Philanthropy funds freedom from abuse

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first_img Philanthropy funds freedom from abuse Camille Murawski Special to the News “Mary,” an elderly Haitian woman, shyly lifted her loose-fitting dress to reveal scores of scars on her legs. The scars — a result of repeated whippings with electrical cords — ranged from pink to brown, with all shades in between. Mary’s husband, a Haitian native and U.S. citizen, had flogged her mercilessly throughout the course of their decades-long marriage.Mary had filed an I-360 VAWA application, a self-petition to obtain lawful permanent residency. In order to meet the requirements of the VAWA application, Mary had to show proof of abuse from her spouse.Until Mary met attorney Sabrina Salomon, however, the scars had remained a closely guarded secret. Despite the fact that domestic violence is a crime, Salomon said, “Within the Haitian community, it is a custom brought over from that country.”With patience and understanding, Salomon was able to obtain the necessary proof to help Mary become a lawful permanent resident.Salomon is an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami. Salomon, who graduated in 2003 from the University of Miami, was awarded the EJW fellowship to represent low-income Haitian immigrant women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Salomon named her project Nou Kab — Creole for “we can.”“I chose the name,” Salomon said, “because the goal is to empower survivors of domestic violence to take charge of their future and that of their community.”The EJW fellowship is sponsored in part by The Florida Bar Foundation, and Equal Justice Works, a national program for public interest law. Salomon’s project was made possible through a matching donation from Mellon United National Bank in Miami.“Law firms, corporations and banking industry leaders that provide matching funds for these fellowships are supporting highly motivated and gifted young lawyers who undertake specific projects and provide critical legal assistance to the most vulnerable and needy among us,” said Miami’s John Thornton, chair of the Foundation’s Legal Assistance for the Poor and Law Student Grant Committee.Under the direction of Dwight Hill, the bank’s executive vice president, Mellon donated $26,000 to the Foundation for Salomon’s fellowship. Recently, Hill and Salomon met for the first time, and Salomon shared stories of how Mellon’s donation had helped the Miami community.“It was encouraging to know that the money we gave to the cause has had such a good impact,” Hill said.If it had not been for Hill’s decision to fund Nou Kab, Salomon said, Mary and other Haitian immigrants might have gone without legal representation.Salomon said she probably would have joined a law firm or gone into private practice. Her present clients “are very poor, with no income, generally, and big firms typically do not do that kind of work.” And if she had gone into private practice, Salomon said, she probably would not have had the financial capability to do this type of advocacy.Hill became interested in projects like Salomon’s after reading an article about Equal Justice Works in The Florida Bar News. Hill, whose clients comprise a large number of attorneys, called The Florida Bar Foundation and expressed interest in partnering with the program.The Florida Bar Foundation suggested Hill help fund Nou Kab. There were two especially attractive components to her work, Hill said.“This project really appealed to me because, in the Haitian community, there is no other person fighting for them,” Hill said. “They are truly underdogs.”The banker added, because of EJW’s matching funds, “Every dollar has a three dollar impact.” That appealed to Hill’s fiscal sense. Plus, he added, “Every time we can make a difference in the community, it has a ripple effect.”Salomon told Hill of a recent case she had. For 12 years, an abused mother of four had bounced from shelter to shelter. Despite having a limited education and no money, the woman had managed to keep her children enrolled in school. Remarkably, the children had never missed a day of school.“She is a wonderful human being,” Salomon said.The woman came to Salomon for help obtaining employment authorization from the Department of Homeland Security, one of the first steps to acquiring a “green card,” a document indicating permanent resident status. Salomon said it took “about a year” to help the woman obtain employment authorizationJust recently, Salomon said, the woman called and told her she “had a job, an apartment, a phone, and a bank account — the things most of us take for granted.“I had tears in my eyes,” Salomon said. “This woman came from having nothing.“Talking to Dwight, I could tell he was interested,” Salomon said. “Dwight was so genuine in his desire to help. He does not expect this project to bring his bank anything — it’s totally altruistic.”Hill brushed aside the compliments, saying, “We just did what we felt we had to do to help build safer and stronger families.”Hill also encouraged other banks to join Mellon United in its quest to help provide greater access to justice for some of the state’s poorest residents.“I think other banks should do this,” Hill said. “helping fund these projects, we can alleviate some suffering in the community.” Camille Murawski is the communications coordinator for The Florida Bar Foundation and can be reached by calling (407) 843-0045 or e-mail [email protected] Philanthropy funds freedom from abuse December 15, 2004 Regular Newslast_img

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