Abeska: St. Joseph County Bar Foundation is hitting its stride

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By Tim Abeska

In December 2008, the St. Joseph County Bar Foundation Inc. was formed as the philanthropic arm of the St. Joseph County Bar Association. Several local attorneys put time and energy into forming the foundation, and Section 501(c)(3) status was obtained from the IRS. Initial funding was provided through donations from many individual attorneys and law firms. With this framework in place, the foundation was positioned to provide support for civics and pro bono programs and technology upgrades for local courts.

Under its bylaws, the foundation’s board consists of 10 members, three of whom are local community leaders rather than practicing attorneys. The current attorney members of the board are Richard Hill (Faegre Baker Daniels), Cheryl Greene (South Bend Community School Corporation), Hon. Jenny Pitts Manier (St. Joseph Superior Court), Timothy Abeska (Barnes & Thornburg), Ronald Jaicomo, Clint Zalas (Lee Groves & Zalas), and Victoria Wolf (the representative appointed by the bar association). The other board members are M. Catherine Roemer (Notre Dame Law School), Greg Conrad (Beacon Health) and Michele Sullivan (Crowe Horwath). The current foundation officers are Hill (president), Greene (vice president), Roemer (treasurer) and Abeska (secretary).

At its quarterly meetings, the board addresses governance issues, considers requests for funding, addresses the challenges presented by fundraising, and proactively seeks to better the community the foundation serves, consistent with its mission.

Funding for civics programs is important to the board, as education of the next generation of leaders is critical to the success of any community. Earlier this year, the foundation made a contribution of $5,000 to the Adams High School mock trial program to support the team which will compete in the national finals. In 2014, the foundation made a $1,500 contribution to the Penn High School mock trial team to help fund a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to compete against teams from other high schools.

The foundation promotes the provision of pro bono services through grant funding for the Volunteer Lawyer Network. This year, the foundation approved five VLN proposals in the total amount of $7,000, providing $4,500 to support rent for office space, for which the VLN pays $11,440 per year; $500 to support a website upgrade; $1,200 to support phone and Internet service expenses, which total approximately $3,000 per year; $500 to support Ask-A-Lawyer events in St. Joseph County; and $300 to support some of the email marketing and contact management expenses incurred by the VLN. Grant funding to the VLN was also provided in 2014.

Mindful of the need to support the mission of Indiana Bar Foundation, in 2013 and 2014 the foundation made $5,000 donations to the IBF. I presented a check to the IBF during its October 2014 board meeting held in conjunction with the Indiana State Bar Association annual meeting. I also updated the IBF board about the St. Joseph County Bar Foundation’s work locally. The IBF was deeply appreciative of the foundation’s support.

Assisting law students is also part of the foundation’s philanthropic mission. It awarded grants of $5,000 to Lavar R. Barnett, a student at Notre Dame Law School, to assist with his educational expenses during each of his first two years of law school, for a total grant of $10,000 to date. Barnett is an engaging young man whose rise from a rough part of Chicago to attend Culver Academy in Culver, Indiana, and Notre Dame Law School was the subject of a profile published in the South Bend Tribune in May 2014. The foundation board members are in the process of developing criteria for future grant awards.

These philanthropic efforts are made possible by support from attorneys and law firms, though fundraising remains a challenge for the board. In one creative undertaking, former St. Joseph Superior Court and Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Sanford “Sandy” Brook returned to South Bend in October 2012 to present his one-man “Clarence Darrow” performance, with the net proceeds benefitting the foundation. A Fellows program has also been established to promote tax-deductible contributions to the foundation. Contributors making aggregate donations after Jan. 1, 2013, will be recognized at the following membership levels: Fellow ($750); Life Fellow ($1,500); and Life Patron Fellow ($2,500).

Please do what you can to support the St. Joseph County Bar Foundation. Any of the board members will be pleased to answer questions or provide additional information.•

Tim Abeska is a partner in the litigation department in the South Bend office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP. Tim served on the board of the Indiana Bar Foundation from 2008 through 2012, and has served on the board of the St. Joseph County Bar Foundation since 2010. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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