Warm Hearts, Deep Pockets

Our annual guide to creative ways to make life better for somebody in need

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

beth_danonBeth Danon, chair IOLTA committee

Each December, we take time to review the slew of releases that have come in during the last year relating to the myriad ways business people find to give back to the community or to help those in need. We never cease to be amazed by their creativity and proud to live in a state where such generosity thrives.

We’ve highlighted a few of them in the sidebar here, but for our main story this year, we wanted to take a closer look at the Vermont Bar Foundation and the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, which generates most of its funding.

The Vermont Bar Foundation was formed in 1982 by the Vermont Bar Association, and resides in Montpelier in the association’s offices on Court Street. Among the foundation’s original goals were “to support legal aid facilities for the indigent and legal service corporations” and “to contribute to public programs providing for the physical improvement of courts and other agencies engaged in the administration of justice.”

IOLTA funds come from the interest on all the trust accounts held by lawyers in the state. The idea took root in Australia and Canada in the late 1960s and early ’70s as a way to generate funds for legal services to the poor. The Florida Bar was the first one in the United States to file a petition to establish an IOLTA program, begun in the early 1980s.

Now, every state, along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, operates an IOLTA program. Forty of them require all lawyers in the state to participate, 10 give lawyers the ability to opt out of the program, and two make IOLTA voluntary. Vermont’s, which launched in 1984 as a voluntary program with approval of the Vermont Supreme Court, has been mandatory for all Vermont lawyers and law firms since March 1, 1990. The Vermont Bar Foundation is the recipient of the IOLTA funds through a partnership between the lawyers and the financial community.

Beth Danon, a partner in the firm Kohn Rath Danon & Appel in Hinesburg and past president of the foundation, chairs the IOLTA committee, a volunteer job she took on after her board tenure was up. She praises the group of what she calls “honor roll” banks for stepping up and paying increased interest rates on the savings accounts. “In other states, they pass comparability rules, where banks have to pay rates comparable to other savings accounts. We did it the Vermont way,” she says, “which is, Let’s partner. Some of the honor roll banks are paying as much as 2 percent interest. It’s a huge charitable plus.”

Deborah Bailey, the Vermont Bar Foundation’s executive director, wears all the hats. Her background in finance, including 12 years with the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU), serves her well. “I’ve been with the Bar Foundation for 20 years,” she says, “17 years as director. “There used to be two of us here. Then the director moved on and they decided just to have one staff person.”

Staff from the Vermont Bar Association provide additional support at no extra cost to the foundation, which is overseen by a volunteer board of directors who raise funds, promote Access to Justice programs, and distribute grants.

At its highest point, Vermont could count on nearly $1.3 million a year in IOLTA revenue, but as the economy has dipped, so have the returns, sinking since 2008. In 2014, the foundation estimates the revenue from financial institutions will be $857,600, down from $1,052,000 in 2013. Total grants paid out this year will be $970,870, down from $1,008,000 in 2013.

Besides IOLTA, Bailey says, “our other revenue comes from what we call the Access to Justice Campaign that we run annually. Our campaign committee goes out and contacts attorneys and judges and various groups to make a contribution to this campaign. Most of the funding will go toward our Poverty Law Fellow.” To date, the campaign, launched in 2008, has funded four two-year fellows and raised over $668,000. The current fellow is Katelyn Atwood, whose focus will be veterans’ issues.

Three grant programs

1. The foundation oversees three grant programs. The non-competitive grant program is composed of grantees that receive funds each year. Since its inception, the foundation has awarded the bulk of its non-competitive funds to Vermont Legal Aid (VLA). This grant helps supplement federal and state funding the VLA receives. In the mid 2000s, LawLine Vermont and Vermont Law School’s legal clinic were added to the recipients.

2. The loan repayment assistance program, established in 2007, provides educational loan repayment assistance for Vermont attorneys employed in public service or by the Defender General’s Office. Annual individual grants range from $500 to $5,000 and alleviate the financial pressures to allow attorneys to work in the public service sector.

