The work we do at the DC Bar Foundation is deeply personal. It is not simply because I am the organization’s chief executive officer, but also because I am a resident of DC, I have appeared in court on behalf of marginalized members of our community, and I see the disparities that many in this city face. I also am witnessing transformation within the legal aid system that will impact the lives of those with the greatest need.
November is often a time when we reflect on what we are most thankful for, and I am fortunate to work with all of you as we work to transform the civil legal aid system in DC. Our entire community - grantees, funders, donors, DCBF leadership and staff, and other allied stakeholders - play an integral role in our work, and I am grateful for your continued commitment.
Over the last year and a half, many of you have been actively engaged participants in the emerging DC Legal Aid Transformations Network. Your support in every quarterly convening, participation in ongoing surveys, contributions to building a Coordinated Intake and Referral System, intentional focus on the wellbeing of the person, and continued collaboration with many different stakeholders are most appreciated. Your efforts are what have allowed this initial idea to turn into a strategic and purposeful group of thought leaders.
For the last five years, the Foundation has awarded grants to six legal services organizations to provide legal assistance to DC residents with low incomes who are facing eviction or at risk of eviction. Legal representation is crucial because it gives tenants fair and equitable representation. Our latest biannual CLCPP report notes that during the January 2022-June 2022 reporting period, 83% of tenants faced a landlord with an attorney. This imbalance often contributes to inequitable access to justice. During this same reporting period, Bread for the City, DC Bar Pro Bono Center’s Landlord Tenant Resource Center, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and Rising for Justice served more than 1,100 tenants, creating more balanced representation during the duration of their case.
I am grateful that the DC Bar Foundation (DCBF) has received historic public funding from the District ($31.7 million) for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2022. This funding will allow us to award grants to legal services organizations that work on everything from elder care to immigration—and beyond.
DCBF also received a record number of private donations during FY22, from October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022. These donations allow the Foundation to award unrestricted grants critical to legal aid organizations struggling to meet demand. Unrestricted grants help cover essential costs that other funding sources cannot, such as keeping on the lights or upgrading outdated equipment and technology.
Through public funding and private donations, DCBF also provides interest-free, forgivable loans to qualifying DC legal aid attorneys through our Loan Repayment Assistance Program.
Finally, I want to recognize the Foundation’s leadership groups and staff. The Board remains fully committed to the success of DCBF’s programs and the organization. They serve as supportive leaders to help guide and implement our most important strategic priorities. Our Advisory Committee and Past Presidents’ Council offer wise counsel on a variety of programmatic and development issues. Young Lawyers Network Leadership Council members serve as ambassadors, and their annual fundraiser, Avenues to Justice, highlights critical legal aid issues. I am thankful to have a growing team of talented, devoted, and committed staff who rally every day to move our mission forward and uphold our organizational core values.
This list only represents a portion of what I am thankful for in this season. As we move toward achieving the next set of goals, it is essential for me to take a minute to pause, reflect, give thanks, and show my gratitude. Every year we move the needle a little closer to having fair and equitable civil legal aid in DC, and I am thankful for your many contributions.
I would also love to hear from you. What are you thankful for this year? If you haven’t done so, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and use the hashtag #DCBFImThankfulFor to let us know what you’re grateful for—professional or personal—this season.
I look forward to reading your messages.
Kirra L. Jarratt
CEO, DC Bar Foundation