Deputy Director Michael Lucas reflects on another year of growth at Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation—and exciting innovations to come.
It has been a remarkable year at AVLF.
Our Safe and Stable Families project continued to grow and innovate. We’ve expanded in the nationally-recognized Safe Families Office—a lawyer-staffed, courthouse-based safe haven for survivors of intimate partner abuse who are seeking the law’s protection; in our Family Law program, offering critical family law representation to those same survivors; and in our Guardian ad Litem program, providing expertly trained Guardians ad Litem to look out for children’s best interests in high-conflict custody cases.
The Safe and Stable Families staff now includes one director, two attorneys, two social workers, a program coordinator, a legal navigator, a paralegal, and a full-time legal education and outreach coordinator to run our recently launched community-based practice. Collaboration with Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV), Helping Mamas, the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN), and others have made us better as we stand with survivors. We are already the largest provider of legal services to survivors in Fulton County, and these partnerships and innovations will continue to help us serve more people more holistically in the years to come.
This year also saw further growth and innovation from our Safe and Stable Homes project. The Saturday Lawyer program – entering its forty-second year as a bedrock program of the Atlanta legal community – again served nearly 500 clients, almost all of them low-income tenants seeking critical assistance. The nationally recognized Standing with Our Neighbors program now operates out of eight satellite offices, all APS schools in neighborhoods fighting for stability. The program was featured on CBS This Morning and, more importantly, again saw reductions in student transiency as a result of AVLF staff and volunteers’ efforts to combat housing instability and substandard living conditions.
We are proud of our team and what we accomplished this year, but we allowed ourselves exactly one holiday lunch to celebrate.
Our Eviction Defense program and the courthouse-based Housing Court Assistance Center added to our comprehensive efforts, making us the largest provider of legal services to tenants in Fulton County. Again, innovative partnerships with our friends, from Purpose Built Schools Atlanta to Chris180, made these programs stronger as well.
We are proud of our team and what we accomplished this year, but we allowed ourselves exactly one holiday lunch to celebrate. There is simply too much more work to do in 2019.
Next year, we’ll celebrate the Safe Families Office’s 10th anniversary. Truly a beacon of hope, safety, and stability in this community, the Safe Families Office is an indispensable part of the protection our county provides its residents.
Next year, we will continue to expand our services to low-income tenants, bringing safe and stable housing to Atlanta families so that neighborhoods, schools, classrooms, and children can thrive.
And next year, we’ll celebrate AVLF’s 40th anniversary. With a staff of thirty-five full-time warriors for justice, operations out of ten satellite offices, and staff serving in leadership roles across this community, we are all grown up now. But we are just getting started.
Can our services also reduce childhood asthma rates and the incidence of homelessness? We believe they can, and in 2019, we aim to prove it.
We will continue to push ourselves. Yes, we are the largest provider of legal representation to tenants in Fulton County, but what about all our isolated neighbors who still cannot access our services? Shockingly, we had over 3,000 visitors to the Safe Families Office, but what about all the victims who never made it to the courthouse? We learned that our school-based assistance to tenants can help improve schools and even help our neighbors heal, but can our services also reduce childhood asthma rates and the incidence of homelessness?
We believe they can, and in 2019, we aim to prove it. In 2019, we will do more to reach those who would not otherwise reach us. In 2019, watch this space for more about our new partnerships with children’s Medicaid health plants to target families suffering from asthma because of the condition of their rental housing. Follow us here to learn more about a new partnership with the City of Atlanta and Partners for HOME to do our part to reduce homelessness by preventing it from happening in the first place. Follow us here as our new Legal Education & Outreach Coordinator and team of social workers revolutionize how we address the issue of intimate partner abuse. They will be going out in to the community to build better relationships with law enforcement, schools, and other providers, while also leveraging more emergency assistance for survivors so that they are better equipped to see the legal process through and come out the other side ready to thrive.
As we close out 2018, we know that all of our growth – every one of our successes – came when we decided to center our clients in all that we do.
As we close out 2018, we know that all of our growth – every one of our successes – came when we decided to center our clients in all that we do. Wanting to better reach them, better serve them, and better learn from them was at the center of every programmatic decision, every hire, every partnership we pursued, and every relationship we built.
We have learned a great deal on this journey thus far, and it has indeed been a remarkable year at AVLF. As we look to the new year, however, we know that we are merely at the beginning of this journey to help all Atlantans thrive. We also know that we cannot do any of this work without you. So as we stay focused – as we push ourselves to innovate and better serve our community – please consider standing with us to help make 2019 even more remarkable.
Want to read other Letters From Leadership? They are an easy way to find out what drives us here at AVLF. You can find them all here.