Central Susquehanna Community Foundation Awards NPLS $30,000 to Keep Legal Aid Office Open in Bloomsburg
NPLS is pleased to announce that a decision to close its Bloomsburg office, serving Columbia and Montour Counties, has been reversed due to local funding support. The Berwick Health and Wellness Fund of the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation awarded NPLS a $20,000 grant over a two-year period, and the Conway and Gertrude Dickson Fund of the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation also contributed $10,000 to NPLS over the same two-year period. The Central Susquehanna Community Foundation demonstrated its belief in the importance of civil legal aid in the Bloomsburg area by contributing funds to support a secretary position at NPLS’ Bloomsburg office. The person funded by this grant award will support the full time attorney who helps our clients with housing, consumer, and family related legal issues. The mission of North Penn Legal Services (NPLS) is to provide civil legal representation to low-income people and ensure equal access to justice for all.
Keeping this office open in its historic location is convenient for clients. The attorney will handle approximately 200 cases over a two-year period, which is consistent with current service levels. On average, NPLS lawyers and paralegals resolve three legal problems for each client and often provide valuable connections to other local social service agencies. Staff often works not only as a legal advocate; but also as a social worker. For example, an eviction case may also uncover a cash flow issue which has led to consumer law problem which is in need of a referral to a local credit counseling organization. Because the legal issues of our clients intersect with non-legal issues complicated by a life of poverty, NPLS staff are well-connected to other community organizations that can help our clients. NPLS staff play an important part in the circle of support that exists for low-income people. While our clients almost always need the full support of the social services network that exist in the community, NPLS needs community support for its services to be available.
“The barrier of access to justice just got smaller thanks to the generosity of the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation,” said NPLS Executive Director Victoria A. Coyle. “In this environment, a decision to say 'yes' to legal aid is an affirmation of the work NPLS does on behalf of low-income people in our community. Civil legal aid is vital to helping people protect their families, their health, and their livelihoods, and to ensuring fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money you have.”
When the community partners with NPLS, there is a direct impact on quality of life. One example is a recent client named Jennifer. Jennifer, a mother of three, lost her job and was at risk of eviction because she owed $5,000 in unpaid rent. The NPLS attorney found that Jennifer’s mental health issues were interfering with her ability to manage stressful issues in her daily life, including managing her rent obligations. The attorney connected Jennifer to a local mental health provider, and she started treatment. Fortunately, Jennifer qualified for a grant from that provider to assist her in bringing her rent current. Today, Jennifer has obtained a new job and her kids are all in school doing well.
As Jennifer’s story demonstrates, many clients need a lawyer to help them navigate the justice system. The law prevents anyone but an attorney from giving legal advice, so legal help is critical. Something as simple as properly filing documents with the court helps streamline the flow of cases on the docket, preventing backlogs and problems with paperwork. This saves each client the stress of appearing in court without specialized training and saves judges the frustration in watching people deprived of a fair day in court since they are not familiar with the ins and outs of the civil legal system. Thanks to the generous contribution by the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation, more clients like Jennifer will be able to get the assistance they need.