With a new year comes new faces, new stories and new lives for the many South Carolinians helped by our grantees. In 2013, we will dedicate every Tuesday to adding a new story.

 

Celebrating Father's Day ~ A Clean Slate

The life that 25-year-old “Jamie” was living – struggling to find a job, dealing with anger issues and failing at being a supportive father to three children – was not the one he had pictured years ago. The Family Court wanted to help Jamie so the judge ordered him into the SC Center for Fathers and Families’ Midlands Fatherhood Coalition. Jamie’s anger was one of the things holding him back from having regular visits with his children. He saw the court’s decision as a way for him to wipe his own slate clean; to become the father and the citizen that he always wanted to be. He attended the program’s group and anger management sessions every week, learning and growing from the Coalition staff and the many men who were dealing with issues like his. Twenty-six weeks later, Jamie had found a  full-time job, moved into a new apartment and purchased a vehicle. His newly-discovered ambition drove him to file for and be granted regular visits with his two oldest sons. Jamie is forever thankful to the program that let him create his own future and paint the picture of the life he had always envisioned.

 

National Judicial College (NJC) ~ Bringing it Home

“The NJC course was one of the more rigorous, yet highly beneficial courses I have taken since law school. I have already begun to apply many of the strategies and techniques I learned in Reno in my daily work. Please be assured that the Foundation’s investment in funding such scholarships for judges will pay dividends for years to come in the form of a better, more capable judiciary. Again, thank you for your support of NJC and our state’s judiciary.”

“The course was very beneficial to me and I can say with confidence that I will be a better judge as a result of having attended. I am so thankful that South Carolina sends each of its new judges to this course.”

The above comments demonstrate the importance of the National Judicial College’s General Jurisdiction course. These educational opportunities not only benefit the attendees, but also provide great value for those who appear in the court system as the judiciary brings that knowledge back home to South Carolina.

 

SC Bar Pro Bono ~ Saving a Life as a Volunteer

“Elena” was just 17 when she met a man twice her age. Unbeknownst to her, he had a criminal history of sexual abuse. They married and had one child. Elena’s husband was physically, verbally and mentally abusive.  After six years of marriage, Elena decided that she needed the abuse to end – for her and her child. She contacted the SC Bar Pro Bono Program and was connected with volunteer attorney Deborah Dantzler.

With Deborah’s assistance, Elena was able to get a divorce from her abuser as well as an Order of Protection. Elena was very brave and cooperated with the police every step of the way. Her husband wrote her letters from jail threatening to kill her when he got out. Elena’s sister ended up adopting the child. In reflecting upon the case, Deborah had this to say: “Elena, a ninth grade drop-out, did not look like a hero, but she was.  She put her own safety on the line to get justice for a 4-year-old rape victim. I was honored to serve as her attorney through the Pro Bono Program and remind my fellow attorneys that many Elena’s are still waiting for our help.”

 

Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA) ~ Facebook Saved Her Life

Many of us use social media to connect and keep up with friends. “Wren” used it as a cry for help when she posted pictures of her injuries caused by her husband. She was too afraid to call the police because, a few days before the beating, her husband had already contacted them expressing that she was suicidal. Thankfully a Facebook “friend” from another state saw Wren’s pictures. That friend was in law enforcement and was able to make direct connection with local law enforcement.

After Wren’s friend made the call, the police investigated and eventually issued an arrest warrant. Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA) was contacted and immediately helped Wren obtain an Order of Protection. Ultimately, Wren was able to separate from her abusive husband who had made her dependent on him financially, psychologically and emotionally. Wren’s CODA court advocate was able to get her help with changing locks and getting food through the SC Victims Assistance Network. The court advocate also connected Wren with several local charities that helped her with bills and vehicle service.

 

South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) ~ Building Trust, Breaking Bonds

“Dean,” an 87-year-old veteran, often spent time at the VA Hospital. While there, he became friends with “Mitzie” who became more and more involved in his life – cooking, cleaning, running errands and caring for him. Dean trusted Mitzie and gave her his power of attorney. He had no idea that she would betray their friendship.

