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Grant will help agency increase access for Latinos
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For more information, or to contact Georgia Legal Services call 770-535-5717 or 1-800-745-5717 or visit their Web site.

An organization that provides legal assistance to low-income individuals has received a nearly $1 million grant to expand its offering to the Latino community.

The $998,111 grant from the Goizueta Foundation will be dispersed to Georgia Legal Services over a three-year period. The money will be split between Legal Services offices in four regions — Gainesville, Dalton, Albany and Savannah.

The donation marks the second contribution that Legal Services has received from the foundation. In 2003, the group received a grant to address “socio-cultural and informational barriers” that prevented “full access to justice and opportunities out of
poverty for low-income Latinos in the Dalton and Gainesville regions,” said Legal Services staff.

Legal Services provides free assistance to low-income Georgians in 154 counties. According to staff, the group closed more than 9,000 cases last year.

“The grant will allow us to expand our work in the Latino community in Hall and surrounding counties. We currently have two bilingual attorneys, but this will allow us to increase the work we do for Latinos,” said Wendy Glasbrenner, managing attorney of Legal Services’ Gainesville regional office.

“The other offices (in Albany, Dalton and Savannah) will be starting their first Latino outreach projects based on the original model we developed in the Gainesville office.”

The grant will allow the Gainesville office’s staff to continue advocating for some of the basic things that others take for granted.

“Through the (earlier Goizueta) grant, we started making an impact on how governmental agencies service the Spanish-speaking population. This increased access at the Department of Family and Children Services and the Department of Labor for Spanish-speaking applicants resulted in notices being sent in Spanish to recipients of food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment compensation,” Glasbrenner said.

“We are currently working on trying to assure that Latino birth certificates are filled out and issued correctly by the Office of Vital Records. The double surname which is traditional in Latino culture has been a stumbling block in the state’s issuance of birth
certificates. We will also be branching out to assure that other agencies which receive government funding provide language-appropriate services.”

The funds from the foundation, a private organization that provides financial assistance to educational and charitable groups, will allow Legal Services to hire four bilingual staff attorneys and two bilingual paralegals to provide services in the 60 counties associated with the four regional offices. Money from the grant will also be used to support a statewide, centralized phone intake system for Latino residents who need assistance.

“With the problems in our economy, we’ve seen an increase of 111 percent in cases for Latino clients this year compared to last year, especially in the areas of health care, employment, public benefits, education and consumer issues. A majority of our clients are working poor people trying to stay afloat,” said Phyllis Holmen, Legal Services’ executive director.

“The civil legal needs of low-income Latinos are a high priority for us, especially given the cultural and language barriers experienced by many Latinos in Georgia. Our vision is to build a community in Georgia committed to fairness and access to justice for low-income Georgians. We want to increase our visibility in the Latino community and our services to Latino clients, so they will not be left out of that vision.”