Senior Legal Services working for seniors in the community.
It is important to me in retirement to continue to give back in meaningful ways by volunteering where I can now that I am retired. Senior Legal Services (“SLS”) is a joint program of the Bar Association of Baltimore City and the Baltimore Bar Foundation, Inc. It is a very small organization that provides a huge service to seniors living in Baltimore City. There are a lot of organizations providing similar services to seniors but SLS is unique in that they have a presence in the community. Seniors do not have to come to SLS. SLS goes to the seniors. They provide services in the field by going out to senior centers and senior apartment buildings, as well as conducting outreach programs at community events and church groups upon request. The organization serves as a last resort many times for seniors who may otherwise not be able to avail themselves of legal services because of the costs associated.
Eligibility to participate.
To be eligible for the program the seniors need only be a resident of Baltimore City, age 60 or older and the highest priority goes to low-income seniors. The range of matters include estate planning and administration matters (e.g., wills, advance medical directives, probate, guardianship, etc.), housing matters (e.g., landlord/tenant, foreclosure prevention, loan modification, home improvement and other types of contractual matters that adversely affect seniors).
I am amazed at the amount of work that is done by so few people with so few resources. They have only three full-time attorneys and rely on volunteer attorneys to fill the void when needed. They are able to take advantage of programs such as Volunteer Maryland (similar to Americorp) and the periodic use of interns to get additional help. With that staffing model, they were able to provide legal services to over 1,000 seniors in 2015. The funding is provided by the State, City and corporate partners as well as several charitable foundations.
How I got involved.
My former employer, Exelon, partnered with SLS in conducting estate clinics at various senior centers in Baltimore City. That is how I first got involved. When I approached Natalie after I retired to see how I could continue working with them, she suggested that I could accompany one of their attorneys to the Oliver Center. They generously provide space in the center so that SLS is able to meet with seniors by appointment during one of two sessions each month.
The Oliver Center – one of Baltimore’s finest senior centers.
The Oliver Center is a wonderful senior center full of vital and wonderful seniors. It is hard to keep my feet from moving sometimes when I am there. In addition to rocking line dancing classes where the dancers are often spilling into the hallway, you can find seniors attending healthy eating sessions with cooking demonstrations, working in a computer lab, taking sewing classes, and just gathering in spaces where seniors can share a few hours talking and sharing a meal with others in their community. The Oliver Center also provides information to seniors on the many services that are available through the City of Baltimore and the State so that they can be sure that their housing and health issues are addressed.
There is joy in seeing the seniors take advantage of the activities the Oliver Center and other similar centers offer around the city. Many seniors live alone and would otherwise not have the physical activity or the interpersonal activity on a regular basis. Sometimes they come to see us frustrated and even scared at their circumstances – perhaps facing foreclosure because they can no longer afford their homes, pressures from contracts that they signed without fully understanding the implications, fearful of making a will or an advance medical directive because end of life decisions can be difficult for some to face. Sometimes, they just need to talk through family matters which they do not realize may not have a legal implication but the need to talk to someone outside of their immediate family is helpful. Sometimes they have lost their spouses or children and need assistance with next steps in how to take care of their personal matters. Whatever the need, we try to help where we can and always listen compassionately.
We laugh a lot and see a lot of photos of grandchildren. It is a pleasure and honor to share in their lives and to help in any way we can. Just as we look at those younger than us and see things that we could offer them based on our own life experiences, we can also look to the seniors and embrace the lessons that they have learned. It is a journey that we all take and when we look into their eyes, we see where we want the journey to lead us.