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Centering Wellbeing in 2023

We are a few weeks into the new year and many of us are likely thinking about our work as civil legal aid professionals and how we can best serve our communities in DC and, more specifically, those with the greatest needs.

As I reflect on the year ahead, I think about how important and connected wellbeing is to our work. I am thinking about how the DC Bar Foundation can continue incorporating wellbeing into our work so that every DC resident feels supported and empowered as they navigate the justice system.

In June 2021, the DC Bar Foundation launched the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network (DC LATN) with the goal of creating a user-centered system. This growing group comprises stakeholders from various sectors working together to advance this mission. Understanding the holistic nature of this work, one of the Network's core guiding principles is the Wellbeing Blueprint, developed by the Full Frame Initiative (FFI), an organization reimagining systems to make our country fairer and more equitable for everyone.

We might not always think about wellbeing and how it relates to our work, but the reality is that if everyone is not experiencing wellbeing, we will never fully transform legal aid. This one word has the power to shift our justice system radically, but even wellbeing and who has access to it is rooted in systemic racism and oppression.

The Full Frame Initiative describes wellbeing as "the set of needs and experiences universally required in combination and balance to weather challenges and have health and hope." According to FFI, the foremost way to create lasting change within all our communities is to "tap into and amplify the human drive for wellbeing."

The Full Frame Initiative's Five Domains of Wellbeing include:

  • Social connectedness to people and communities in ways that allow us to give as well as to receive and spaces where we experience belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

  • Stability comes from having things we can count on to be the same daily and knowing that a small bump won't create a domino effect of crises.

  • Safety is the ability to be ourselves without significant danger or harm.

  • Mastery comes from being able to influence other people and what happens to us, having a sense of purpose, and having the skills to navigate and negotiate our life.

  • Meaningful access to relevant resources like food, housing, clothing, sleep, and more, without shame, danger, or great difficulty.

In 2022, DCBF continued to prioritize our community-building efforts, hosting racial equity trainings, hearing directly from District residents about their experiences in our current civil legal aid system, and providing opportunities to connect through DC LATN, which is made up of legal aid providers, community activists, health and social services workers, funders, academia, philanthropy, media, allied partners, and many other stakeholders.

This work will continue throughout 2023. Racial equity trainings are scheduled for this spring, and we will continue to develop Coordinated Intake and Referral, with the goal of piloting the system by the end of the calendar year. This system is a critical part of our wellbeing efforts because it will streamline a complicated process that leaves far too many without the services they need. As we move forward in our work on CIR, we will soon begin user testing that will include the input and feedback of DC residents, and we will also convene new groups this spring to collect additional feedback on the system.

As you plan for the year ahead, consider how you can integrate wellbeing into your work. Consider some of the following questions:

  1. What does wellbeing look like for my organization?

  2. How can we further expand our work with community residents so that our decision-making always reflects the needs of the individuals and families who will need our services?

  3. What new organizations can serve as partners and collaborators in our work?

  4. Are we operating in a space where our clients feel empowered and supported?

At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to attend The Wellbeing Summit, where leaders from different sectors across the country convened to learn about and discuss how wellbeing impacts the heart of our work. It was a transformative conference that left me inspired and motivated. It challenged participants to think about their role as a changemaker. It created a space for leaders to share ideas and spark creative conversations about how to tackle our communities' greatest challenges. I want to encourage each of you to do the same.

An equitable justice system is attainable, but it will require work on everyone's part to dismantle systems of oppression. As we think more critically about how wellbeing impacts our work and the communities we serve, we move closer to ensuring everyone has access to wellbeing, which should be a right and not an option.

I hope your year is transformative, inspiring, and centered on wellbeing.

With Gratidude,

Kirra L. Jarratt

Chief Executive Officer


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