Mitzie bought property with Dean’s money and placed the title to the property solely in her name. She ultimately acquired three properties, but didn’t provide housekeeping services or  share rent proceeds. The bond between them broke when Mitzie served Dean with an eviction notice on the house he had occupied for ten years. Feeling betrayed, Dean sought help from SCLS that forced the dismissal of the eviction. The attorney then filed a Common Pleas action for an accounting and for breach of trust. The case was ultimately settled and Dean received more than $12,000 in rent money. He also was given back the title to his home.

 

SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center ~ Taken Advantage

The credit repair company knew exactly what it was doing when it took more than $3,000 from “Rose,” an elderly woman suffering from lupus. Initially, Rose believed she was receiving assistance from the company. She was struggling to make ends meet, so its services seemed to provide much needed relief. A year later, Rose received a Summons and Complaint suing her for $4,600. Rose let the plaintiff know that she had obtained the services of a credit repair company. The plaintiff, however, told Rose it did not matter if she had given money to the credit repair company; she stilled owed them. She got no answers from the credit repair company, leaving her with a document saying she owed more than she could afford. Angry, but determined to make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else, Rose called SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center.

Through the collaboration of Appleseed and a private law firm, a third-party claim was filed against the credit repair company. The case has shed light on how this company may have similarly acted against others. The firm and Appleseed are looking to see if they can pursue action to prevent this company from continuing to take advantage of people like Rose.  

 

Sistercare ~ Constance

(Note: Constance spoke at the Bar Foundation's Gala on Friday, March 22.)

“You are strong, beautiful and powerful…know this…and if you feel scared or nervous, just look at me.” These are the words that my Sistercare attorney said to me as we asked a judge to grant me a divorce from my husband. These are not words that I was accustomed to hearing.

My name is Constance. I am a former supervisor of a state agency, owner of DMT Tax Preparation and Consulting and a newly published children’s book author. These personal accomplishments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things I plan to do in my life. If you knew me before, you might not ever think that I could have done any of those things.

You see, getting out of an abusive marriage is never as easy as just walking away. When you think about safety, emotional stability, financial security, the legalities of a marriage, property, children… you begin to realize that leaving is only the first step. Granted it is a big step, but it is just the first.

I turned to Sistercare. Domestic violence victims require a team. Sistercare provides that team of resources, to help ensure safety, establish security and maintain stability, so that I am successful in life. Legal services funded by the Bar Foundation’s grant to Sistercare’s are a very important part of that team.

To give you a brief description, my ex-husband crushed my cheek bone and broke three bones in my face causing me to need a plate in my cheek. He ripped my clothes off and dragged me down a dirt road naked. When I made the decision to press charges, he sat behind me in the court room. I was young; my only mistake was in saying “I do” to the wrong person. I was relocated from my home. All I had was my Sistercare team. The team stuck by me, believed in me and held my hand in educating me and assisting me in becoming who I am today.

When I went to court, Sistercare was able to provide me with a lawyer and a court advocate because of the Bar Foundation. I remember wearing my hair in a ponytail, no make-up, black turtle neck and black slacks. I didn’t want to appear attractive when he saw me. I did want him to know that he wasn’t successful in disfiguring my face and so I held my head high. My lawyer prepared me with vital points, like take your time, be specific, speak clearly, and take deep breathes. She said to establish credibility for myself, state facts, and let the judge know why I felt this man should no longer be in my life, and in the case of his trial… why there should be a consequence for his actions. My attorney proceeded with, “You are strong, beautiful and powerful…know this…and if you feel scared or nervous, just look at me.” Those words alone eased any fear and doubt in the decisions that I was making and have stuck with me throughout my life.

