The Whitewater Valley Pro Bono Commission had a banner year in 2016.
Okay, so “banner year” is not a good way to describe the two-person office on the third floor of the Richmond Municipal Building. Last year they were busy. Extremely busy.
That’s because the need for their services continues to grow in Wayne County. Pro bono offers free legal help for county residents in civil matters. In 2015, the office and its roughly 12 volunteer attorneys received just short of 700 applications for help.
This year that number topped 794, 672 of which were from clients needing help with family law issues, things like divorce, custody, support, visitation and to a lesser extent guardianship.
Who are their clients?
“A lot of our clients are the working poor, people working two or three part-time jobs or a full-time minimum wage job,” said executive director Shane Edington. “They are people trying to keep a roof over their head, put food on the table and keep a car running. They don’t have a lot of extra income for legal situations.”
“And of course many are children. They are at the heart of what we do. They are the most vulnerable segment of our society,” he said.
About 20 percent of the applicants are people also struggling with addiction.
“You might have a case where dad is in jail for drugs and mom is battling addiction, and grandma and grandpa are raising the kids. Many of our cases involve drugs and addiction. We spend a lot of our time dealing with parents who are not able to care for their kids because of addiction.”
Right or wrong, it’s a sign of the times in Wayne County.
Edington said that the commission’s No. 1 goal this year is to recruit more volunteer attorneys. He said he’s had 10 applications for help in the first 11 days of this year.
“The need is growing. We clearly have to recruit more help,” he said. “My goal is to meet with every single attorney in Wayne County to see if they are able to help.”
Currently, attorneys like board vice president A.J. Sickman, Amy Noe, Don Simkin, Cory Bell, Abby Rohmiller, Adam Forrest, Bruce Metzger and others have volunteered their time for pro bono cases.
In 2015, the commission also began offering free legal help with mortgage foreclosure defense to residents in Wayne, Union and Randolph counties.
Pro bono will host a free “meet with an attorney” night from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday (Jan. 16) in the Bard Room at Morrisson-Reeves Library. Residents can get a 20-minute free legal consultation with a local attorney that night.
The commission operates on a $65,000 per year budget, all of which comes from fund-raising and grants, including from the Wayne County Foundation. Other support has come from the United Way of the Whitewater Valley, the Indiana State Bar Foundation, the Doxpop Donor Advised Fund and the Chase Bank Settlement Agreement.
The commission receives no government funding and is a 501 (c) (3) and donations are tax deductible.
Fund-raising is done through an annual 5K race and golf outing during the summer and an awards luncheon in December.
Anyone wishing to donate can do so by mailing a check to the Wayne County Pro Bono Commission, 50 N. Fifth St., Richmond, IN 47374 or by dropping off a contribution at the office on the third floor of the Richmond Municipal Building from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Donors can also go to the commission’s website and click on the “Pay-Pal” link. For information, call (765) 983-78353.