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In the world of philanthropy, $21,400 may not amount to much. But to the New England Pension Assistance Project, which has recovered more than $7 million in lost pension benefits for 1,800 people, that bit of generosity helps keep afloat a program that serves the elderly as no other in the region. “We are the only source of pension counseling on both private and public pensions in the area,” says Ellen Bruce, an elder-law attorney who directs the program through the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “We began to take cases in 1994 serving Massachusetts residents, and two years ago we expanded to all of New England.” For that program, Bruce says, $21,400 — $3,000 from the Boston Bar Foundation and $18,400 from the Massachusetts Bar Foundation — “has helped kept us alive. It was crucial.” The same may be said of many recipients of grants given by the two bar foundations each year to dozens of small legal programs statewide, as well as larger grants to major legal aid services. The money earned from Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) is intended to further the administration of justice and access to legal help for those often least able to afford it. This year, $660,000 in IOLTA money was awarded to 39 legal programs in the Greater Boston area from the Boston Bar Foundation and $2.2 million to 117 legal programs throughout the state from the state foundation. GAINING STABILITY Most grants are renewed from previous years, often in smaller amounts than originally awarded as programs become stable and generate other funding. “That’s our expectation, although we don’t make grants based on an attitude of, ‘Don’t come back again,’ ” says Richard A. Soden, a lawyer at Boston’s Goodwin, Procter and Hoar who heads the Boston foundation’s grants committee. “ But we’re happy to see someone get to a place where they don’t need us, so we can use the money to water another plant.” Meeting Place, a program at the Guidance Center in Cambridge that offers court-ordered supervised visits between parents and children involved in custody disputes and other family difficulties, began with significant grants from both bar foundations. A decade later, it still receives $3,000 from the Boston group. “When we started in 1991, there were no resources in Massachusetts for families who had difficult visitations,” says program director Robert B. Straus, who is both an attorney and a psychologist. “The grant we get now is a small part of our budget, but it’s immensely important because what the BBF is recognizing is the need to fund continuing operations.” Often, funding comes in response to prevailing social issues. One such program that received $4,000 from the state foundation for its Pro Se Collaborative is the New Center for Legal Advocacy in New Bedford. It runs a training program for people representing themselves in court. The agency also received $9,600 from the foundation for a pro bono project that links lawyers with clients in need of representation. “The grants helped get us up and running, and over time we’ve developed into a delivery method [of legal services] for people who couldn’t have done it on their own,” says Richard McMahon, the attorney who directs the center. CAREFUL SCREENING Douglas Havens, executive director of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, says that the grant process involves scrutiny by individuals and committees, visits to various programs and approval by the foundation’s governing body. This year, the Massachusetts foundation received 150 applications; Boston’s, 48. Staff attorneys from Boston Medical Center’s Family Advocacy Program are now supported through two new grants: $10,000 from the Boston foundation for legal services for pediatric patients with mental health problems and $22,500 from the statewide foundation to fund legal help through the hospital’s Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, which serves immigrants in resettlement and health-related issues. (The Massachusetts foundation also gave $15,000 for the advocacy program’s work in community health centers.) “Doctors can’t always meet the needs of their patients because there is so much happening outside the four walls of the hospital,” says Jean M. Zotter, an attorney who directs the Family Advocacy Program in the hospital’s Department of Pediatrics. “The main idea of doctors and lawyers working together is to improve the lives of children and make sure they have access to the things they need to survive.” Her colleague, attorney Pamela C. Tames, who works under the mental health grant, says that the work she does will benefit other agencies as well. “We’re gathering data about the number of kids who are stuck in the mental health system, either not getting services or who have inappropriate placements,” she says. “We’ll be sharing that data outside the hospital in an effort to raise awareness of the issue.” The advocacy program’s medical director, Dr. Megan Sandel, says that doctors are starting to see the value of having an attorney advocate for a patient beyond their immediate health concerns: “Sometimes the best thing that’s going to help a patient is to get them better housing, rather than write another prescription.”

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