We had a difficult time getting my divorce granted. Sistercare not only provided legal services for me, but in order for me to be granted a divorce, they also had to locate an attorney for my ex-husband and provide him with transportation for him from McCormick, SC when he refused to give me a divorce while incarcerated. Sistercare stood by me and followed through. My lawyer and advocate continued to keep me updated. My ex-husband was sentenced to 6 years in prison, my temporary restraining order became a life time restraining order, and I was granted my divorce.

I don’t think I can truly convey in words how freeing it is to no longer be bound to someone who doesn’t have my best interest or well- being in mind. Or to seek and receive justice for a violent crime committed against me. The aftermath of leaving is like finding myself in an empty, abandoned house with all these doors that need closing before I can leave. That’s what this grant helps women to do. Close a door and a chapter of their life, to be able to move on, to be productive, and maybe even be in a position to one day give back…like me.

Today, I can run an office, rip the runway, and serenade your child with a good bedtime story, all because Sistercare provided me with a team who stood by me, believed in me, and saw something in me that I couldn’t see because of my circumstances. I know I speak for all women who receive these services when I say, “You make a difference in our lives, which in turn makes a difference in yours”, and for that… I am very grateful.

From Mary Capers Bledsoe, Executive Director of the YMCA Youth in Government Program

This morning, I had a visit from the parents of Alan Lee, our 2012 Youth Governor. Many of you know Alan’s story – he is a Korean immigrant, and came to the United States at nine years old after a very difficult several years with his single mother traveling the world trying to get here. His mother met his stepfather when they arrived in the United States. He (the stepfather) is Korean, but is a US citizen. Alan spoke no English when he arrived. For the past several years, he has aspired to receiving an appointment to one of the Service Academies. Alan has become one of the most amazing and inspiration young people I have ever met in my career and life. He and his family have become Christians, and Alan has become the most patriotic person I know. Since middle school, he has been following a health and fitness routine aimed specifically at being able to meet the fitness requirements of the service academies. He hasn’t made a B since third grade. Yet he is one of the most humble, decent and genuinely GOOD people you could ever hope to meet. He’s also a silly, goofy teenager.

Alan’s family struggles financially, and Alan has been an Open Doors recipient during his four years of YIG. He has been featured in our Open Doors material, and last year, the South Carolina Bar Foundation asked him to keynote their huge, black-tie event in Columbia because they had heard him speak at a smaller event.

I was honored to be one of Alan’s recommenders for his service academy applications, and struggled and prayed over that recommendation more than any I have ever written...

To hear the rest of this special Tuesday tale... come to the Bar Foundation's Gala on Friday, March 22.  

 

SC Center for Fathers and Families ~ Needing a Second Chance

James, father of two, was behind in child support and owed thousands of dollars in arrearages. A veteran of the United States Army, he had been unemployed for many months, but continued to seek gainful employment. Though he made consistent child support payments from his unemployment checks, they were not for the full amount. Instead of being sent to jail for not complying with his child support order, James was court ordered into the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition program.

With guidance, James was able to begin the Workforce Investment Act process and meet with the program’s job developer. Together they updated his résumé and aggressively lined up job interviews. In addition to receiving job assistance, James was able to participate in weekly peer support group sessions. Through this process, he learned how to cultivate a better relationship with both of his children and their custodial parents.

In the end, James obtained a full time job with a local food distributor. Now he can consistently pay the full amount of his child support. James is grateful for the many resources offered to him through the fatherhood program. Not only did he overcome barriers that challenged him as an unemployed man, he defeated many obstacles that kept him from being the dad he knew he could be.

 

SC Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission ~ A Boost of Confidence

“Mr. Brown” was a familiar face to the volunteer lawyers at the Newberry County Self Help Center, a clinic designed to help low income or modest means South Carolinians access the court system. Mr. Brown, like many who walked through the doors of the Center, wanted to make sure that he had correctly completed all of his legal forms for his divorce. On his last visit, the volunteers could sense his nervousness. He was representing himself in court and afraid of not speaking loud enough for the court reporter to hear. He needed help practicing and preparing for his hearing. To give him more confidence, Center volunteers set up a practice hearing, sat around Mr. Brown and listened as he read his sample script.

