On December 9, 2021, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland held its 116th Annual Meeting. To respect the health and safety of all, the event was presented as a livestream. The entire program was streamed online for free viewing, thanks to the generous support from more than 40 sponsors. More than $172,000 was raised through the virtual event to support Legal Aid’s services and programs.
The program began with Legal Aid Executive Director and attorney Colleen Cotter introducing the theme, a truism from the mind of activist and author Helen Keller (1880 –1968): “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” Keller’s statement was meant to encourage people to care for neighbors in need, and it was selected for how it embodies Legal Aid’s philosophy of change. The organization is known for leveraging and developing diverse partnerships to fuel programmatic growth and reach more families when and where they need civil legal counsel.
“We, together, can promote civil justice and create change,” Cotter went on to say. She explained that “we” means not just the hardworking staff, board, and volunteers at Legal Aid, or even the local legal community. Rather, she said, “we” means the entire community coming together to create systemic change.
Rita Maimbourg, President of Legal Aid’s Board of Directors and partner at Tucker Ellis, also spoke about how Legal Aid’s work emphasizes the collective “we.” In 2021 Legal Aid’s Board began a new strategic planning process and completed a legal needs assessment to identify new areas for advocacy and new goals for the organization. By building upon 116 years of work and evaluating current community needs, Legal Aid can move in new directions, where the need is greatest.
Keynote remarks from The Honorable Merrick Garland, United States Attorney General, further emphasized the importance of Legal Aid’s work to extend justice. “Without equal access to justice, the promise of equal justice rings hollow,” Garland said. He continued, “The partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is a model for what we hope to build in all 94 districts nationwide.”
Under Garland’s leadership, the Justice Department recently restored a standalone Office for Access to Justice and renewed its dedication to improving the federal government’s capacity to address the most urgent legal needs of communities across America. In his remarks to
Legal Aid’s virtual audience, Garland described how the “together we can” theme is especially relevant right now, because working together is vital to advancing the Justice Department’s top three priorities: upholding the rule of law, keeping American people safe, and protecting civil rights.
While the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic persisted throughout 2021, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland continued to achieve success, delivering high-quality legal services and working for systemic solutions to inequities and injustices in our society. The problems of poverty were only exacerbated by the pandemic, yet the staff and volunteers at Legal Aid provided a beacon of hope and helped thousands of Northeast Ohioans secure basic needs such as safety, shelter, and economic stability. During 2021 Legal Aid handled more than 6,600 cases, impacting more than 17,300 people.
During the Annual Meeting, several Legal Aid staff and volunteers were recognized for their outstanding contributions to the organization.
Andrea Price, a Senior Attorney in Legal Aid’s Economic Justice Group who has worked at Legal Aid for more than 35 years, was presented with the 2021 C. Lyonel Jones Lifetime Achievement Award. Named in honor of C. Lyonel Jones (1932 – 2006), who himself dedicated his entire legal career to Legal Aid, this award is presented to an outstanding staff member in recognition of a career dedicated to Legal Aid and its clients.
Honored with the Claude E. Clarke Award for outstanding service through professional performance were Tracy Ayers; Erik Meinhardt; attorney Lisa Splawinski; and attorney Matt Vincel. The 2021 Leadership Award was presented to Paige Nofel Kuri. Retiring board member attorney Barbara Roman was also recognized for her six years of service on Legal Aid’s Board of Directors.
Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program proudly presented the 2021 Legacy of Justice Award to attorney Julie Rabin, in recognition of her dedication and assistance on more than 70 pro bono cases. Finally, the 2021 Access to Justice Awards were presented to attorneys Ashley Bailes, James King, and Arthur Smialek for their contributions to advancing Legal Aid’s mission.
A full recording of Legal Aid’s 116th Annual Meeting is available on YouTube at youtube.com/user/LegalAidCleveland. More information about Legal Aid is available at lasclev.org. STORY SUBMITTED BY LAURA KLINGER, Development and Communications Associate, THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF CLEVELAND. Photographs provided by Legal Aid.