Boston Bar Foundation Grantee Spotlight

This year, the Boston Bar Foundation granted more than $1 million to 19 Boston-area legal aid and legal services organizations who are committed to providing access to justice for those most in need. The advocacy provided by BBF grantee organizations is essential in ensuring that people in challenging situations—regardless of income—are able to walk into court with a lawyer by their side and have a chance to attain the best possible outcome and a brighter future.

Here are just a few of these stories:

ABOUT

Casa Myrna is Boston’s largest provider of domestic violence awareness efforts and of shelter and supportive services to survivors. The Legal Advocacy Program seeks to address the unmet legal needs of victims of domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation. Each year, Casa Myrna serves over 1,000 survivors through three residential programs, housing assistance and advocacy, financial literacy education and job readiness skill building, individual and group counseling, legal advocacy and representation, children’s services, and community-based advocacy.

CLIENT STORY

Karla walked into Casa Myrna’s offices last summer immediately after being discharged from the hospital following a serious assault by her husband. She was able to meet with two Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) attorneys that same day, as she had immediate concerns pertaining to getting a restraining order, understanding her immigration status, and navigating the criminal process following her husband’s arrest. The LAP attorneys connected Karla with a Casa Myrna community advocate, who helped her obtain a temporary restraining order and into a shelter. A LAP attorney represented Karla at her restraining order extension hearing, securing a one-year extension of the order. However, at the hearing Karla was notified that a Clerk Magistrate hearing was pending, due to a retaliatory police report that her husband filed against her. The LAP attorney represented Karla at that hearing as well, to ensure that the charges did not issue against her. The LAP attorney has continued to support Karla in applying for immigration relief and in asserting her rights as the victim in the criminal case against her husband. She plans to file for divorce soon.

Clients’ names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

ABOUT

De Novo provides free civil legal assistance and affordable psychological counseling to low-income people, offering services that combat the effects of poverty and violence by helping clients and their children meet basic human needs for safety, income, health and housing.

 

CLIENT STORY

Esama is a Nigerian woman who was undergoing treatment for stage 4 breast cancer. Esama’s husband, a U.S. citizen, would not allow her to go to the hospital for cancer treatments or to attend physical therapy appointments for lymphedema, a painful side effect of radiation therapy. After Esama underwent a double mastectomy, her husband withheld her medication and forced her to do housework while she was still recovering. He hit Esama and belittled her for gaining weight and losing her hair. When Esama resisted, he threatened to send her back to her native Nigeria, where she would have no access to medical care. Lisa Weinberg, a senior immigration attorney at De Novo, successfully submitted a request to expedite Esama’s green card application based on her medical emergency and represented her in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Instead of waiting months, if not years, for her application to be processed, Esama’s request was approved within weeks. With a green card, Esama is now eligible for social security benefits and MassHealth insurance, and she is able to go through her cancer treatments free from the stress of being undocumented and the worry of being deported.

Clients’ names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

ABOUT

Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health: MassCOSH unites workers, unions and community groups with environmental and health activists to end dangerous work conditions, to organize for safe, secure jobs, and to advocate for healthy communities.

CLIENT STORY

Juana came to the MassCOSH Women’s Committee after she was invited by one of the members. An undocumented worker, Juana already suffered from depression she believed was rooted in the fear she felt every day that she may be separated from her children. However, it was not until after a peer-led workshop that was part of the agenda for the meeting she attended that she realized that her sadness was also rooted in the fact that she was a victim of sexual harassment.

As the workshop leader reviewed the different forms of sexual harassment, she began to cry as she identified with all the trainer was describing. Juana worked the night shift for an office leaning company. Her supervisor would turn off the lights while she worked, keeping her in total darkness, and then assault her by touching her inappropriately and pressing his body up against hers. Juana was devastated and her self-esteem and dignity plummeted. “I didn’t know what to do because the supervisor threatened me that if I said something, he would fire me for poor performance,” Juana told us. Like so

many perpetrators of sexual harassment, her supervisor took advantage of his position of power to keep Juana living “the darkest days of her life” for many months.

Then, Juana injured her back at work. She went to the doctor to seek treatment and the doctor referred her to MassCOSH. MassCOSH helped connect Juana with Barrales Law, who helped her gain access to workers’ compensation benefits for her injury. After the Women’s Committee meeting helped her better understand that she did not have to withstand the abuse of her supervisor, MassCOSH and Barrales Law also helped her file a sexual harassment complaint as well.

While that complaint is still pending, through the MassCOSH injured workers and women’s committees, Juana has found not only found the emotional support she needed to seek justice but has also emerged as an empowered leader. Now she counsels women who attend the Women’s Committee and encourages them to learn their rights and to fight for dignity, justice, and leadership. She also helps them by feel empowered by talking with other new women who come to the committee. “I feel like someone else. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I didn’t come to MassCOSH.”

Clients’ names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

ABOUT

The mission of MetroWest Legal Services is to provide legal advocacy to protect and advance the rights of the poor, elderly, disabled and other disenfranchised people and to assist them in obtaining legal, social and economic justice.

CLIENT STORY

Thirteen years after he reportedly defaulted in a lawsuit brought by the assignee of a credit card company, David was summoned to court in a collection action. The alleged debt with interest now exceeded $15,000 and David had no knowledge or recollection of the debt. He repeatedly asked the creditor (now a debt buyer of the assignee’s account) for verification of the debt and received in response the default judgment from a court action filed in 2006.

When he appeared pro se at the initial court hearing, court personnel directed him to MWLS for assistance. MWLS then contested the standing of the debt buyer to bring the supplementary process action. The debt buyer had no paperwork to establish that they had purchased this debt and the court immediately dismissed the supplementary court action.

The debt buyer then attempted to go back to the court that issued the judgment and sought to substitute themselves as the plaintiff in that 2006 civil action and to obtain an amended judgment in their name. MWLS again contested these efforts and again pointed to the absence of any documentation to establish that this debt buyer had purchased and acquired the debt they now sought to collect. The court where the judgment originated also refused to substitute the plaintiff or amend the judgment.

David, a full time “paycheck to paycheck” maintenance worker, feared that he would have to pay a 2005 debt he believes he never incurred or even knew existed these past fourteen years. His persistence, the court’s referral, and MWLS’s advocacy offered successful defense against an unlawful debt collection practice.

Clients’ names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

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