SMRLS Insider: Winter 2020-21
COVID-19 SMRLS Update
SMRLS continues to observe government recommendations and mandates regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With the health and safety for our clients and staff in mind, SMRLS kindly asks that you contact us by telephone or email. Our offices are closed to the public, except by appointment only. Please click here to find the contact information for each of our offices. We will continue to maintain social distancing practices with our clients and staff in accordance with health and safety recommendations. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this difficult time.
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What's new at SMRLS
How we're helping clients during the pandemic
Last year presented many challenges to all of us, especially to our low-income client community. They faced extreme hurdles, including having fewer opportunities to be heard in court. This pushed SMRLS to think outside of the box and create innovative solutions for helping our clients.

To increase access to our services, SMRLS built virtual courtrooms in our Rochester, Mankato, and St. Paul offices, with more on the way. These virtual courtrooms allow our clients and attorneys to safely be present in the same space during remote hearings. They have microphones, lighting, plexiglass, and face masks. We’re also in the process of retrofitting a vehicle to serve as a virtual, mobile law office. The “Justice Bus” is currently being outfitted for handicapped accessibility and it will have all the fixtures necessary to be a fully operational remote law office later this year.

Additionally, SMRLS and more than 250 community partners came together to install civil legal aid kiosks in libraries, courts, and other convenient places state-wide for our clients to receive legal information. Together, we're breaking down barriers to deliver our free legal services to those in need.
Volunteer at SMRLS!
It's never been easier to become a volunteer attorney at SMRLS. In partnership with ProBono Matters, our website has a new database of open case opportunities. You can search by location and case type to help you find a case that matches your expertise or interest. We routinely update the database with new opportunities, so make sure to visit our website often. Visit smrls.org/volunteer to learn more!
In the News
Making Immigration
Dreams Come True

Most naturalization ceremonies are held in large auditoriums with fellow soon-to-be citizens. But for one Karen couple with health considerations, they took their oath of allegiance from their home. Learn how SMRLS advocated for this couple to achieve their dream of American citizenship. Click here to read a Star Tribune article highlighting this story.
SMRLS CEO Speaks
at LSC Forum

SMRLS CEO Jessie Nicholson spoke at the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) virtual Access to Justice Forum on Thursday, February 4. Alongside several legal aid executive directors across the country and others, Ms. Nicholson spoke during the segment, “COVID-19 Health Crisis’ Effect on Grantees and the Client Community.” The entire forum is available for replay on the LSC Facebook page.
What are our clients saying about SMRLS?
“Thank you [SMRLS] for your exceptional work on this [case]. You uncomplicated this case, which I’m sure had a lot to do with the outcome.”  

“[My SMRLS attorney] is such a nice person, and she is a valuable person, and she knows how to talk to people. She is probably one of the nicest people I have talked to in years. But I just want to thank you guys for helping me out.”

"Excellent [service]. [My SMRLS attorney helped me] with [a] late fee on my apartment rent that has now been removed! [She] was friendly over the phone—thank you!”

“Thank you for all of the information. I really appreciate all of your hard work.” 
Events
In Review:
Social Justice Uncorked
SMRLS' largest annual fundraiser, Social Justice Uncorked, occurred virtually on Thursday, December 10, 2020. Not only was this our first virtual event, but it surpassed our fundraising and outreach goals. Thanks to the generous support from our sponsors and donors, we raised $151,200! We received a record-setting number of sponsors and nearly half of the fund-a-need donors were first-time contributors. Click here to read a full review of the event.
Staff Announcements
  • SMRLS paralegal, Sothea Phea Poch, received the 2020 Advocate Award from the Minnesota Justice Foundation. Click here to learn more.
  • Steve Wolfe retired after 38 years with SMRLS.
  • Elizabeth Jay was promoted to Supervising Legal Secretary in Rochester.
  • Denise Nicolay has transitioned to the new position of Healthcare-Legal Partnership Coordinator.
  • Bea Berg, Intake Hotline Screener in Albert Lea, retired after thirty years with SMRLS.
  • Carol Bros, Volunteer Attorney Program Coordinator in Saint Paul, retired in October 2020.
  • Amy Burrough was hired as a Family Law Staff Attorney in Saint Paul.
  • Darbie Smith was hired as a Housing Staff Attorney in Saint Paul.
  • Dahir Mohamed was hired as an Intake Specialist in Saint Paul.
  • Liza Salazar was hired as an Immigration Staff Attorney in Saint Paul.
  • Paw Gay Moo was was hired as an Intake Specialist in Saint Paul.
  • Jessica Kluever was hired as a Legal Secretary in Worthington.
  • Francisco Velazquez was hired a paralegal in Worthington.
  • Erin Frana was hired as a Family Law Staff Attorney in Winona.
  • Holly Rubio Sanchez was hired as an Accountant II in Saint Paul.
More ways to support SMRLS
Sign Up for Workplace Giving

Did you know that many employers offer matching gifts and automatic salary deduction programs? These programs provide an easy way to make a tax-deductible contribution to SMRLS. Participating in one of these programs is a simple way to make a big difference at SMRLS.

Contact cla@smrls.org to get started today!
Make an IRA Contribution

Traditional IRA owners must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 1/2 or face tax penalties. If you are 70 1/2 or older, you can make a charitable contribution directly to SMRLS up to $100,000 from your traditional IRA without it being considered a taxable contribution. You can use your qualified charitable donation to meet all or part of your IRA's RMDs for the year. Contact cla@smrls.org to learn more.
Follow SMRLS on Social Media
Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services | (651) 228-9823 | smrls.org