Year End 2019 Newsletter
2019 Year-End Newsletter
As an organization that relies on the generosity of friends and colleagues to help us meet our mission of service, we are grateful for every contribution that comes our way. From financial contributions big and small, to the time and expertise donated by pro bono attorneys and volunteers, to the efforts of our community partners to help our shared clients, we appreciate every bit of thoughtfulness that allows us to better serve the people who need us.
Thank you for joining us on this journey in 2019, and for helping to make our work possible. May the new year bring justice for all!
Client Success: Managing a Health Crisis with Help
The first thing “Sasha” does every morning is evaluate her pain levels and determine how her day will go from there. Some days her pain is manageable and she can function relatively normally – though she must still be careful not to overtax herself, or risk a pain crisis that could send her to the emergency room or leave her bedridden for days. On the days when she’s in serious pain, Sasha needs help with basic tasks like showering, grooming, household chores, and preparing meals.
Sasha, 29 years old, has suffered from the symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) for almost a decade. SCD is a serious, inherited disease of the red blood cells that affects mostly people of African ancestry. It is chronic and congenital, though symptoms may not appear until later in life. The only known cures are blood and bone marrow transplants – complicated, high-risk procedures that are out of reach for many patients. People with SCD require regular monitoring by a team of medical professionals.
While Sasha takes pain medications to alleviate her symptoms, they make her feel like she’s “between dreamland and reality,” unable to function normally. As she’s gotten older, Sasha’s pain episodes have become more frequent. In addition to medication, recommended treatment for these episodes includes avoiding triggers like stress or going outside during abrupt weather shifts.
Despite her medical condition, Sasha wants to work, and has attempted to work many different kinds of jobs. However, the unpredictable nature of her pain attacks and other limitations from SCD have caused her to lose or be forced to leave every job she’s had. She tried being a security guard, but was fired for missing too many days due to SCD. As a cashier at a clothing store, she had to take unapproved rest breaks in the changing room due to pain and exhaustion. As a production assistant for a film company—her real passion—she was called into work only sporadically, and had a hard time keeping up.
Because SCD prevents her from maintaining full-time employment, Sasha relies on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to survive. In 2016, however, the Social Security Administration sent Sasha a notice that her benefits would be terminated because the agency had decided that her condition had “medically improved.” After Sasha tried unsuccessfully to represent herself in administrative court, she knew she needed a lawyer. She found GBLS on a list of resources at the court and reached out to seek help.
Sasha visited GBLS and told her story to a lawyer in our Elder, Health, and Disability practice group. By that time, the lawyer had just 10 days to prepare for Sasha’s hearing, as the judge refused to postpone the hearing. The judge denied Sasha’s request, and her lawyer immediately appealed while also filing a new application on Sasha’s behalf. Sasha’s GBLS lawyer then represented her in two separate courts: the appeal of the first case in one court, and the application in the second case in another.
Without income benefits, Sasha lost access to essential treatments and services. She was also ordered to repay back benefits. All of this despite being severely disabled by SCD and unable to maintain consistent employment. Fortunately, after taking on Sasha’s cases, her GBLS attorney helped her successfully secure benefits and is working to fight the original termination and related order to pay back benefits. Sasha is now getting the financial support she needs to survive, is working on a daily basis to manage her pain and Sickle Cell Disease, and has GBLS on her side to fight for what’s right.
GBLS is grateful for the community leaders and client representatives who help guide the organization through feedback, participation in community outreach and education, and through service on our Board of Directors. Jurett Mooltrey-Weathers, who has been a longtime volunteer in our Cambridge office and is a former client, joined the GBLS Board in 2018. Reflecting on the impact that people can have when working together, Jurett composed the following poem.
Speak for me for I cannot talk
And I'll carry you when you cannot walk
Stand with me and help me to believe
Now look at just how much WE've Achieved
Working together to navigate the course
Watch how WE Become this Striking Force
Just when I think I'll be drowned in defeat
You let me know there isn't anything WE Can't Beat
Overwhelm and paralyzed by the pain
Then I'm reminded there's so much more of the Best of Life Yet To Gain
By Jurett Mooltrey-Weathers
Jurett, who recently attended the National Legal Aid and Defender Association annual conference as a GBLS representative, said: “At one point, someone advocated for me, and if I can just give a little bit of that back and then they can pass it on and give it back. Because I know the feeling that you can’t talk, feeling that you need someone to help you. You don’t know how to navigate the court. You don’t know which way to go. Then someone steps into help you.”
Thank you for your beautiful words and your thoughtful leadership, Jurett!
Remembering & Honoring Jack Ward
John B. "Jack" Ward (1946 - 2019) served as a valued and respected member of Greater Boston Legal Services' staff for 35 years, retiring from his role as Director of Finance and Development in 2015. In October 2019, members of the GBLS community, including Jack's husband and family, gathered to remember Jack and to announce the creation of the Jack Ward Community Forum to honor our dear friend and colleague.
The Jack Ward Community Forum will celebrate Jack's legacy of increasing knowledge within the field of legal aid and enriching the social fabric of GBLS itself. A memorial fund created in Jack’s name will support the annual speaker series, which will feature experts in the field of poverty law and other topics affecting GBLS' clients and our community. The Jack Ward Community Forum will be open to members of the GBLS network, including staff and volunteers, and each session will conclude with a social hour to strengthen the sense of community that we share in this work.
To learn more about Jack’s life, the legacy he leaves behind, and how to contribute to the memorial fund, please click here.
From the Front Lines: A Chat with GBLS Receptionist Juan Valdes
When people come into GBLS’ office for the first time, they are often in crisis. Their family is facing a serious issue, whether it’s a potential eviction, loss of income, or other destabilizing factors. What they need most is an expert lawyer – and a warm welcome.
Since 2003, Juan Valdes has been manning the front desk at GBLS’ Friend Street headquarters as one of our full-time receptionists, providing a friendly smile and a patient ear to all who enter. With almost 17 years of experience as the frontline face of GBLS, Juan’s dedication to GBLS’ mission and clients is obvious.
Reflecting on the toughest part of his job, Juan said, “It’s very difficult when you have someone coming in that is going through a hard time. I always want to try and help if I can. At the same time I have to realize that there might not be something we can do.” But, Juan says, “I have learned that sometimes people just want to be heard. I let them tell me their story and stay positive. Once I hear what they need help with, I try my hardest to see if I can get them on the right path. If we can’t help, it lingers on my mind.”
Juan does his job with compassion, and says, “You see a lot of the same issues, but the ones that stand out are when people are having issues with utilities or eviction. Winter season is here and to think of families without a home or heat is heart breaking.”
Fortunately, GBLS is able to help thousands of people every year – many of whom Juan interacts with during their time with GBLS. Juan remembers one recent client: “There was a mother we were helping. She was trying to get her kids. She would talk to me about them and how she wanted to reunite with them. Then one day she came in with a smile on her face. She had her kids with her and she couldn’t wait to introduce them to me in person. She was so proud and happy. I was very happy for her.”
Juan spends his free time with his own kids, often out on the soccer field coaching. He is on the Board of Directors for Lynn Youth Soccer, and says “the joy of teaching kids the sport is a great feeling.” As an integral part of the GBLS team, it’s also a great feeling to have Juan helping our clients at the front desk.
We appreciate you, Juan!
Greater Boston Legal Services provides free legal assistance in civil (noncriminal) matters to low-income families and individuals in the Greater Boston area, helping people access the basic necessities of life, including shelter, healthcare, and safety from abuse.