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MBF Hosts Inaugural Access to Justice Summit

 

Norristown, PA (April 4, 2017) over 60 Montgomery County leaders – judges, bar leaders, pro bono attorneys, social service providers, business community members, and law enforcement officials – gathered at the Montgomery Bar building for the county’s first Access to Justice Summit.  Sponsored by the Montgomery Bar Foundation – in furtherance of its 30-year mission to improve, facilitate, and support justice and fair treatment for all – the Summit was developed in an effort to support and advance the collective efforts of its attendees.  The goal was to identify resources, redundancies, and gaps in the access to justice work in the county and foster more effective collaboration. The morning was filled with energy and determination, as those committed to serving county residents engaged in important and productive conversation.


Barbara M. Smith, Montgomery Bar Foundation Trustee, kicked off the summit – as Co-Chair of the Foundation’s Grant Committee who first proposed the Summit – Ms. Smith was a key member of the Summit Planning Group.  After explaining the goals for the Summit, and warmly welcoming all attendees, she passed the baton to the event’s three esteemed speakers – the Honorable Garrett D. Page (Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas); Barbara O’Malley (Director of Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services); and, Chief Mark Talbot (Norristown Police Department). These three community leaders shared anecdotes and data conveying the County’s needs and the continuing efforts to address them.  Each speaker was direct, informative, and inspiring, and they expertly laid the groundwork for the work ahead.

Sharon Browning, Esquire, the event moderator , then took the reins.  Ms. Browning is the former Executive Director of Philadelphia VIP and founder of JUST Listening, an organization which fosters transformation through the practice of non-judgmental communication.  She introduced the seven panelists, asking each to speak briefly about her respective organization:

 

                           Elizabeth W. Fritsch, Esq. (Legal Aid of Southeastern PA)

                           Mary C. Pugh, Esq. (Montgomery Child Advocacy Project)

                           Beth Sturman (Laurel House)

                           Nelly Jimenez-Arevalo (ACLAMO)

                           Hon. Lois E. Murphy (Elder Access to Justice Roundtable)

                           Robin Jordan (The Women’s Center)

                           Elizabeth DiArcangelo (Community Connections)

 

These purposefully succinct presentations were packed with details, and provided an excellent window into the noble work already happening throughout the county, as well as at the challenges faced by residents and providers on a daily basis. Attendees were now armed with broadened perspectives, and thus ready to jump into the second part of the Summit. 

    

 

 After a short break, participants broke into small workgroups (4-6 people each, representing a diversity of constituents), and were asked to discuss various questions, identify gaps in and barriers to service, and explore ideas and solutions to address them.  Ms. Browning kept the groups focused and engaged, while encouraging creativity and innovation.  The room buzzed with energy, as individuals who had not previously interacted discovered opportunities for rich collaboration. 

 

The level of discourse in the room suggested that these conversations could have continued far beyond the time allotted, but Ms. Browning maintained a strict timeline, respectful of the participants’ busy schedules.  Still humming with ideas, the entire group came back together to debrief.  The insights, shared by the group and compiled by Browning, were indicative of the depth of experience of those in the room. 

 

The spectrum of ideas was broad, ranging from the specific and practical to the far-reaching and aspirational.  Most of the suggested approaches to address gaps and barriers could be categorized into one of four focuses: Improving Community Outreach, Communication, and Education; Improving Collaboration; Improving and Simplifying the Process; and, Improving Access to Resources.  As ideas were shared, participants gained deeper understanding of both the common and the unique challenges faced by their colleagues and their respective clients; and, this enhanced perspective will be an invaluable tool in the important work they do.

 

Although the Summit was deemed a success by all involved, it was just the first step of what will be a long and challenging journey.  Ms. Smith noted:

 

I was impressed and encouraged by the breadth of resources this community has to offer, but also shocked by the gaps in legal services that continue to exist for large segments of the population. I believe that the Montgomery Bar Association and Montgomery Bar Foundation can be leaders in bringing non-profit service providers together so opportunities for cooperation, education, and new ways of delivering legal services can be developed to narrow those gaps.

 

The Bar Foundation has formed a focus group, comprised of individuals representing a diverse range of perspectives and experiences, to review the event’s outcomes and establish next steps.  Participants of the Summit will move forward, emboldened by a common mission, with the understanding that, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely daydreaming, but vision with action can change the world.” They, and all who serve justice in Montgomery County, are poised to do just that.

     

About the Montgomery County Bar Foundation – The Montgomery County Bar Foundation (“MBF”) is the charitable arm of the Montgomery Bar Association, a non-profit organization of nearly 2,100 Montgomery County attorneys that provides its members with opportunities for professional development and facilitates the delivery of legal services of its members to the community.  The MBF is dedicated to fostering equal access to justice by providing financial and other support to organizations that offer free legal services to disadvantaged Montgomery County residents.  For more information about the MBF visit www.montgomerybarfoundation.org

 
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