The mission of MetroWest Legal Services is to provide legal advocacy to protect and advance the rights of the poor, elderly, disabled and other disenfranchised people in our service area and to assist them in obtaining legal, social and economic justice. We help our clients secure access to basic needs and challenge institutional barriers in order to achieve equal justice for all.
Since its incorporation in 1976, MetroWest Legal Services has helped tens of thousands of low-income clients with their civil legal problems. Over the years, dramatic changes in the agency and the practice of law have allowed us to assist more people, with a greater variety of difficulties.
In the beginning, the area community action program, South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) created a legal component to help its clients. Soon after, a group of local attorneys (John Kahn, Michael Healy, and Stephen Feldman) joined together to establish an independent legal services office to work in the Framingham area. We received funds from the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and SMOC.
At that time, the agency had five attorneys and helped clients in 12 towns with benefits, housing and domestic relations issues. Finding an affordable apartment was difficult, but possible. The safety net of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and General Relief was more readily available. Manufacturing had not begun its emigration to the southern states or other countries and well paying jobs could be found at Dennison and General Motors. In 1976 the largest local minority group was Hispanic, predominately from Puerto Rico, now rivaled by the growing Brazilian population.
Over the years, our service area grew to 20 towns, then to 36 and finally to 45. Fundraising increased as we began to diversify our funding sources. We continue to address the decline in federal and state funding by seeking new grants from foundations and private donors, and by broadening our fundraising efforts. In 2008, to better reflect all the communities we serve, we changed our name from South Middlesex Legal Services to MetroWest Legal Services. Our staff now stands at 19 employees, 12 of whom are full-time attorneys.
Since then, we have tailored our services to meet the needs of the times. To our original priorities, we have added education, assistance to victims of domestic abuse and senior citizens, immigration assistance, health advocacy, an active pro bono program, help for unrepresented litigants and a medical-legal partnership. To ensure that eligible persons are aware of our services, we began giving presentations to client groups, community organizations and local service providers. Today, we give over 50 outreach presentations and 75 clinics a year. Helping our clients understand and protect their rights is the first step toward achieving economic independence.
Again, we confront uncertain times and new challenges. An increasingly diverse population faces linguistic and cultural barriers to justice. Low-wage workers and even middle-income earners encounter growing insecurity in employment. Government benefits and affordable housing have been cut back. Every day, families must choose between food and rent, or car repairs and health coverage. As a result, our clients’ lives are more insecure and their legal problems more acute. With over 40,000 people living in our service area considered impoverished, the demand for our services continues to grow. We assist close to 2,000 people a year, yet we turn away eligible clients every day because we simply do not have enough attorneys to take on another case.