Helping Adults with Developmental Disabilities Achieve Independence

Sail Housing residents with Michele Smith (back row, R), who brought Sail Housing from idea to reality.

When Attorney Michele Smith of Johnson Johnson Larson & Schaller PC was looking to help her autistic son achieve adult independence after high school, she was disappointed to find that no suitable, sustainable housing options for adults with developmental disabilities existed in her community. She turned this disappointment into a non-profit organization that transformed into Supporting Access to Independent Living (SAIL) Housing.

Nationwide, nearly 60% of all adults with developmental disabilities continue to live with a family member throughout their adulthood. Many could successfully live independently, but do not get an opportunity to learn due to a lack of affordable housing that also provides a supportive learning environment. Without meaningful opportunity, many of these adults become increasingly dependent on family, and then can face overwhelming challenges when their aging family member is no longer able to house or care for them.

SAIL Housing’s mission is “to advocate for and promote sustainable housing for persons with developmental disabilities in a life enriching environment that fosters dignity and independence.”

Ms. Smith has volunteered more than 500 hours annually to this cause because she believes, “Meaningful participation, creative collaboration, and giving back are important for a community to thrive, and a thriving and interactive community benefits everyone.”

In January 2012, SAIL Housing opened Willakenzie Crossing in Eugene, Oregon, in partnership with Metropolitan Affordable Housing Corp. Willakenzie Crossing is a new affordable housing complex with 16 apartments reserved for residents with developmental disabilities. SAIL Housing has developed and maintains a collaborative and supportive community that involves residents, families, personal service providers, and agency case management. SAIL Housing also coordinates skills classes, activities, and events designed to promote self-determination and independence in living.

“We are witnessing individual successes at Willakenzie Crossing that go well beyond expectations in the areas of independent living, education, work, and resident participation in the community.  These are capable and wonderful adults who want nothing more than to continue to learn, and succeed in living enriched and independent lives. They are motivated and working very hard,” says Ms. Smith. “I firmly believe it is incumbent on every person to find some meaningful way to help their community, however small or large.”

Posted on August 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Motley Rice Assists Lowcountry Nonprofits and Residents

Anti-terrorism and human rights lawyer Michael Elsner paints the Shaw Community Center.

Headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, the Motley Rice firm gives employees the opportunity to get out of the office or go beyond the courtroom, and get out into the community. This year, more than 80 employees left their desks to participate in the firm’s third annual ProjectGo! Community volunteer program.

Their time was spent helping groups in need throughout the Lowcountry. This year, that meant helping East Cooper Meals on Wheels, Lowcountry Food Bank, Pet Helpers, Shaw Community Center, Trident Habitat for Humanity and Charleston Parks Conservancy at Elliotborough Park and Community Garden, Cannon, and Simonton Parks.

Volunteers at the Lowcountry Food Bank assembled more than 300 emergency relief boxes that will be distributed to those who come to the food bank with immediate needs. Earlier in the day, this same group of Motley Rice employees delivered dozens of meals to the homebound through East Cooper Meals on Wheels.

Ruddian Duggins, Susan Williams & Danielle Heck assemble relief boxes at the Lowcountry Food Bank.

Volunteers at the Charleston Parks Conservancy sites helped with beautification efforts at Simonton Park, Cannon Park, and Elliotborough Park and Community Garden, where they created planters for vegetables and handled maintenance needs. On both days at Pet Helpers, employees helped with landscaping projects, cleaning, socializing pets, and even constructing an animal obstacle course. Shaw Community Center put its volunteers to work painting interior walls, and the firm’s volunteer crew in Summerville worked with Trident Habitat for Humanity on a home being constructed for a local citizen in need of housing.

Motley Rice attorneys Hayleigh Stewart, Meghan Johnson Carter, & Carmen Scott clean up Simonton Park.

“It’s been exciting to watch ProjectGO! continue to grow and develop into a highly anticipated annual event for our employees,” said Michael Elsner, chair of the firm’s Charitable Giving Committee. “Going into the community and giving back through hands-on projects has proved not only beneficial for the organizations but also rewarding for our employees. We hope more companies will be encouraged to adopt similar projects for employees to encourage year-round volunteerism and build relationships within the community.”

The firm’s Charitable Giving Committee is already planning for ProjectGO! 2014. Visit to learn more about the organizations the firm has helped and how you or your not-for-profit can get involved.

For more information about the firm’s Charitable Contributions Committee, contact Motley Rice member Michael Elsner (NY, SC, VA) at 1.800.768.4026.

