An Interview With Stacey Hawver, Executive Director of Legal Society of San Mateo County
Q: What is the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County about and what do you all do?
SH: The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County has been changing lives in our community for more than 50 years. Our mission is to improve access to justice for the poor, the elderly, veterans, families in crisis, immigrants: those who are most in need.
In 2015, we helped over 2,400 clients. More than half were defined as extremely low income, with over 300 having no current income at all. Nearly 55% faced housing issues, including the threat of homelessness, as county rents continued to rise at an unprecedented rate. Hundreds more needed our help to access healthcare and other safety net benefits to which they were entitled, to be protected from the threat of elder abuse or domestic violence, or to get the educational services their children need to succeed in school.
Q: What do you love most about the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County and the work that you all do?
SH: Justice for all matters very much to me and to the entire staff at the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County. Our attorneys are graduates of some of the finest law schools in America and approach their work with passion for justice and profound empathy for their clients. Nearly 500 legal professionals volunteered in 2015. I am proud of our longterm collaborations with our community partners including other nonprofit organizations, hospitals, schools and local and state government agencies. The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County is an integral part of making sure that everyone has access to justice, regardless of their ability to pay.
Q: How has the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County made an impact and what do you wish yet to see?
SH: The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County has made an impact on hundreds of thousands of persons since our founding in 1959. With legal assistance, they were able to overcome legal obstacles and stabilize their lives. Many have achieved wonderful things: they have learned English, graduated from high school, graduated from college, found jobs and helped others. My wish is to be able to expand our services in two important areas: to increase resources devoted to housing issues, and geographically, to reach more of the San Mateo county coastline. With today’s cost of housing skyrocketing ever higher, we see over 100 clients monthly trying desperately to preserve their housing in our three weekly clinics. Our resources are stretched thin as we try to both provide direct services and address issues relating to housing on a systemic level. We also know that there are low-income residents on the coast in need of legal assistance for a variety of issues.
Q: What would you like the world to know about the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County and how can people help make a difference?
SH: There is still poverty in our community despite a fast-growing economy; the average annual income of a Legal Aid client in 2015 was $16,000. In order to achieve our dreams of providing additional assistance in housing, and to reach more clients out on the coast, we need to hire an additional attorney and a project coordinator. While we seek funding regularly, readers can make an immediate difference with a donation today, at our website at www.legalaidsmc.org.
Q: What is it you like to say to potential Donors and Volunteers? Why is the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo so special?
SH: Equal access to justice is about everyone’s ability to participate in our legal system regardless of how much money they have. The Legal Aid Society takes on the special responsibility to aid those who are in need, but who cannot afford legal services. We are always seeking volunteers with a legal background; and, of course, contributions to the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County will help us provide life-changing equal access to justice for thousands in need. To help today go to www.legalaidsmc.org.