• DSC_0324_small
  • DSC_0191_small

Week 50: Legal Aid Justice Center

Dear Batter Up friends, meet some of the folks over at the Legal Aid Justice Center! (And my apologies to poor Marcel. He had his eyes shut in every single photo. Ha!)

This is a really cool organization. (Although, I think all of the organizations I’ve learned about through this project are pretty cool—so I guess it goes without saying.) The original nomination came in many many months ago—almost back to the time the project was first launched—from Holly Ray Kirby. Holly is a fellow Mary Baldwin alum and learned about me/Batter Up through social media. Here is what she wrote:

“I think a great place to donate a cake would be the Richmond Legal Aid Office. I work at the legal services provider in Huntsville, Alabama. As legal aid attorneys, we do important work like protecting victims of domestic violence, advocating for tenants with slummy landlords, and fighting back against predatory lenders. The hours are long and the work is often thankless, so I know a cake would be a great pick-me-up! I love your generous idea and I think I may just bake up some banana bread and take it somewhere to surprise a deserving office myself. :)”

First off—I love that she was inspired to do this herself. Motivating others to do the same thing that I’m doing is something that I’ve tried to advocate since the very beginning. Bravo Holly! Second, upon doing some research, I discovered that there are actually two different legal aid organizations in the city of Richmond, plus legal aid offices in Henrico, Petersburg, etc. So who gets the cake?? Of course they all deserve one—and some might get one in the future—but this week it went to the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond. Like with any legal aid organization, they are committed to providing low-income individuals and families access to legal resources. What makes them different is that they include services that the federal and state governments choose not to fund.

The Legal Aid Justice Center was created in the late 60′s (under a different name) by a group of Charlottesville attorneys and law students who wanted to design a program that provided civil legal assistance to those who couldn’t afford it. As federal funding and oversight developed, and then diminished over the subsequent 40+ years, the Legal Aid Justice Center evolved into an organization with a staff of 40 people spanning offices in Charlottesville, Falls Church, Petersburg, and Richmond. They receive federal funding for the work that lives within the government’s legal aid guidelines and they seek out additional funding to support the work that falls through the cracks. In the late 90′s they implemented one of their signature programs—JustChildren—which has become Virginia’s largest children’s law program. It was the JustChildren program that tipped the cake scale.

In addition to representing low-income children in cases centered around education, foster care, and the juvenile justice system, JustChildren has also implemented the Alliance for Virginia’s Students. The Alliance, created in 2003, was designed to build a statewide, grassroots advocacy network that promotes state policies and financial support that are necessary for excellence in public education from pre-kindergarten through graduate studies. Through this program they have helped secure funding to expand the Virginia Preschool Initiative which serves thousands of at-risk four-year-olds. They have successfully defended programs serving at-risk students from proposals that would have redistributed funds to school divisions based on student population rather than student poverty. And recently, the Alliance was responsible for getting a call for a legislative study of the adequacy and equity of school funding passed through the General Assembly. The list goes on and on—the key take-away being that they have spent over 15 years fighting and advocating to make the lives of children in Virginia better. That deserves cake.

The delivery, like many others, was very quick. I entered the building and walked up to the front desk which was in a room separated from the entry by a glass window. The receptionist was bilingual and speaking on the phone in Spanish, so I waited patiently until she was finished. When she hung up the phone and looked towards me, I started in with my normal spiel—at which point I started to wonder if she was in the normal state of confusion I usually get when I first tell people what’s happening, or if maybe English was her second language. Whether or not she fully understood what I was saying, she was extremely gracious—that is, until I asked if I could take a picture of her and perhaps some other people in the office. At that point she jumped up out of her seat and ran away without a word. I stood there giggling, assuming someone would resurface, and then spotted her out of the corner of my eye speaking to a group of people in the hall—I assumed attorneys. They looked my way and a gentlemen started towards me. I reached out to shake his hand and, without so much as a greeting, he said, “Sounds fishy. What are you really up to?” In 50 weeks of doing this project, I’ve never had such a directly suspicious reaction to Batter Up and I can’t help but find humor and irony that it happened with a group of lawyers. Don’t get me wrong—I love lawyers and they’ve gotten me out of some sticky situations. (Bad landlords be damned!) But you have to admit that the irony is pretty funny. Having said that, in the moment, I was completely startled and thrown off which prompted me to dive into a defensive state spouting off all of the news coverage I’d received in order to establish some sort of legitimacy and convince him that my cake was not laced with Anthrax. By then the two women he had been standing with had walked up, followed by Marcel. Despite the fact that I spent less than two minutes with Marcel, I can tell you that he is awesome. He shook my hand and greeted me in a way that made me wish I had a legal issue that needed his attention. In the simple seconds it took to introduce himself and ask who I was, I could tell he was a gem to this field—warm and kind and genuinely interested in the person standing in front of him. I’ve met a lot of people doing this project and there are a handful that I would LOVE to sit down with over a glass of wine and listen to their stories. Marcel is one of those people. Alas, I snapped a few shots and was on my way.

And now for the cake! This week was a Poppyseed Cake with Lemon Curd, topped with a lemon glaze. It’s based off of this recipe from Hungry Rabbit except I substituted lemon curd from this recipe over at Travelers Lunchbox. I also substituted a simple lemon glaze for the passion fruit glaze. It tasted delish! But was a hot mess. First, I don’t know why, but I absolutely cannot make lemon curd without chunks of scrambled eggs. So, there’s that. And if that weren’t enough, the top two layers slid off en route creating a big pile-o-cake-mess in the box. (That was fun to fix while trying to balance it on the hood of my car on Broad Street.) All-in-all I’d have to say that it probably wasn’t my finest cake delivery moment so I just have to chalk it up to it’s the thought that counts. I just hope that they didn’t throw away the ugly scrambled egg cake from the crazy lady who wandered in from the streets of downtown Richmond.