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Foundation President’s Message


BAR FOUNDATION
PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE

 

Less than 5%?

Michael R. McElroy, Esq.
President of the Rhode Island Bar Foundation

“The good works we do at the Foundation surely can be supported by a voluntary contribution of at least $20 by the majority of the Bar. Those extra funds would be put to good use providing legal services to those who could not otherwise afford a lawyer.”
 
I was astounded to recently discover that less than 5% of our Bar Association members made a voluntary contribution to the Bar Foundation this year. As you are aware, the annual dues statement sent out by the Bar Association contains a line for a voluntary contribution to the Bar Foundation in the suggested amount of $20. We have over 6,500 lawyers licensed in Rhode Island. But so far this year, less than 300 lawyers made a voluntary contribution.
 
When I first saw the numbers, I just couldn’t believe it and had to recheck them. But it’s true. Where are the other 95%? The good works we do at the Foundation surely can be supported by a voluntary contribution of at least $20 by the majority of the Bar. Those extra funds would be put to good use providing legal services to those who could not otherwise afford a lawyer.
 
In contrast to the Bar at large, we have approximately 225 Life Fellows in the Foundation. In my recent fundraising appeal to the Life Fellows, we had participation of approximately 50% of our Life Fellows. Moreover, the average contribution was $110 per Life Fellow, a substantial increase from last year’s average contribution of $80.
 
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to our Life Fellows who answered my call and stepped up to the plate in these challenging times. I also want to assure them that their Foundation will be a good steward of these funds and will make sure they are put to use where they can have the greatest impact.
 
In that regard, and as part of my continuing series on the good works done by grantees of the Bar Foundation, I would like to introduce you to the work being done by one of our grantees, the Center for Mediation and Collaboration. Because of the financial impacts of the ongoing pandemic, many tenants, especially low-income tenants, are facing an extremely difficult situation with regard to paying their rent. Although as I write this, evictions cannot go forward, it won’t be long before evictions can once again proceed. And when they do, I anticipate there will be an overwhelming need for assistance with regard to tenant rent collections and related disputes.
 
When I last checked with Martha Machnik, Executive Director, and Rhonda Bergeron, Operations Director of the Center, they explained to me how the Center provides mediation and dispute resolution services regardless of ability to pay. The Center offers a voluntary, cooperative, and constructive way of resolving conflicts and reaching agreements. Their mediation services are offered for housing conflicts at little or no cost. The Center has been wonderfully successful. The most recent statistics available to me show that in one recent year, the Center mediated 164 landlord tenant cases with an astonishing agreement rate of 82%!
 
This is a terrific example of how the Bar Foundation’s relatively modest annual grant to the Center from your IOLTA funds is having a positive impact on our community as a whole. This impact extends not only to low-income tenants, but is also of a great assistance to the landlords as well. The Foundation is proud to have the Center as a grantee partner.
 
One tenant expressed thanks to the Center this way:
“I was so worried about having an eviction on my record and what that would mean to my family. We would never have been able to find housing in the same school district if we were not able to resolve this through mediation.”
So, I respectfully ask the 95% of licensed attorneys who have not yet made a voluntary contribution to the Foundation to please consider doing so. There is a form in every edition of the Bar Journal (turn the page for this issue’s form)that can be used, or you can simply send a check to the Rhode Island Bar Foundation at 41 Sharpe Drive, Cranston, RI 02920. Your contribution is, of course, tax deductible. Thank you.