by SCOTT B. GARNER
A year ago at this time, the Orange County Bar Association Charitable Fund was preparing to put on its 36th annual Kenneth Lae Golf Scramble at Pelican Hill. Traditionally, the event has been held in the spring; indeed, the 2020 tournament was scheduled for March 31. 2020 being 2020, however, a March golf tournament was not going to happen, and last year’s Charitable Fund President Deirdre Kelly made the decision to move the tournament to October, with the hope that the pandemic would be a distant memory by then.
Well, of course the pandemic was far from disappearing in October, but we nonetheless went forward with a golf scramble unlike the ones most of us were familiar with. Gone was the gathering in advance of a shotgun start, replaced by tee times spread throughout the morning. Gone was the ability to share a golf cart with a colleague or client, replaced by single-rider golf carts. And, saddest of all, gone were the post-golf cocktails and dinner, and the opportunity to swap stories of that amazing drive off the twelfth tee. But, pandemic be damned, we still went forward, with the ultimate goal of raising money achieved.
Fast forward to 2021. As the immediate past president of the OCBA, I have the honor of leading the OCBA Charitable Fund as its president. And, although the pandemic is far from over, we are returning the golf tournament to its rightful place in the Spring. As we finalize the details, we hope OCBA members and judges will find a way to join us. We won’t know until shortly before the tournament exactly what the rules will be regarding gatherings and golf carts, but we will press forward even if we are required to duplicate our social distancing format of 2020.
While the golf tournament is a fun event, and an opportunity for many of us to host a client or colleague, the real reason we put on this event is to raise money for a number of local, legal-based charities. The Kenneth Lae Golf Scramble is one of two major events the Charitable Fund hosts each year—the second being our annual wine tasting event dubbed “Raise Your Glass.” 2020, of course, saw “Raise Your Glass” become “Raise Your Glass at Home,” as the annual social gathering went virtual. Event chairs Nikki Miliband and Christina Zabat-Fran put on a great virtual event, allowing us to come together from the comfort of our homes, while enjoying a glass (or two) of wine with Amelia Singer, one of the hosts of Hulu’s The Wine Show. And, most importantly, we were still able to raise money, although not nearly as much as our live event usually brings in. That, of course, means we have less money to give to our wonderful pro bono and other legal services charities, and they, in turn, have fewer resources to devote to their clients and causes.
As I write this, the first vaccines are being administered to our frontline healthcare workers and other essential workers, and Disneyland may again become the happiest place on earth—for now doling out vaccines to an eager public. So, perhaps for the first time since last March, we see a light at the end of this tunnel. Whether that light comes quickly enough to allow for a shotgun golf tournament with a social gathering this spring remains to be seen, although that may be a bit too optimistic. Whether we will be safe to attend a Raise Your Glass gala in person this summer or fall is still an open question. We currently are considering moving the event from our usual August timeframe to sometime in the fall in order to maximize our chances of holding an in-person event. But however this plays out, the charities we support will continue to work for their clients, which means we will continue to support those charities.
As a member of the Charitable Fund board, and now its President, what is so frustrating is that we face such difficulties raising money during this pandemic, while at the same time the organizations we support need our money all the more. Virtual events are simply not a replacement for live events, and the money intake in 2020 definitely bore that out. Similarly, many law firms and lawyers struggled through 2020, making it harder for our donors to be as generous this year as they have been in past years.
But just as the pandemic has made it harder for us to raise money, so too has the pandemic created problems for the clients served by our many worthy grant recipients. As just one example, Orange County has seen alarming increases in the need for domestic violence legal services, much of which has been attributed to the lockdowns and increased stress caused by the pandemic. So organizations like the Bette and Wylie Aitken Family Protection Clinic, Human Options, Laura’s House, and Women’s Transitional Living Center became all the more vital. Similarly, organizations like Public Law Center and Veterans Legal Institute, who protect clients facing actual or potential homelessness, are all the more important.
So who are the charities the Charitable Fund supports? They vary in many ways, but what they have in common is a commitment to legal causes in our backyard of Orange County. Here are the organizations who will receive grants from the Charitable Fund on February 22 at our annual grant giving reception, a virtual event this year. These grants were made possible by our members’ participation in the 2020 golf tournament and Raise Your Glass at Home gala.
California Youth Connection. This local organization received a grant for its “Creating Leaders from Within” project. California Youth Connection engages in youth development and leadership skills building, conducts local and statewide advocacy, trains child welfare staff and other professionals working with foster youth, and conducts outreach and education.
Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law. Chapman Law School’s Bettie and Wylie Aitken Family Protection Clinic provides legal services to low-income survivors of family violence, while at the same time educating and training law students on the relevant laws and procedures, while instilling in them the pro bono values needed to serve these low-income survivors of family violence. The recent lockdowns and other COVID restrictions have only increased family violence in our community, so programs and clinics like these are even more important now than they ever have been.
Collaborative Courts Foundation. The Orange County Collaborative Court Programs include Drug Court, DUI Court, Veteran’s Court, and Mental Health Courts. The Collaborative Courts Foundation provides support for participants in these programs, to help them overcome substance abuse or mental health issues and become productive members of society. The Foundation’s support includes emergency housing, transportation vouchers, dental and eye care, and food and other necessities.
