awards in 2005. Prudential Financial, Inc. has sponsored them since 2008. The Center gives each winner $500 for professional development for its board and staff, a commemorative work by Durham artist Galia Goodman, and extensive recognition with nonprofit leaders across the state and with the winners’ local, state, and federal elected officials.
The other 2014 Award winners are El Futuro in Durham and Financial Pathways of the Piedmont in Winston-Salem.
On Friday, the Center’s conference at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Research Triangle Park will feature an in-depth workshop on “Adaptive Leadership” by Jeffrey Lawrence and Sherry Hakimi of Cambridge Leadership Associates. They will use the model of adaptive leadership developed by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Friday’s in-depth workshops on “Nonprofit Sustainability” and “The 2014 Legal Update” are sold out.
Founded in 1990, the Center works to enrich North Carolina’s communities and economy through a strong nonprofit sector and nonprofit voice. It serves as an information center on effective practices in nonprofit organizations, a statewide learning network for nonprofit board and staff members, and an advocate for the nonprofit sector as a whole. It is the leading voice for nonprofit organizations across the state.
For more information on the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, its statewide conference, or this award, contact Trisha Lester, senior vice president, at email@example.com, 919-790-1555 ext. 104, or 919-971-5423 (cell). Also visit its website at www.ncnonprofits.org.