Posted on August 2, 2013 at 9:11 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Lawyers by Day, Rock Stars by Night

By day, they are lawyers at JSS Barristers, a litigation boutique law firm in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. By night, they are the Advo-Cats, a rock band that performs exclusively to raise money for charity.

“The Advo-Cats started purely for our own fun,” explains lead singer Oliver Ho. “We take pride in the fact that we are a band that is able to give back to the community…we take less pride in our actual musical abilities as a band.”

The name of the band is a nod to JSS Barristers’ specialty, which is almost all areas of civil litigation. This is commonly described as advocacy work, hence the name the Advo-Cats.


Leading the band and the firm is partner Glenn Solomon on drums. He is joined onstage by Oliver Ho on the keyboard and singing lead vocals, Darren Reed on guitar and vocals, bassist Geoff Boddy, and guitarists Simon McCleary, Vincent Light, and Micah Chartrand.

Photo courtesy of

The band formed in 2011 and performed for charity for the first time in February 2012 at the Rock for Dimes Battle of the Corporate Bands in support of March of Dimes Canada. Ahead of the band’s debut, the Advo-Cats invited everyone at JSS Barristers, friends, clients, and contacts to buy tickets, donate, or sponsor the band. Partner Glenn Solomon donated 50 cents for every dollar donated by others to the cause. Sponsorships offered perks including tickets to the show, limited edition band t-shirts, and having your logo displayed on stage during the band’s set.

The JSS Barristers Advo-Cats have also entertained the crowd at a fundraiser for the Between Friends Club with over three hours of continuous music. They won the Battle of the Bar Bands, a fundraiser for Alberta Lawyers’ Assist, and took home awards for most funds raised and most corporate sponsors. Between these three shows in 2012, the Advo-Cats raised approximately $75,000.

Members of the band have their own reasons for joining, but the consensus is that “the practice of law can be demanding on one’s life, and having a musical outlet is a great stress-relief.  Supporting the community is an honor and a duty, and this particular activity combines our passion for music and the community.” For Mr. Ho, who was enlisted by drummer, Managing Partner, and his boss Glenn Solomon, it was also based on logic – “Everyone knows that when your boss asks you to sing in his band, you agree.”

The Advo-Cats are all about enjoying making music, entertaining the audience, and raising money for charity.

Photo courtesy

“JSS Barristers has always emphasized a culture of graciousness to others, gratitude for our good fortune, and service to the community.” The Advo-Cats is just one way the firm achieves this.

While living the rock star dream is fun, the band members have all decided to stick to their day jobs and reserve their musical talents for charity fundraisers.

Posted on July 31, 2013 at 10:37 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Michigan Auto Law has College Rivalry Benefit Community

“We are proud to be lawyers who help people. That is what we do. And giving back is just one more way that we can live and demonstrate our values. It is why we became people lawyers, not insurance company lawyers,” says Attorney Steven Gursten, head of Michigan Auto Law.

As attorneys who specialize in automobile accidents, the firm participates in initiatives to promote and improve safety. They also make donations and do public service work that improves the lives of members of their community.

While the firm takes giving back to the community seriously, they also like to have fun with it. Most of Michigan Auto Law’s attorneys received their undergraduate or law degree from the University of Michigan or Michigan State University. The firm takes the big in-state rivalry games in football and basketball seasons as an opportunity to promote firm spirit and make donations to a good cause.


“We turn this rivalry into a fun event for the entire office,” explains Mr. Gursten. “The rivalry concludes with a charity donation.”

Attorneys from the losing school donate to a charity chosen by the attorneys from the winning school. The most recent contribution was made to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The attorneys also make a point to also reach out to students. Seeing the serious consequences of distracted driving in their work, the attorneys take time to speak at high schools and colleges throughout Michigan. They educate these students on the dangers of distracted driving, texting while driving, and driving while impaired.

Another way the lawyers of Michigan Auto Law help people is by volunteering their time at local food banks. At least once a year, the lawyers make food donation packages to be distributed throughout the state. They packed 4,182 pounds of fresh produce for Forgotten Harvest, a non-profit organization that distributes the food to 250 emergency food providers in Michigan. The firm also contributed to the 46 million pounds of emergency food that Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan was able to distribute to 600 soup kitchens, shelters, and pantries. In addition, Michigan Auto Law has made financial donations to fight hunger.

The attorneys at Michigan Auto Law feel strongly about improving the safety of our roads. In metro Detroit, along Interstate-75 between 14 Mile Road and Rochester Road, lies a two-mile stretch of highway that has been adopted by Michigan Auto Law as a part of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program. The firm visits its section of highway several times each year to pick up the trash and make this busy stretch of highway safer.