Constitutional Rights Foundation, Orange County. This non-partisan education organization organizes civic and education experiences for middle and high school students, including a Mock Trial, Law Day, Constitution Day, Orange County Career Forum, Peer Court, and Middle School Moot Court. Its programs promote students’ understanding of our democratic institutions and help them build confidence and achieve success beyond high school.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County. CASA provides legal assistance to children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment. It trains volunteers who are empowered by the Juvenile Court to advocate for these children in the justice system. These same volunteers serve as mentors, providing a much-needed lifeline for these children.
Elder Law and Disability Rights Center (ELDR Center). The ELDR Center provides free and low-cost legal services to low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and their families. It has championed changes in how to serve those experiencing homelessness, combatted elder abuse, and helped provide end-of-life planning to those who could not afford it. The ELDR Center will receive a 2021 grant from the Charitable Fund for its Covid-19 Facility Eviction Prevention program.
Family Legal Assistance at CHOC. Family Legal Assistance at CHOC received a grant for its “HEALTH” initiative—Helping Expand Access to Lawyers, Treatment, and Healthcare. The goal of the initiative is to provide pro bono legal services to low-income children to ensure they receive critical healthcare services no matter their families’ ability to pay for those services. The target clients are low-income children without biological parents and severely developmentally disabled young adults living in low-income households.
Human Options. Human Options advocates for and educates on behalf of victims of domestic and relationship violence. Its services for victims include drafting and obtaining restraining orders and representing clients at hearings. It also extends safe places for victims while they embark on their sometimes frightening journey.
Laura’s House. Laura’s House is yet another of the much-needed organizations dedicated to delivering domestic violence related services in Orange County. Laura’s House’s primary goal is to educate the community and advocate on behalf of victims of domestic violence. It also provides shelter and support programs for victims, with the goal of preparing them to live independent and violence-free lives.
Orange County Bar Foundation dba Project Youth OCBF. Project Youth OCBF has successfully pivoted during the pandemic. It’s non-COVID program places students—primarily Latinos from Santa Ana—in internships with law firms to help develop their confidence, provide them real professional experience, and reduce the risk of delinquent behavior. During COVID, however, internships with law firms have not been available. But Project Youth has continued to provide emotional support as well as practical, everyday assistance to these at-risk individuals by providing assistance with resumes, professional dressing, interview basics, and other skills aimed at helping them transition to the professional world.
Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (OC GRIP Foundation). OC GRIP was founded by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, whose attorneys continue to volunteer their time to provide opportunities to at-risk youths. Deputy District Attorneys educate students about gang laws, truancy laws, and behaviors that could contribute to their delinquency. GRIP’s ultimate goal is to prevent minors from joining criminal street gangs. Although the pandemic has forced OC GRIP to rely on distance learning, it continues to provide these same services to its community.
Orange County Justice Fund. The Orange County Justice Fund is an immigration rights legal organization created through a collaboration of attorneys, law professors, and grassroots leaders. Its goal is to ensure that no Orange County residents face deportation without an attorney, and to provide support for those eligible for release from detention. At no time have these immigration services been more vital, as detainees face unprecedented health crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public Law Center. The Public Law Center, or PLC, is known to all of us as the gold standard for providing access to justice for low-income residents. In this, its fortieth year, the PLC focused its grant request on pandemic-related services, recognizing the extreme needs of its clients resulting from both the health crisis and the economic devastation resulting from that health crisis. As always, the PLC partners with Orange County lawyers to provide the pro bono legal services that form the bedrock of its efforts.
University of California, Irvine School of Law. UCI School of Law’s grant award supports two distinct programs—the Pre-Law Outreach Program (POP) and the Saturday Academy of Law (SAL). The POP program helps students understand the demands of law school, prepares them for the law school application and admission process, and seeks to inspire them to use their post-law school legal skills to give back to their community. The SAL program teaches ninth graders how to improve important skills, including reading, writing, and critical thinking. It also teaches them about the legal profession and the opportunities in that profession that these students might not otherwise appreciate.
Veterans Legal Institute. Recognizing a dearth of legal access and assistance for low-income veterans, the Veterans Legal Institute, or VLI, was founded to provide pro bono legal assistance to homeless and low-income current and former service members, focusing on such areas as housing, healthcare, education, and employment. VLI depends on Orange County lawyers willing to contribute their time to help these national heroes who are struggling to survive.
Women’s Transitional Living Center, Inc. The mission of Women’s Transitional Living Center (WTLC) is to help individuals and families escape domestic violence and exploitation by providing shelter and housing services, counseling and legal advocacy, and prevention education services. As with Orange County’s other domestic violence-focused legal organizations, WTLC has seen a sharp spike in the demand for its services, largely resulting from the lockdowns necessitated by COVID-19.
The Charitable Fund makes a difference for all of these organizations, who in turn make a difference in the lives of so many individuals. And all you have to do to help is pick up a golf club and enjoy a day in the sun. Pandemic be damned. Let’s have some fun and make a difference.
Scott B. Garner is a partner at Umberg/Zipser LLP, President of the OCBA Charitable Fund, and Immediate Past President of the OCBA. He can be reached at email@example.com.