Free Legal Education and Assistance offered at Project Self-Sufficiency
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 • 12:43pm
Sussex County is home to hundreds of attorneys, with specialties ranging from expunging criminal records to handling divorce. The average Sussex County resident may never need the services of a lawyer, but for those who have questions about the law, or who have a more complicated legal issue, a variety of free legal services are available at Project Self-Sufficiency. Some programs are even available to the public, regardless of income level. For example, free seminars about family law, bankruptcy, issues impacting the elderly and the expungement of prior criminal records are offered to the public numerous times a year.
Ann Pompelio, Esquire, has volunteered her time extensively at Project Self-Sufficiency, offering individual consultations to clients as well as facilitating free seminars about her area of specialty, Family Law. “I applaud the existence of Project Self-Sufficiency and I am proud to be a family law attorney who can educate people about the law, the divorce process, custody laws, and how to file a motion to get a revision of child support. Project Self-Sufficiency is a valuable organization. Family law is my area of expertise and I think it is important to give back to the community. I am fortunate to be able to run my own business and volunteer right down the street.”
In addition to the monthly seminars, Project Self-Sufficiency offers a variety of legal education services to income eligible residents, including one-on-one consultations, divorce mediation, pro se divorce workshops, child support motion clinics, and a court accompaniment program. The free 45-minute consultations are offered every Thursday, while the remaining programs are offered on an as-needed basis to income-eligible residents. All of the agency’s programs are voluntarily facilitated by attorneys from the Sussex County Bar Association. Funding for the program is provided by the IOLTA Fund of the Bar of New Jersey and the Sussex County Family Success Center at Project Self-Sufficiency.
“The members of the Sussex County Bar Association who volunteer their time each month to assist our clients are providing an invaluable service,” notes Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “Their commitment to this program is laudable. We are extremely fortunate to have such a dedicated group of individuals offering their help to our clients at such a critical time in their lives.”
Michael Nelms, Esquire, is an expert in bankruptcy and real estate law with an office located in Newton. He spends a considerable amount of time giving free seminars at Project Self-Sufficiency about bankruptcy as well as counseling local residents about the benefits of filing for bankruptcy. “I like the public service aspect of volunteering at Project Self-Sufficiency. They are a great organization and they provide a great service. It is important for the legal profession as a whole to give back. You can’t just be a taker in life. There are a lot of people who can really benefit by filing for bankruptcy and they have no idea about the process. Doing these seminars allows me to give them an overview about what is involved and let them know how it can benefit them.”
The agency recently added a new Divorce Mediation Program to their roster of free legal services, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of local attorney Dina Mikulka, Esquire, who saw a need for the service, recruited additional volunteer attorneys and created the program at Project Self-Sufficiency. The new mediation program is designed for low-income individuals going through a divorce, and will allow the two disputing parties to resolve their differences with a trained mediator, rather than resorting to a trial.
The idea for the new program came to Dina as she observed countless individuals struggle to represent themselves in court. “I saw a need because so many litigants were self-representing in family court, and they were really struggling with cases that could probably be easily resolved. This is a particular program where an experienced matrimonial lawyer has volunteered their time at a reduced rate to assist clients who could not otherwise afford counsel to help them sort through some of the issues surrounding their divorce.”
The legal process of mediation allows a third party, usually an attorney, to serve as an objective facilitator between two people who are unable to resolve their differences. The process has a structure, timetable and broad set of rules, but participation is voluntary. Mediation can apply to any legal dispute, but the program offered by Project Self-Sufficiency will focus only on issues surrounding divorce.
Project Self-Sufficiency offers Pro Se Divorce Workshops to agency participants who are seeking a divorce, but who have no child support, custody or property issues. A group of 6 – 8 people meets monthly and allows individuals who are seeking an uncontested divorce to access assistance with the paperwork necessary for filing for divorce. “This program is really for divorces that have limited complexity,” comments Deborah Berry-Toon. “Participants meet monthly with an attorney who coaches them on document preparation. It’s an efficient way to handle the process.”
Many participants need help with updating motions related to family law, so the agency offers the Child Support Motion Clinic. The Child Support Motion Clinic walks clients through the steps necessary for changing existing child support agreements. One attorney meets with participants on an as-needed basis, usually once a month until the process is completed. The group can accommodate up to ten people at a time.
The agency also offers a Court Accompaniment program to participants who may need encouragement in the courtroom during a hearing or trial. “This service does not involve legal assistance,” explains Deborah Berry-Toon. “Instead, for those clients who are going to court for minor procedures, a representative from the legal community or Project Self-Sufficiency would accompany them for moral support.”
Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey. The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children through the achievement of personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability. Since 1986 Project Self-Sufficiency has served more than 19,500 families, including over 30,000 children.
To find out more about the legal education services available at Project Self-Sufficiency, visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org or call 973-940-3500.