Mr. Gursten emphasizes, “It’s important to show that lawyers are different from the terrible stereotypes that we often see today. We really care and really want to help people,” and the attorneys at Michigan Auto Law are doing just that with their many charitable efforts.

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Standing Up to Big Industries: The Pro Bono Cases of Vince Powers

When Project Extra Mile, a network of community partnerships working to prevent underage drinking, sought to have alcopops classified as distilled spirits, they knew opposing the alcohol industry would be challenging, so they enlisted the assistance of Vince Powers of Vincent M. Powers & Associates.

“Not one to shy away from controversy, Vince guided Project Extra Mile through the legal terrain around a highly contentious issue that some of the state’s highest officials were fighting to protect.  Vince was committed and undeterred, walking side-by-side with us against a very powerful industry,” says Nicole Carritt, Executive Director of Project Extra Mile.

The sweet, fruity alcopop appeals to youth, but is also full of hard liquor. With alcopops not classified as liquor, the alcohol industry benefits by being able to have the price compete with that of beer instead of hard liquor and allowing them to be sold by a greater number of vendors across the state. This allows the industry to create greater access to the products and to market the drink to youth, a price-conscious group with less disposable income.

In March 2012, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Lancaster County District Court that classified alcopops as distilled spirits.

Classifying alcopops as distilled spirits requires the industry to pay higher taxes on the drinks, which will raise the price to the consumer. Statistics show that 26 percent of alcohol sold in Nebraska is consumed by underage persons. Project Extra Mile and Mr. Powers’ victory will limit this group’s access to alcopops. After the ruling, the Governor rushed legislation that restored the alcohol industry’s tax break. Many other states applauded the Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, and will use it as a model as they work to address alcopops.

Vince Powers receives award from Project Extra Mile for his work in the alcopops case.

Mr. Powers says he took this case pro bono because Project Extra Mile was “being treated shabbily by the Governor and some state senators when they tried to get the Legislature to tax alcopops according to Nebraska law and I was confident I could prevail. Unfortunately, the legislature and Governor undid the Supreme Court’s decision by changing the law to benefit the industry and harm the taxpayers.”

Mr. Powers handles pro bono cases to make sure “that folks get a fair shake.” In a recent pro bono case, he obtained a restraining order to stop a deed of trust sale for an elderly couple who had been cheated by the mortgage company, allowing the couple to remain in their home.

“I make a good living because of the law,” says Mr. Powers. “The taxpayers provide the courthouse, the judges, the juries, and the staff – so it’s important to repay the community.”

Ms. Carritt expresses the gratitude of Project Extra Mile, “Vince saw the injustice to Nebraska’s children clearly and fought ardently for the appropriate classification of the products. He will forever be remembered for his commitment to social justice.”

Posted on July 9, 2013 at 7:09 pm in Community Outreach, General, Pro Bono by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

West Virginia New Lawyers Raise Money for Covenant House

Jon Mani, WVAJ Board; Taylor Downs NLD chair; Bernie Layne WVAJ Pres.; Ellen Allen, Exec Dir, Covenant House; Ed Weber, President, Cov. House

The West Virginia Association for Justice New Lawyers Division raised $11,550 during its spring community service project for Charleston’s Covenant House.

“For more than 30 years Covenant House of Charleston has provided an important safety net for some of the most vulnerable families and individuals in the Kanawha Valley,” said Taylor Downs, chair of the WVAJ New Lawyers Division and lawyer with Manchin Injury Law Group in Fairmont. “It provides food, clothing, housing assistance and a safe place to stay for people who have nowhere else to turn for help.”

The New Lawyers Division—for members who have practiced law 10 years or less—formed in early 2013. For its inaugural service project, the group selected to raise money for Covenant House. The lawyers saw a similarity between the work of Covenant House and that of plaintiff trial lawyers:  giving voice to the voiceless.

“Covenant House’s leaders are important advocates on behalf of the people they serve, giving them a voice when policy decisions are made at the local, state and national level. In that sense, they are very much like the members of WVAJ,” said Downs. “Our members ensure that any West Virginian, regardless of status or income, has a voice and an advocate in our courtrooms—even when taking on the most wealthy and powerful.”

The New Lawyers Division would like to find additional ways to assist Covenant House in the future.

“We stand in awe of this generous gift and will use it toward the stewardship of social justice for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Ellen Allen, executive director of Covenant House.  “We thank the WVAJ New Lawyers Division for their commitment to supporting and giving back to their community.  We could not meet the needs of the homeless and working poor without such contributions.”


Posted on at 4:08 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Washington County Lawyers Support All in Tennessee

The belief that indigent and low income individuals should have equal access to our court systems has led to grass roots efforts by Washington County, Tennessee, lawyers to connect with the general public. The Saturday Clinic, General Sessions Court project, and Pro Se Domestic Project have proved successful and continue to grow and expand throughout the state.