On the day of Mr. Brown’s hearing, he was anxious, but did everything just as he had practiced with the Center volunteers. He spoke clearly and loudly for everyone in the room to hear. The sound of the court reporters keys clicking at what seemed like a million words a minute was music to Mr. Brown’s ears. When his divorce was granted, Mr. Brown thanked the volunteers, saying that he would not have been able to do it without their help.

 

Lowcountry Legal Volunteers (LLV) ~ Tragedy Instills Responsibility 

“Claire” opened the closet door to find her nephew, “Blake,” hiding in the dark. She was relieved to see him alive and unharmed. Just outside of that closet door, Blake’s mother was murdered by his father. Blake hid in the closet to escape the horrible scene that was unfolding in front of his young eyes. Thankfully, Claire knew that it was now her responsibility to care for Blake. She knew the road to helping him grow would never be easy after that traumatic night. However, her love for her nephew guided her as she worked to provide for him in the absence of his mommy.

Claire made a call to Lowcountry Legal Volunteers. She knew that it was the right time to seek formal custody of Blake. The LLV advocate held Clare’s hand throughout the court process. Together, they successfully obtained a court order granting Claire legal custody of Blake. Tragedy may have brought them together in this new relationship, but Claire and Blake have a bond that no one can break. Claire is grateful to her attorney for helping her forge a difficult path.

 

SC Bar Ask-A-Lawyer Program ~ Give It a Try! 

“Thanks for your time” – “a great community service” – “the attorney was informed” – “the attorney did a good job addressing relevant issues” – “this clinic was exactly what the working poor needs.”

The above comments were provided after more than 1,500 South Carolinians attended a legal clinic or one of the Legal Lessons sessions hosted by the SC Bar’s Ask-A-Lawyer Program. The Program held 77 clinics and six Legal Lessons sessions hosted by SC Bar’s Ask-A-Lawyer Program. Topics included family law, wills and estates and end of life issues. In addition to these “in person opportunities,” 11 telephone bank/web blitz sessions were held in Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Spartanburg. More than 1,300 callers or internet chatters were assisted during these phone banks.

Volunteer Monét S. Pincus said, “Each year I look forward to participating in Ask-A-Lawyer web chat. If you want to volunteer but don’t think you have the time, Ask-A-Lawyer is for you because you can participate from your home or office and you can help other areas of the state without traveling. From my Columbia office, I was able to assist people in Spartanburg. The Bar provides a manual so that I always feel equipped. Ask-A-Lawyer is a great way sharpen your legal skills and to give back.”

 

Crisis Ministries Homeless Justice Project ~ A Bus Ticket “Home”

“EP” and his family escaped Laos and its political persecution to pursue the American dream of freedom. After becoming a legal immigrant with a permanent resident card, EP began his life making Greenville his home. Unfortunately, EP was arrested and sent to federal prison in Georgia. Because of the arrest, EP was told he would be deported. However, the Laos government refused to accept him back into the country. When EP was released from prison, he was soon summoned to appear at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Charleston. A local church group learned about EP’s situation and bought him a bus ticket to Crisis Ministries.

Thankful for the ticket, but unaware of what his future held, EP left his family in Greenville and made his way toward Crisis Ministries. Upon arrival, he went through the intake process and was given a clean and safe place to stay. He soon met with the staff attorney of Crisis Ministries’ Homeless Justice Project. After various immigration procedures that required the skilled work of the staff attorney, EP received permission to work in the United States. He received the assurance that, if he had no further arrests, he would not be in danger of being deported.

With the prospect of legal employment, EP felt confident that he could one day return to his family and they could continue the pursuit of the American Dream.

SC Bar Law Related Education Division ~ Mock Trial Motivation

“I am very excited to stay involved with High School Mock Trial,” Taylor said to a SC Bar LRE Division staffer. Taylor first became involved with We the People. Then as a student on the Mock Trial team at North Myrtle Beach High School, not only did she earn the opportunity to compete as a member of the 2011 High School Mock Trial State Championship team, she also received a Top Attorney Award at the national level.

