On Wednesday, ReServe executive director Mary Bleiberg was invited by advisory board for the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham University Law School to speak about ReServe’s progress and national expansion, as well as their recent AmeriCorps award.
Attendees of the meeting included members of the Feerick Center advisory board: Fern Schair, Esq. chair of the advisory board, James F. Gill, Esq., chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, Carlos Ortiz, Esq., general counsel of Goya Foods, Herb Sturz, ReServe co-founder, and John D. Feerick, Esq., founder of the Feerick Center and former dean of Fordham Law.
The following is an excerpt of Mary Bleiberg’s remarks.
Based in New York City, ReServe was created in 2005 to provide meaningful opportunities for older adults to serve their communities and to help transform incoming generations of older Americans into a powerful resource for social change, economic and cultural growth.
We do this by matching people who have retired from their primary careers with part-time service work assignments in the nonprofit and government sectors, work that offers flexibility, social purpose and a modest stipend. They are called ReServists. ReServists range in age from 55-85, with the majority between 55 to 65 years old.
They come from all walks of life, and include marketing managers, social workers, artists, administrative assistants, HR professionals, financial analysts, as well as lawyers.
Once they are accepted as ReServists, we match their skills and experiences with service opportunities at one of our 350 partner organizations. They include nonprofits and public institutions. The partner pays the ReServist’s stipend of 10 dollars and a nominal fee to a third-party employer of record, for statutory benefits as well as programmatic fees.
It’s truly a simple model. One that is being replicated nationally, thanks to a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies. In fact, this month we launched our affiliate program in Miami. Soon we will be opening in Baltimore, Milwaukee and Newark.
The Obama administration has recognized the potential of older Americans by funding programs like ReServe. We were recently been awarded our first Federal grant of $470,00 by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps.
Because of this funding, Sharon Riley, who was deputy bureau chief of the Bureau of Law and Adjustment at the New York City Comptroller’s Office, can now serve her community as a college mentor at the High School for Arts, Imagination, and Inquiry. In addition to a stipend, at the end of her term, she will receive an education award of $1,500.
Mark Scher, an attorney who had his own practice for over thirty years in immigration and international law, has now retired and is serving as a college mentor at the Urban Assembly Academy for Government and Law.
Given the numbers of attorneys in New York and the size, complexity and inequities of our legal system, it is no exaggeration to say that the viability of our criminal justice system may well depend on what this group decides to do with the twenty years after they “retire” from their primary careers.
Which brings me to the Feerick Center. The Feerick Center for Social Justice has always had at the core of its mission concrete and achievable solutions to the problems of urban poverty.
ReServe is a human resource strategy for the solution to big social problems.
We both believe that civic engagement and service is a pathway to social justice. The most obvious point of alignment with ReServe is the Attorney Emeritus Program. It is similar to ReServe in that it provides retired attorneys with structure and opportunities to reinvest their skills and experiences in addressing a big social problem in this case the lack of affordable legal services for poor people.
I was disappointed but not too surprised to read about the resistance of attorneys to volunteer their legal services. One study from 2002, found that only about a quarter of all attorneys statewide worked more than 20 hours a year on such voluntary efforts.
Perhaps if we combined the benefits offered by the AEP, such as training and insurance, and the ReServe stipend model, that the number might quickly jump to 20 hours a month or a week. Finding funding for the stipends is not an easy task in this environment but might be a more efficient and productive use of law firms’ philanthropic dollars.
Believe me – the exchange of money makes a difference.
Of course, ReServe has many other ways to leverage the skills, experience or passions of soon- to- be or retired or attorneys for the public good. Right now retired attorneys are reserving in city agencies helping legal staff review contract agreements. They are helping struggling nonprofits with their human resource policies and practices. But they are also helping immigrants in Queens learn to speak English. They are working in middle schools in the South Bronx mentoring kids who are chronically absent and mentoring their parents as well.
Retired attorneys could be helping high school students who are the first in their families to go to college write more compelling college essays.
One of them could be an art instructor at Mt Sinai Hospital. Or a job developer for court-involved youth. Or a benefits coordinator at the Institute for Community Living. Or a ballroom dance instructor at a settlement house.
When my husband was thinking about what to do after college, his parents urged him to go to law school. They said “You don’t have to practice law: Law school prepares you for many careers!” Remember that?
Well he recently retired from practicing law at a very big law firm after 40 years. He lived half of his day in ten-minute billable segments. The other half he spent painting. He also served as the head of the Institutional Review Board of the Vera Institute of Justice.
You will not be surprised to learn that the longer he practiced his profession, the better he got as solving his clients’ problems in less time. That made his clients very happy but did not do much for his billable hours.
He just had to see more and more clients. So he retired and now he paints all day, works for a nonprofit art center and continues to serve as the head at Vera’s IRB.
Lawyers are trained to avoid risks. The best lawyers are very good at reducing their clients’ risks. There are dozens of risk-free ways in which retired attorneys can use their legal experience to advance Feerick Center’s mission. Those of you who are less averse to risk, should know that there are other ways to use your life experience, education, social capital and passion in support of social justice. ReServe has proven that.