Tony Seaton of the Law Offices of Tony Seaton, PLLC along with trial lawyers McKenna Cox and Matt Bolton started the initiatives in October 2009. After learning to be a trial lawyer through pro bono work, Mr. Seaton had a desire to help people who cannot afford the legal services they need.  Mr. Seaton now volunteers his expertise to those who cannot afford legal services at least eight hours per month, which he considers “one of the most rewarding things I have accomplished as a lawyer.”

The Saturday Clinic establishes a set place where clients can find lawyers and paralegals ready to offer free and basic advice about bankruptcy, collection matters, divorce, eviction, foreclosure, and repossession. The Saturday Clinic is open for three hours, in which time approximately 40 clients are helped. This means that about 2,000 individuals have been helped during the Saturday Clinic so far.

Going to court without representation can be frightening because of the unknown, but in the Washington County (TN) General Sessions Court, attorneys from the Washington County Bar Association make it a little less nerve-wracking. A group of attorneys volunteer to speak with any unrepresented defendants who want their advice. They usually speak with 15-20 individuals each month.

The number of pro se litigants (litigants who represent themselves) in Washington County is high and rising. A partnership between attorneys and judges has established a monthly pro se domestic docket day. A domestic docket with many pro se litigants forces judges to play a balancing game of assisting without offering advice. Attorneys appear in court on the scheduled pro se docket day and assist the pro se litigants, benefitting all parties.

All of these initiatives fulfill a consistent need for pro bono services. Washington County serves as a model for counties across Tennessee. Everyone benefits from each of the projects and the trial lawyers are as eager to help as the individuals are to receive free assistance.

Mr. Seaton is on the statewide Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission and chairman of the subcommittee to establish free legal clinics throughout Tennessee. The commission has greatly contributed to the development of a telephone line offering legal information and referrals (1-888-alegalz), an email system for legal questions (, and a website for general legal information and court-approved forms ( Like the initiatives, all of these new services are free of charge.     

Attorney Seaton recently showed up in court to volunteer free legal services as part of the Access to Justice Initiative. A woman was being sued for credit card debt despite having fulfilled her obligations under a mutually agreed upon payment plan. The creditor attorney acknowledged that his company often sues even if there is a payment plan. Mr. Seaton pointed out that the judge would be equally as upset as his client if this case was presented, and the creditor attorney agreed to dismiss the claim.

“The next day I received one of the warmest and sincerest thank-you notes that I have ever received,” says Mr. Seaton. “It reminded me of why we do what we do.  We touch lives and serve people, partially out of a sense of obligation to our profession and our community.  Our state Supreme Court has initiated, encouraged, and enabled us to join hands to provide these programs.”

Posted on June 28, 2013 at 6:12 pm in Community Outreach, General, Pro Bono by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Casual Friday for a Cause

 “Please excuse our casual appearance!” reads a sign displayed at Furr & Henshaw every Friday. The sign explains why the trial lawyers and staff of this South Carolina law firm are wearing t-shirts, sweatshirts, jeans, and flip flops at the office – because they each contributed $1 to a collection that is donated at the end of the year to a deserving cause or individual. All of the money is matched by partner Fayrell Furr, who, more than 20 years ago, agreed to let employees dress down on Fridays if they contribute $1 to be donated collectively to charity around Christmas time. Everyone loved the idea and the rest is history!

So far, Mr. Furr reports that Friday Dress-Down Day “has been good for office morale and makes us all remember the reason for the holidays.”

Last year, Canine Angels was the recipient of the Friday Dress-Down Day money. According to its website, Canine Angels “rescues dogs from shelters and trains them to become service dogs for disabled American veterans and first responders” to help veterans reclaim their independence.

Fayrell Furr (L) meets the Canine Angels

In previous years, Friday Dress-Down Day money has been given to the Red Cross following Hurricane Katrina, Head Start to buy Christmas presents for the less fortunate, United Service Organizations, Inc. (USO) to buy phone cards for the troops, an 11-year-old boy who has had 47 jaw surgeries because of his cancer, and a good samaritan who was paralyzed after being dragged by a car while chasing a purse snatcher.

“Our office staff is very aware that our good fortune comes from word of mouth of those in the community since we do no advertising except yellow page ads and our web site.  We want to give back to the less fortunate and to our troops who sacrifice so much for our freedom.  As a Viet Nam Vet, I know the hardship our troops endure every day and we want to give them and their families some joy during the holidays,” says Mr. Furr.