Taylor is now a student at the University of South Carolina studying political science and psychology. She hopes to attend law school. The lessons learned from Taylor’s High School Mock Trial days are still very much a part of who she is today. Taylor is one of the program’s biggest advocates. She wants to volunteer as a recruiter and supporter for the program because of her great experience. “I owe so much for the many opportunities the Bar Foundation and Mock Trial program have given to me,” she said. Taylor is a member of the Honor’s College and continues her Mock Trial experience with the University’s team. She has won two tournament championships and five attorney awards at various tournaments – three of these with a perfect record of rankings!

 

Richland County CASA ~ Persistence & Perspective

Thirteen-year-old “Dustin” thought he would be in foster care forever. After all, he had been in various homes since he was 10. He assumed that he would be a foster care child until he was 18 and could move out on his own. His perspective changed when he met a very persistent Matthew Perkins, his Richland County CASA Guardian ad Litem. Matthew had a different expectation for Dustin and worked relentlessly to see it come to fruition.  

Matthew searched high and low until he was able to connect with Dustin’s uncle in Florida. Because Dustin’s uncle lived outside of South Carolina, Matthew pursued an expedited home study through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. He even offered to personally drive the documents to the receiving agency in Florida to make the issue move as quickly as possible. In less than six months, Dustin was reunited with his family, leaving foster care behind.

 

Upstate Mediation Center ~ Overwhelmed

“Rita” and “Bob” saw their happy wedding day memories slowly fade away when they filed for divorce after 13 years of marriage. Because they filed in Greenville County Family Court, they had to go through mediation before a divorce would be granted. Neither Rita nor Bob was able to afford a private mediator, so they turned to the Upstate Mediation Center for assistance. The goal of the mediation was to work out a property settlement. There was not much for them to divide, but their finances had become so unstable that their home was now under foreclosure. Bob was able to get an old college buddy who was an attorney to help him, but Rita was acting alone. As the mediation process began, Bob began to have strong feelings of resentment toward Rita. He felt as if she was being unresponsive and unreasonable. It did not appear that things would be able to be resolved.

The volunteer mediator was able to uncover the fact that Rita was simply overwhelmed at the prospect of being on her own. With a patient hand, the mediator helped Bob see that Rita’s hostile attitude was built upon feelings of desperation. Once he saw this, Bob was able to look beyond how Rita had been behaving. The change in the demeanor of both parties made it possible for the mediator to work out a complete property agreement, come up with a manageable debt payment plan and renegotiate the foreclosure of the marital home. Though the marriage was over, both Rita and Bob walked away with a sense of peace facing their individual futures.

Sistercare ~ Enough is Enough

The first time “Mia” showed her emotions was when she felt the sting of the hand of “Paul” hitting her face. At that moment, she was in disbelief that her husband, the man who rescued her run-away dog the first day they met, was now making her want to run away, too. In the beginning, she described him as kind and charming. A few weeks after they first met, she ran into him again at a restaurant. They spent every day together from that day forward. He even asked her to marry him on their second date. Mia was in love, and didn’t see his actions – moving in quickly, smashing her phone after a male friend called and not telling her about his past burglary and sexual assault charges – as warning signs. To her family’s regret, she and Paul married after six months of dating.

Now, years and countless beatings later, Mia had been counseled and nurtured by Sistercare. She worked with the shelter’s staff and cooperated with the police to develop a plan to get out. Sistercare’s attorney helped her get an Order of Protection so that Paul could not come onto her property. Because of that order, the police were able to arrest Paul when he broke in, ready to come after her. He is now awaiting trial for a possible 15-year sentence.

Mia, a new woman, has since advanced in her company. She has become an advocate for other women, encouraging them to get help both emotionally and legally.  

   
   
   
   

Read more success stories from Bar Foundation grantees on this page.