About 10 years ago, when her daughter joined a youth group of volunteers at the Washington City Mission, Mary Bates decided to go along as chaperone. When she and her daughter, Angelina, saw how appreciative were those served by the mission, they began volunteering on a regular basis.
Upping her involvement in 2006, Mrs. Bates of Upper St. Clair became a mission board member and served as treasurer and vice-chairman. Two years later, she was hired full time as in-house attorney.
As a volunteer, her increasing direct and daily involvement made her realize that legal issues were too often a prime impediment to independent living for the homeless. To address that need, she founded The Legal Clinic, a pro bono legal service staffed by her and a small cadre of part-time volunteers, which included attorneys David Rundquist and Bill Speakman.
Yesterday, Ms. Bates was honored for her work -- and vision -- by the Washington Bar Association.
Of the 590 homeless who found shelter at the mission last year, the majority reported active court cases including probation, parole, Protection from Abuse Orders, landlord/tenant injustices, child custody, debt collection, unpaid fines, outstanding warrants and DUIs.
"Mary began to understand that many came to the mission with legal issues in addition to serious addiction, financial and mental health issues," Mr. Rundquist said. "It was her belief that the mission could -- and should -- provide an integrated approach to address all issues impeding them from becoming a productive members of society. She conceived and began operating the legal clinic at the mission."
"The formation of the clinic wasn't part of my job description," Mrs. Bates said. "However, the staff was so impressed with the clinic, they made it a part of my job."
To honor her for her pro bono work, the Washington County Bar Association has nominated Mrs. Bates for the 2013 Louis J. Goffman Award. The award is presented annually by the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation to honor an individual and an organization whose commitments to pro bono have enhanced the delivery of legal services to Pennsylvania's disadvantaged.
"When the nominations for the award opened in December, the first six calls I got were from members of the Washington County Bar Association who proposed Mary for the award," said Kathy Sabol, association director.
All award nominees are reviewed by a seven-member committee; then the board votes. The winner gets a plaque and a small financial gift. The presentation was Wednesday at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh.
Correction, posted May 9, 2013: Mary Bates' and Bill Speakman's names were corrected in the story.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.