Besides Friday Dress-Down Day, Furr & Henshaw also give back to the community by participating in Pass the Cash, American Heart Walks, annual charity softball tournaments, participation in a telethon to provide free legal advice, and funding the firm’s Legal Nurse Consultant Barbara Stanley’s project to knit 100 scarves for the World Special Olympics athletes.

This year’s recipient of the Friday Dress-Down Day money has yet to be voted on, but based on years past, we know it will be a very well-deserving cause or individual.

Posted on June 20, 2013 at 10:42 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Montana Lawyers Help Young Athletes Kick Their Way to Success

Great Falls, Montana, has a tradition of producing college and professional football kickers. One such legacy is personal injury lawyer Anders Blewett of Hoyt & Blewett PLLC. Anders kicked field goals for the local high school with his brother, Drew, as his holder, and both went on to play NCAA college football and practice personal injury law.

On the appeal of kicking, Anders explains that, “Kicking helps young athletes learn important life lessons about diligence and overcoming their fears.  To be a good kicker you have to trust yourself, learn to let go, and tolerate uncertainty. Few things are more exhilarating than running onto the field and putting it all on the line with a last minute field goal.”

To carry on the tradition, the Blewett brothers started Blewett Kicking Camp. Drew and Anders Blewett serve as the camp’s coaches. They teach and demonstrate the fundamental techniques of football’s kicking game including field goal kicking, punting, and kick-offs. Demonstrations and individualized attention help the campers improve their skills. Forty young athletes attend each of the camp’s weeklong  sessions on a first come, first served basis to allow the coaches to give each camper one-on-one attention.

“Kicking footballs is something that kids love to do but few coaches know much about it. We strive to put kicking on the radar of these kids at an early age and open their eyes to the opportunities that exist in the kicking game. It is very satisfying to help young athletes learn the proper kicking form and encourage them to set goals for themselves. Over the course of our camp sessions we often see significant improvements, which really makes it all worthwhile,” says Drew.

Hundreds of young athletes have attended Blewett Kicking Camp and several have gone on to become varsity high school kickers around Montana and earn state-wide recognition and college scholarships.

At the end of the day, the Blewett brothers run the camp to pay it forward. “Growing up we had many folks help us out along the way and we feel compelled to do the same. Our camp is a rewarding way to give back to the community and help kids discover talents that might have otherwise gone unnoticed,” explains Anders.

The 8th Annual Blewett Kicking Camp kicks off on June 19!

Posted on June 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Georgia Lawyer Volunteers for Community Assistance Center

Decatur, Georgia, attorney Robert Levinson has been practicing law for 35 years, but the past seven have included volunteer work for the Community Assistance Center (CAC), a non-profit that serves people who are experiencing unexpected financial crises. He has served on the Board of Directors during that entire time, and, after spending five years on the executive committee, moved into the position as President of the Board of CAC in 2012. Levinson volunteers 10-20 hours each month working with the CAC to actively promote their programs, to work with the CEO on all issues that are directly before the Board as well as personnel and legal matters, and to pursue funding opportunities so that the CAC can continue to help families who are experiencing job loss, wage reduction, high medical expenses, family separation or illness.

“I have always had empathy for my clients, but seeing them in the office is much different from seeing them come to the CAC for the necessities of life. Watching the faces of the children when they receive Christmas or holiday presents — which they believe come from their parents — or the parents when we provide Thanksgiving food baskets and gift cards, is very fulfilling,” said Levinson.

CAC is managed by a small staff and operated by hundreds of volunteers. They work daily to meet the basic needs of their clients by providing food (around a million pounds annually), shelter (helping individuals and families stay in their homes with rent and utility assistance), clothing, and education (offering classes in Citizenship, Excel, Quicken, computer use, ESL, etc.).

“I have been blessed throughout the years both personally and professionally. I felt that I should give back more actively than I had in the past, and an opportunity arose for my membership on the board and to help with advising on legal issues [pro bono]. I have represented injured workers since 1977 and have been involved in trying to help them through times of difficulty and stress. The CAC puts additional focus on providing food, rent and utility assistance, clothing, and education which I cannot do as either an attorney or individual,” Levinson explained.

In addition to acting as Executive Secretary, Vice President, and President, Mr. Levinson has rewritten the bylaws, helped develop the latest five-year strategic plan, worked to create a board with more talent and diversity, attended numerous public functions, spoken to groups, and expanded his knowledge of non-profit law and administration by attending classes put on by University of Georgia, Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta, and the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

Levinson and the rest of the CAC volunteers are currently working on a branding strategy to help increase the presence and awareness of this non-profit which helps more than 2,000 families each year.

Posted on at 9:21 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0