The sliding economy has been difficult for families and institutions throughout South Jersey. An impact area that is often overlooked is funding for non-profit agencies.
Budgets for non-profit agencies have been decimated the past few years, forcing many agencies to close their doors. Low income families who are assisted by the services of these agencies are left without needed assistance. Legal assistance for the poor is one such area.
South Jersey Legal Services, an agency I was proud to work for, was forced to lay off attorneys because of funding cutbacks. The Governor’s proposed budget for this coming year proposes more funding cuts for Legal Services.
I currently serve on the Board of Trustees for the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice, Inc. (CCLSJ). CCLSJ is a faith based law center that works closely with Catholic Charities and the Camden Diocese in providing legal assistance to the poor throughout our diocese. We see first-hand the effects of funding cut backs.
Legal representation makes a world of difference in the outcome of a case. Effective representation can assist a woman seeking domestic violence protection, prevent a family’s eviction, thwart an unjust collections case, or help a newcomer obtain proper immigration status.
The need for families seeking legal assistance has never been greater. Attorneys know of our obligation to provide pro bono assistance. I suggest the obligation goes beyond our profession and is at the heart of our faith. We are called to love. To be the mind, heart and hands of Jesus in our community.
Attorneys are uniquely qualified to advocate for low income individuals and families in legal and administrative matters. In this season of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit calling you to use your gifts to assist those in need? If God has loved us so, we must have the same love for one another… If we love one another God dwells in us (I John 4:11-12). These words from the first letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of our Christian faith. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict emphasized the unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor. Following the example of the Good Samaritan found in the Gospel of St. Luke, Christian charity is found in our response to the immediate needs of our neighbors.
The Eucharist also commits us to the poor. As we receive the Body of Christ we must recognize the Body of Christ is each other, especially the poor.
Here in South Jersey some of our neighbors face eviction, need protection from abuse or have other legal needs and cannot afford an attorney. The Camden Center for Law and Social Justice is always in need of volunteer attorneys to assist clients. If you are interested in volunteering, even if it is for only one case a year, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call CCLSJ director Jeff DeCristofaro at 856-583-2950. Know that your assistance will make a difference in the life of that individual and the Body of Christ will be enriched because of your love.
Vincent G. Guest, Esq. is a seminarian for the Diocese of Camden and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice, Inc. He is in IV Theology and studies at Theological College at The Catholic University of America. This summer he is working at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Gibbstown.