Practicing Tikkun Olam: Remarks from AVLF’s Presidents Dinner

Executive Director Marty Ellin prepared the following remarks for the Presidents Dinner on October 28, 2018 – the day following the attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue.

If you know someone who is Jewish long enough or well enough, you will hear the phrase Tikkun Olam – a concept defined by acts of kindness performed to “heal the world.” In Pittsburgh, in Atlanta, and everywhere else, Jews are taught to heal the world by making sure that everyone with a human face feels safe, feels valid and feels known.  

At the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, we practice Tikkun Olam.  

One of the things I like best about AVLF is that although there is division elsewhere, members of the Atlanta legal community across the board believe in and support our mission. We promote safe and stable homes and families by inspiring lawyers to fight for equal justice, and perhaps it is that consistency of purpose that has allowed AVLF to serve our community to our fullest capacity this year.

AVLF’s pro bono programs are more capable than ever of offering free, high quality legal services to those who have no other access to counsel. Three brief program status notes:

  • In 2010, just after the founding of the Safe Families Office, the Chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence visited the SFO. Deeply impressed, she declared it the national Best Practices model. Earlier this year, Safe and Stable Families Project Director Jamie Perez invited the ABA Chair to return to Atlanta to observe our recent enhancements to the SFO, including the increasingly vigorous Family Law program and the addition of social workers to deliver holistic services to survivors. The Chair was moved again to assert that the SFO has retained its position as the national Best Practices model. In 2018, more than 3300 SFO visitors will receive the benefit of the office’s excellence.
  • Almost every Saturday of the year, the Saturday Lawyer Program, AVLF’s flagship pro bono program, features 16 clients who have been screened by AVLF and our partner, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, and 8 volunteer attorneys recruited by AVLF to meet with those clients. Earlier in 2018, the program faced a sharp uptick in demand for appointments. Clients were facing the possibility of a 4 week wait to meet with an attorney. (Obviously, for someone trying to secure help for repair to a gaping hole in a roof, such a wait is intolerable.) Saturday Lawyer Program Director Erica Taylor and her team responded immediately, nearly doubling the number of scheduled clients and attorneys until the backlog was reduced. In 2018, the Saturday clinic will refer more than 400 cases to private volunteer attorneys.
  • After AVLF’s Standing with Our Neighbors (SWON) program promoted a 36% drop in student turnover rate in SWON’s first year at Thomasville Heights Elementary School, SWON was asked to expand the program, and now serves 7 additional schools! Among the most exciting outcomes has been a roughly 20% drop in the schools’ combined turnover rate.

All of AVLF’s pro bono programs are possible because our Board Presidents have maintained the connection with and support for our work. It is also possible because Atlanta has a strikingly generous legal community. I especially thank those of you in this room for your consistent generosity and friendship. This year, as you know, we launched our first-ever Annual Campaign, because although Michael Lucas and Libby King have sparked a dramatic increase in grant receipts, we also need unrestricted funds, money with which to run the day-to-day operation of the Foundation. Our blue ribbon 2018 Annual Campaign Steering Committee, Libby’s Development Team, and the Board’s Development Committee have led an enthusiastic campaign: our goal was to raise $850,000 in unrestricted, non-event funds, and as of tonight, we have raised $927,500! Congratulations and thanks to everyone.

John Chandler and Beth Tanis, I offer particular thanks to you. John was the Founder of this organization and has been at its center for now nearly 40 years. Thanks to both of you for serving as our first Annual Campaign Chairs – you have set a standard of excellence for future Campaign Chairs. And thank you for opening your lovely home to us this evening for the AVLF Presidents Dinner.

I close with words from the Talmud. In the wake of yesterday’s tragedy, and mindful of the rugged persistence of those in this room who insist on sustaining the struggle:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

Thank you for being here. Let’s go heal the world together.

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