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Matthew Bennett, agency director, and Fred Kent III collaborate at the Nonprofit Organization Legal Services Forum.
Jax Daily Record Monday, Nov. 4, 201312:00 PM EST

Attorneys assist nonprofits with pro bono services

by: Kathy Para

For the third year, The Florida Bar Business Law Section held a successful pro bono clinic for nonprofit agencies Tuesday at Florida Coastal School of Law.

Eleven agencies and 10 attorneys participated, with some agencies receiving assistance after the event.

The forum was hosted by Florida Coastal School of Law with the help of professor Karen Millard, pro bono director.

Law students Victoria Gammill and Kenneth Goff assisted with greeting and directing agency representatives to their interview rooms. Advising attorneys included Jim Nolan, Fred Kent, III, James Eidson, April G. Hosford, Jeff McFarland, Amanda Brooks, Kyle Sawicki, Howard Caplan, Johann Van Lierop and Ray Mantle.

Akerman Managing Partner, John Macdonald spearheaded the event with the goal of The Florida Bar Business Law Section being to foster an opportunity in which transactional attorneys can offer expertise to support nonprofit organizations that are serving local communities with a variety of services.

Participating agencies included the Mind Body Boot Camp, the DePaul School of Northeast Florida, Lend An Ear, Our Daily Bread, Better Living Community Association, Destined for a Change, Sherwood Forest/Paradise Park Community Association, DTAIBAI (Don't Talk About It, Be About It), the Northeast Florida Accountability Forum Corporation, Crays Support Solutions and Jimi Jobs.

These nonprofits serve our community with a broad range of services including: offering programs that encourage positive life goals in at-risk young people, providing effective teaching environments for special needs students, meeting the needs of mentally challenged adults, providing services to the homeless; revitalizing neighborhoods; providing hearing aids for low-income seniors; offering job and career counseling; and stocking the refrigerators of low-income seniors after hospital stays.

This year's event highlighted a nonprofit success story. One of the participants included Lisa Sheek, the president of Lend An Ear. In 2011, Sheek attended the first event to receive guidance on forming a 501(c)(3) organization whose purpose would be to collect used hearing aids, get them cleaned and re-calibrated, and distribute them to hearing impaired low-income seniors free of charge.

Sheek worked with pro bono attorney, Fred Kent, III, at the 2011 event and with Carol Miller, the community development attorney at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid to establish Lend An Ear. This year Sheek registered for the forum to discuss forming a new 501 (c)(3), Our Daily Bread, whose mission will be to help ensure that low-income seniors returning to their homes after hospital stays will have nutritious, simple-to-prepare food available to aid in their healing process.

She also sought a "legal check-up" for Lend An Ear and reported that since January, the organization has provided hearing aids to more than 100 local senior citizens. She said they are expanding their efforts to include children in need of hearing aids.

These small nonprofits are on the front line in our community meeting real needs and providing relief and support in countless ways. Their structure is largely volunteer-driven. Having the opportunity to receive free legal guidance facilitates their service in our community and we all benefit.

Macdonald stated, "It really is our privilege to assist Ms. Sheek and others like her. These people have vision and energy. They've identified a need and they are doing something about it. If we can help in some small way, there is no better use of our legal expertise."

The Jacksonville project served as a pilot for the state in 2011. Since then, the Nonprofit Organizations Pro Bono Legal Services Forum has been launched in Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee.

Sincere appreciation is extended to the many transactional attorneys who stepped forward to help. The Nonprofit Organizations Pro Bono Legal Services Forum does not require long-term commitment to the organization, although an attorney may choose to continue with legal assistance beyond the one-hour consultation.

Attorneys who would like to know more about pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman of The JBA Pro Bono Committee at [email protected].

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