The Florida Bar Foundation has used a $20,000 donation from the Tampa Bay Lightning to help three Tampa-area legal aid lawyers pay down their law school loans. After Honorable Emiliano Jose “E.J.” Salcines was named a Lightning Community Hero in December, he donated a portion of his award to the Foundation. Lightning Community Hero awards are funded by the Vinik Family Foundation. The Florida Bar Foundation earmarked the donation for its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), which provides lawyers who work at qualified civil legal aid organizations loans up to $5,000 per year to pay off student loan school debts.
“As someone who is a family of one on a small budget, paying for student loans without LRAP was difficult and took up most of my disposable income,” says Rebecca Hendricks, a supervising attorney at Gulfcoast Legal Services. “With LRAP, I have been able to cover the cost of my monthly student loan payments, and it has allowed me to stay in legal aid longer. LRAP is a massive help to lawyers working in nonprofit legal aids, and I’m so grateful that The Florida Bar Foundation has a program like this.”
Loan recipients who remain employed at qualified civil legal aid organizations after one year are eligible to have their loans forgiven by the Foundation. The program was created to strengthen and expand civil legal assistance for the poor by supporting the recruitment and retention of qualified civil legal aid staff lawyers.
Hendricks, who has worked at Gulfcoast Legal Services for close to four years, knew she wanted a legal career from a young age. She was profoundly impacted after hearing about a case involving a woman severely beaten by her husband and went to law school to help survivors of domestic violence. She recently worked on a labor trafficking case for a client who had not seen his family for 14 years.
“Family reunification cases are some of my favorites because you get to see a family become whole again, and it feels amazing to be a small part of that,” Hendricks said. “Without legal aid, this client could never afford a private attorney, and he wouldn’t have a chance to have someone advocate for him.”
The Lightning Foundation’s donation also benefited Pye Young, a staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Services’ Veterans Medical-Legal Partnership. Young, an LRAP recipient, provides legal assistance to veterans with landlord/tenant, consumer and family matters.
“The LRAP program has provided financial assistance to make extra payments on my law school student loans,” Young says. “This contribution has helped me to stay on top of my loan payments, and hopefully pay them off in a timely fashion. I am grateful for the opportunity provided by The Florida Bar Foundation.”
Jena Hudson, who has been with Bay Area Legal Services (BALS) for 22 years, credits LRAP with making it possible for her to remain a legal aid lawyer. As BALS’ pro bono manager, Hudson works to match hundreds of lawyers to pro bono cases each year. The Lightning Foundation’s donation covered her LRAP this year.
“I was able to make a career in legal services because of the additional assistance received through the LRAP program,” says Hudson, who is BALS’ pro bono manager. “As a new attorney with over $130,000 of student loan debt, I began applying for jobs elsewhere after one to two years because I just could not afford to pay my living expenses AND my student loans. Without the assistance of LRAP, I would have needed to resign from BALS and secure a higher paying job. I love my job and was so grateful that I did not need to leave it because the financial pressure was relieved by LRAP.”