We’d like to open this autumn edition of Justice Matters with a message of gratitude for all of our supporters who joined in the success of our 36-hour Online Blitz for Legal Services. Thanks to you, we are closer to meeting our annual goal of raising $350,000 for civil legal services in New Hampshire in 2015.
To show you what your donations to the Campaign mean, in this edition we’re sharing the stories of real New Hampshire legal aid clients, Jessie and Margaret.
Though Jessie is a young single mom on the Seacoast, and Margaret lives in an elderly-housing community in the North Country, both of their stories show how civil legal aid empowers the most vulnerable people in our state to obtain equal access to justice.
Click on the bars below to open Jessie and Margaret’s Legal Aid Success Stories.
Jessie's Legal Aid Success Story
Jessie is a single mother on the Seacoast, studying to be a surgical technician. She’s trying to build a future for herself and her daughter, Jocelin and she’s determined it will be “the best future possible.”
But she wasn’t always so optimistic. Shortly after Jessie gave birth, Jocelin’s father kicked her and the baby out of his home. Though she filed for child support, he refused to provide for them, and left Jessie struggling to make ends meet on her own.
“Basically, he just vanished,” Jessie said.
As months went by and the possibility the court would order him to pay child support became more real, baby Jocelin’s father filed his own petition, requesting custody of Jocelin for four days each week.
“All of this time has gone by, and he’s still not being a parent to this baby in any way. But I knew nothing about the whole process or what was going to happen, or anything at all,” Jessie said. “It was terrifying to me. What if the judge says I’m expected to give my baby to someone she doesn’t even know?”
She panicked. But then she called LARC.
A LARC advocate advised Jessie that she could explain that her ex had so far ignored all opportunities to see his daughter. Her advocate told Jessie that since the father and child were basically strangers, she could request supervised visitation instead of custody, to reduce the chance Jocelin might suffer separation anxiety and trauma.
Jessie followed LARC’s advice, and the judge agreed with her, awarding her primary custody and child support, and requiring the father to arrange supervised visitation at a nearby center.
Months later, he still hadn’t contacted the center to arrange his visits. So, at a recent final hearing, the court said that in light of the father’s obvious lack of interest, Jessie does not have to allow him any visitation in the future.
“LARC is amazing, especially for people in my situation,” Jessie said. “When you’re trying to stand up for your child and you’re alone and you’re scared, you need people there to help you do what is the best thing for your child. Having options for information and help is so important when you’re trying to make sure your child has the best future possible.”
Margaret's Legal Aid Success Story
Margaret, who is 75 and has some difficulty getting around, noticed a poster one day on a board in the hallway announcing that the electricity would be shut off for 48 hours so the housing authority that owns her building could install a new emergency generator.
Margaret worried for her neighbors, many of whom don’t leave their apartments and might not have seen the notice at all. One friend is blind; others use oxygen tanks that rely on electricity.
Without electricity, the elevators would not work, stranding disabled residents on the upper floors. An outage of two days or more would mean the residents, all of whom have limited low incomes, would lose all of the food in their refrigerators and freezers.
When Margaret called the housing authority staff, they said residents should arrange to stay in a hotel or with relatives if they need electricity. Anyone who wanted to stay in his or her apartment should arrange for family to deliver food, since the stoves would be out of service.
“Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we don’t want to be independent,” Margaret said. She called the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who told her to contact New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
NHLA spoke with the housing authority staff to explain the many repercussions of the shut-off they hadn’t anticipated, and the legal obligations they have to make more appropriate plans with the least disruption possible.
After some negotiating, the housing authority postponed the shut-off. In the meantime, they contacted each resident personally and sent more notices that asked about residents’ special needs. When the project was rescheduled, housing authority staff patrolled the building to be available for anyone who needed assistance.
In the end, the power outages were limited to only a few hours. During the outage, one of the contractors involved served a free lunch to residents through a restaurant he also owns.
Margaret said she was happy with the changes, and NHLA is grateful she had the courage to stand up to an ill-conceived plan.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect from legal aid,” Margaret said. “I wanted to know what my rights were in terms of being a senior citizen and living in low income housing. I wanted to see what I could do. And I got something accomplished. We all have rights. I just had to stick up for them.”
Also in this edition:
- Meet NHLA and LARC’s newest staff members.
- Our advocates appeared in communities across New Hampshire, from Berlin to Portsmouth to Nashua — and on local TV programs — educating potential clients about their rights and training our partners in other community services organizations to recognize when legal aid might help their low-income and elderly clients.
- See recent local and national media coverage of the Campaign, our programs, and civil legal aid.
This quarter we also honor the following staff anniversaries:
- Connie Rakowsky, 6 years
- Kim Flint, 17 years
- Breckie Hayes-Snow, 19 years
- Sarah Mattson Dustin, 9 years
- Mary Krueger, 9 years
- Robin McCallum, 26 years
- Dona Larsen, 32 years
- Vickie Brooks, 36 years
- Elliott Berry, 40 years
Donations to the Campaign for Legal Services support the work of New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the Legal Advice & Referral Center. Civil legal aid programs like NHLA and LARC help the most vulnerable New Hampshire residents obtain equal access to justice through advice, information and representation in court and before local, state and federal agencies.
Without civil legal aid, many low-income residents would have no where else to turn for help navigating the legal system. For many, legal assistance is the only path to obtaining critical services and basic needs like food, shelter, health care and safety for themselves and their families. To contribute to this important work with a secure, tax-deductible gift, visit www.nh-cls.org/you-can-help
Thank you for your continued support of civil legal aid in New Hampshire.