Iowa Legal Aid has started a charitable foundation to raise more money to help poor Iowans who cannot afford their own lawyer.
Iowa Legal Aid executive director Dennis Groenenboom says the need for the group’s legal services is growing, particularly in the area of property rights.
“About 35 percent of our cases are in the area of family law and most of those involve domestic violence, but the second largest category are housing cases. Those involve private landlord/tenant relationships as well as the housing and foreclosure issues,” he says. “In January and February of this year we were averaging 33 intakes a month in the area of foreclosure and in the month October alone it was 86 cases that came in so we are seeing a dramatic increase in those types of cases.”
Former Iowa Governor Robert Ray is among those who’ve lent their voice to Legal Aid’s fundraising effort. “No tradition is more central to being an Iowan than reaching out a helping hand,” Ray said during a statehouse news conference. “We are here today to discuss an organization that does just that, every day, across this state. We ask Iowans to consider how they might join in support of this mission.”
Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is on the Iowa Legal Aid Foundation’s Advisory Council along with Ray. Vilsack cites the fact that while those who cannot afford a lawyer get one appointed for them in criminal court, that’s not the case in civil court.
“It could be someone who is faced with an abusive situation in a home. It could be a senior citizen looking for opportunities to make sure…their rights are protected in nursing homes. It could be a veteran who feels that they are entitled benefits but is unable, through the system, to gain those benefits,” Vilsack said. “It could be anyone in need of assistance and help who can no longer afford quality counsel.”
Recent college graduate Deb O’Tool works at Legal Aid’s outreach office in Fort Dodge, but seven years ago she was a Legal Aid client because she couldn’t afford a lawyer. “I was in the midst of one of the most difficult times of my life. It was turmoil. I was fragile. I was fragile to the point of almost being broken. Legal Aid believed in me when very few others did,” O’Tool says. “They guided me through the confusion and chaos of a custody battle and helped me bring my five year old home where he belonged.”
First Lady Mari Culver notes that last year Iowa Legal Aid closed nearly 19,000 cases. “But unfortunately there are another 12,000 cases of Iowans who have been underserved or underrepresented by Iowa Legal Aid because of lack of funding,” Mrs. Culver said, “and these unaddressed needs are really the genesis of the Iowa Legal Aid Foundation.”
Culver, like former Governors Ray and Vilsack, is a lawyer and all three are serving on the board of directors for Iowa Legal Aid’s fundraising effort. Find more information on-line at the Legal Aid website .