3. The competitive grants program serves grantees that apply annually for funding. Proposals come from Vermont nonprofit entities seeking funds for legal services and/or public legal education. Geographic impact and creativity in providing needed services or education are considered when determining recipients. Requests always exceed the funding available.

The 21 competitive grantees in 2014 include seven Bar Association legal assistance projects plus organizations across the state as varied as Burlington College, whose Pro Se legal clinic teaches low-income Vermonters how to manage their own legal issues in courts; the Migrant Justice advocacy program; Women Helping Battered Women; and the legal empowerment assistance program of Have Justice Will Travel.

“Landlord-tenant, foreclosure, family law — is that justice when people have to go to court without a lawyer?” Danon asks. “Especially when one side is represented.” •

The Picture Tells the Story

We gleaned these photos from the hundreds of releases we received about business generosity over the last year. Steal an idea for your own giving program.

vhfa_mittens_fmtVHFA mitten project

The Vermont Housing Finance Agency

The Vermont Housing Finance Agency put a clever twist to its annual holiday tradition last year when it donated a pair of mittens stuffed with holiday candy to Burlington’s Women Helping Battered Women for every new “like” on the agency’s Facebook page through Dec. 15.

automaster_honda-to-sh_fmtThe Automaster at Shelburne Museum

The Automaster

The Automaster in Shelburne is a longtime supporter of the Shelburne Museum through corporate membership and sponsorship of events. Last Christmas, John DuBrul (below right), vice president of The Automaster, presented the keys of a white Honda CR-V to Thomas Denenberg, director of the Shelburne Museum. The car is being be used by the protection services staff to patrol the museum grounds.

human_society-st.-bern_fmtBlessing of the Animals

Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society

This year, on Saturday, Oct. 4, the Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society in Brownsville hosted a Blessing of the Animals conducted by Pastor Bill Sheldon of the Brownsville Community Church. Adults and children were encouraged to take their dogs, cats, horses, birds, lizards, pot-bellied pigs, fish, turtles, and other well-behaved animals or a photo of a pet for blessing. The gathering presented an opportunity for folks to contribute dog and cat food, litter, food bowls, beds, leashes and collars, hay, and feed for the Animals-in-Need Food Shelf.

santa_run-2014_fmtNEFCU Santa Run

New England Federal Credit Union

Last December, the New England Federal Credit Union sponsored the annual Ri Ra Santa 5K Run & Walk to benefit Camp Ta Kum Ta. About 2,000 Santas (walkers and runners) take to downtown Burlington streets, starting and finishing at Ri Ra Irish Pub. Race participants collect pledges in support of their runs and receive a Santa suit to wear during the event, plus a free, full hot breakfast after the race.

NEFCU offers a wealth of creative fundraising opportunities every year. This year, for example, the credit union teamed up with the Vermont Lake Monsters to conduct free Champ appearances (called “Champ Sightings”) to nonprofit organizations and other programs that share a commitment to enhancing the well-being of local communities. Champ has been the mascot for the Lake Monsters since the team’s first season in the New York–Penn League in 1994.

NEFCU also funds annual nursing scholarships, and four times a year chooses four organizations or events at random to receive $625 each, for a total of $10,000 annually.

stantec_trailside-cent_fmtStantec Trailside Center Community Day

Stantec

The local design firm Stantec dedicates a day each year to volunteer service, and this year celebrated its 60th year in business. The 20-plus volunteers spent the day in four shifts. One team cleaned and repaired donated bicycles for Bike Recycle Vermont to give to low-income Vermonters, while another team cleaned bikes for the Local Motion Trailside Center on the Burlington Bike Path. A third group did yard work and maintenance for residents at the Our Lady of Providence senior living center in Winooski, and a fourth cleaned up a bike path in Springfield. •