The last week of October will mark 2020’s National Pro Bono Appreciation week, and that begs a huge question around our office – how do you properly thank someone for fundamentally changing a child’s story? What words could ever amount to the impact our pro bono attorneys have on the lives of the children of Southwest Idaho? The short answer is, there are not enough words in any language to express how much we appreciate our pro bono attorneys, but we’re sure going to try!
First, let’s talk numbers. In fiscal year 2020, our program was served by a total of 105 attorneys, including contracted attorneys. Of those 105 wonderful people, a whopping 95% served us pro bono, free of charge. Even more extraordinary, these 100 phenomenal humans have donated over 3,115 hours of their time to our cause, successfully serving all but one child that was appointed to our program in FY2020. According to the Independent Sector’s report on the value of pro bono time, this herculean effort equates to $778,750.00 in total savings to the courts of the Fourth Judicial District in just one year!
So, what is it that makes each and every one of these 100 pro bono attorneys so special to our program outside of numbers on a page? Around the Family Advocates office, you will often hear the motto “Change a Child’s Story”. What a magnificent, beautiful, and wonderfully vague sentiment to help guide our every step! One thing you may notice is that we never say how to change a child’s story and that’s because, as a species, we humans are so full of exceptional uniqueness that there is no “one way” we make a difference. Every single one of our attorneys brings something unique and powerful to our program that we could never replace, and they are filled to the brim with courage, compassion, and unending dedication. It’s our hope to highlight many of the marvelous ways our attorneys continue to change a child’s story through this letter of love.
Let’s take Karen Silva for example. Karen took her first pro bono child protection case in 2011, and little did she know that case would last an astounding 3,253 days. Nevertheless, Karen continued to embody just how much commitment our attorneys show us each and every day by serving the same Guardian ad Litem for the full 8 years and 11 months of the case. She provided the Guardian ad Litem with so much support and her fierce advocacy helped the child to achieve permanency through adoption after so many bumps along the way. Without Karen and the community of passionate attorneys just like her, that child and many children like them may never have had such a magnificent future to look forward to.
Even in cases where the children we serve may not receive the future we hope and dream about, our attorneys are instrumental in changing each child’s story for the better. It’s no secret that child protection can get messy as our Guardians ad Litem dive deep into the home lives of families across the state, requiring our attorneys to remain sharp, flexible, and unwavering. The reality of the matter is, regardless of how critical our services are, it’s still challenging and often uncomfortable to immerse ourselves so deeply in someone else’s home life. Sometimes our Guardians ad Litem need a helping hand to stand by them through thick and thin, and our pro bono attorneys are always ready for the challenge. Attorneys take on a number of different hats within their role, acting as mentors, editors, problem-solvers, and many times even as friends. Anyone who has spent any time working within the legal system knows that, sometimes, things just don’t go the way you expect them to. Through it all our pro bono attorneys never stop fighting though.
One shining example of how fearless our attorneys are lies within Christine Salmi, an amazing attorney who went above and beyond to advocate for the best interest of the children she served. In Christine’s case, that meant appealing the Judge’s decision all the way to the Supreme Court! Though our attorneys never know what to expect when they sign into a case, they’re always ready to go to bat at any time, and Christine was no exception. She put in countless hours writing briefs, emergency motions, and more, working closely with the Guardian ad Litem and our CASA Program. Christine finds herself in good company surrounded by a wealth of truly talented and gifted attorneys who never stop fighting for us!
Another challenge that our attorneys ever-so-gracefully navigate is that the vast majority of our Guardians ad Litem don’t have a background in the legal system, so our pro bono attorneys are crucial in helping our Guardians ad Litem navigate the law such that their child is receiving the best advocacy they can. Throw in the fact that sometimes, despite our best intentions, life gets in the way and Guardians just can’t see a case through to the very end and you have what could have been the perfect recipe for disaster. Here’s where our attorneys swoop in like the true superheroes they are. Take a look at Stan Tharp, for example. Stan has served on at least two cases since 2016 that are still ongoing, and between those two cases has worked with six different Guardians ad Litem, each from unique walks of life. Through it all, Stan has been a great communicator with every Guardian ad Litem he’s worked with and continues to take time away from his schedule to meet Guardians ad Litem where they’re at with their legal background, ensuring they understand everything that’s happening and assuaging Guardians ad Litem in high-stress situations. Between the legal knowledge of our attorneys and the wealth of knowledge our Guardians possess about the children they advocate for, it’s easy to see why our pro bono attorneys paired with a Guardian ad Litem become a superhuman team of unstoppable good-doing.
While we can’t highlight every skill and every attorney we work with in this letter (trust us, we tried!), we will say this to all of our pro bono attorneys: you are fearless, amazing, and absolutely superhuman in what you do. So, while there may not be enough words in the world to truly express how much we appreciate you, I hope you are able to feel the love, appreciation, and passion we’re putting behind these two final words: