Law Foundation of Berks County
The Law Foundation of Berks County is a non-profit corporation designed to raise and provide funds to support charitable, law-related projects, programs and services in Berks County.
The following are among the projects funded by the Law Foundation:
The Foundation awards a $2,000.00 scholarship to an outstanding student entering his or her junior year in Alvernia University’s criminal justice program, as determined by the faculty. If the student maintains eligibility, the scholarship will be renewed in the same amount for his or her senior year.
In collaboration with the Berks County Community Foundation, which administers the Fund, the Law Foundation provides funding for one-half of the Bridge Fund. The concept of the Bridge Fund is that “a little can go a long way to keep a kid out of the legal system.” Grants from the Bridge Fund are recommended by social workers or agents of the court system and are approved by a judge on a case-by-case basis. The fund is not meant o provide continual support, but rather to bridge a gap in service and keep a child out of the legal system.
For example, a single father was worried about losing his three-, four- and six-year-old daughters to foster care. Each night, he dropped the girls off at the Second Street Learning Center while he worked full-time on the graveyard shift. While he could pay for their overnight care, he could not afford the extra payments that would allow the girls to stay at the center until noon so he could sleep. After application by his social worker, a $300.00 grant was awarded that provided five weeks of childcare and allowed the girls to stay together with their father. The Bridge Fund has also helped several families stay together during the winter months after they exhausted all other funding aid programs for free or low-cost heating oil. In most cases, the families were again eligible for free oil after a waiting period. The Bridge Fund provided oil during the waiting period, allowing the children to remain in their parents’ care because their homes had heat.
Court Appointed Special Advocates
The Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA), a service of Opportunity House, receives funding from the Law Foundation of Berks County. Its mission is to provide advocacy to children who are in the custody of the court system as a result of abuse and/or neglect. The CASA Program works to find a safe and permanent placement for all children involved in the program.
Specially trained CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court. Volunteers work closely with the child and his/her family members, caseworkers, teachers, health officials and others who are knowledgeable about the child’s history. Volunteers study each case and make recommendations to the court to help the child be placed in a safe and permanent home as quickly as possible.
Currently, a number of CASA volunteers, who are not lawyers, are serving as the voice in court for local children who have been abused or neglected.
On an annual basis, the Law Foundation has been funding the purchase of a new book for each kindergarten student in the Reading School District. Beginning in 2010 the Foundation also purchased books for each pre-kindergarten student in the Reading School District, and we continued that in 2011. Before the selected book is given to each child, a lawyer or other member of the community reads it to the class. The project helps the young students to develop their reading skills and assists them in starting their own library.
The Young Lawyers’ Section of the Berks County Bar Association has written a publication known as “Stepping Out.” It is distributed to graduating seniors in schools that participate in the program, which is designed to alert them to issues they face in life after school, such as concerns with landlord-tenant, credit, purchase of a car, etc. The cost of the booklet’s publication is underwritten by the Law Foundation.
In addition, the Senior Citizens Booklet Committee of the Berks County Bar Association has written a publication known as “Older and Wiser.” It is designed to answer legal questions concerning the rights of senior citizens. The cost of its publication is also underwritten by the Law Foundation.
Other grants will be considered. For information on the grant process, please contact:
Donald F. Smith, Jr., Executive Director