When a Fair Hearing Gets Good, A Life Gets Better

Leigh with 2016 LWI archives

Leigh next to the LWI files headed off to archives at the end of 2016

The Family Center’s Legal Wellness Institute (LWI) recently received a client satisfaction survey with the following quote:

“You could tell “Lee” who was assigned to me that I THANK [sic] her so much for her assistance re: my fair hearing issues.  I thank her for being a human being understanding and kept it all professional…  I’m truly grateful for her help.”

Lee, who actually spells her name Leigh, is one of LWI’s Coordinators.  She not only supports our attorneys as they strive to win their cases on behalf of Family Center clients, but also carries her own hefty caseload.  This sweet note came from a client whom Leigh successfully represented in Housing Court.

#CreditCardReductionDay 2017: How to Get a Grip on Credit Card Debt When All Seems Lost


Louis conducting an Economic Justice Project workshop

Credit card debt is like a mosquito, always bugging you and leaving a big scar. While it may seem that the burden of credit card debt is overwhelming, there are ways of dealing with it successfully. However, true solutions usually need time and effort. That said, hope should never be lost. It is possible to go from drowning in debt to not owing a single dime.

The first step in reducing credit card debt is knowing what you owe.  Most times, the concerns of daily life prevent us from knowing everything that is happening with our finances. You cannot fix a problem if you do not know what the problem is. You can either go through your most recent credit card statements or look at your credit reports (going to annualcreditreport.com or calling 877-322-8228 are the only government-approved ways to get the free copies of your credit reports that you are entitled to by law every 12 months).

Once you know what you owe, the next step is figuring out what you can afford to pay. All credit cards have minimum payment amounts, but if you can afford to pay more, you will decrease your debt in far less time. Higher payments mean less interest being charged over time. Paying off your highest-interest cards first reduces the interest charged. Something else that works for some people is to pay off the lowest balances first (regardless of interest rate) so they can see balances disappearing, which motivates them to continue paying down debt. Needless to say, if you are already in credit card debt, you want to avoid taking on new card debt if possible. Also, every six months, ask your credit card companies for an interest rate reduction. A March 2016 survey from CreditCards.com found that 78% of cardholders who asked for a rate cut received one.

While the preceding advice works if you can afford to make payments, if you cannot, you have options as well. At times you can not make minimum payments, contact your credit card company to explain your situation and request reduced payments or a payment delay until your situation improves. However, if your financial difficulties are longer-term or if you have already missed payments and are dealing with a collection agency, then there are things to consider. You should think about working out a repayment plan that will settle the debt for a lower amount or filing for bankruptcy. Before you file for bankruptcy, it is a good idea to consult a financial or legal professional. If you call the city’s 311 helpline, they will direct you to your local New York City Financial Empowerment Center. These centers provide financial counseling for free.

When it comes to tackling credit card debt, it is vital to know that there are concrete steps you can take no matter what your particular situations are. If left alone, credit card debt just grows and becomes worse. There is no better time than the present to confront the debt head-on and let it know that you will not back down until it is gone.

-Louis Guzman, The Family Center Legal Wellness Institute Economic Justice Advocate

To learn more about the Economic Justice Project at The Family Center, click here.

Thank You for Listening

Family Center Social Worker Deborah Rosado received this letter of gratitude yesterday. We are always so touched by our clients’ thankfulness, as we see our work with New Yorkers and their families as a privilege. After all, they invite us into their homes and lives during some of the most difficult times. The courage demonstrated by our clients is profound -and yet so many are grateful to the point of tears. In this day and age, we can all listen to each other more -and be more grateful. At The Family Center, we are honored to listen to our clients -and to receive their gratitude.


Portrait of A Family Center Attorney

drawing-of-caroline-photoThis drawing was done by one of our client’s children a few years ago.  The drawing is of Legal Wellness Institute (LWI) Assistant Director Caroline Bersak and the client’s artistic talents are obviously impressive.  Caroline exclaimed,

“That is the exact outfit I was wearing and how I had my hair that day!”

Caroline and her colleagues were representing the client in family court to adopt her step-daughter, whose biological parents are both deceased.  Our client brought the kids with her one day when she and Caroline met; The Family Center, of course, had materials on-hand to keep the children entertained.

This drawing has been hanging on the bulletin board over Caroline’s desk for the past few years.  Caroline asserts,

“It makes me happy every time I see it.”

The adoption of this client’s stepdaughter (now daughter) was finalized in November 2016.

The Family Center LWI provides legal services and representation to thousands of New York City families every year.  While this portrait of Caroline makes her happy, one can only wonder: how happy the child who drew it was, how happy her sibling who was adopted is, and how thrilled their caregiver was to have expert legal support in the adoption matter.  All in a day’s work for LWI!

#StressAwarenessDay 2017: Reducing Stress for Families of New York

Stress: synonymous with strain, pressure, tension, worry. The root of stress looks different for all of us, but for some illustrates a reality of quality-of-life needs that are not easily met due to the challenges of poverty, inequality, trauma, or violence. Little stressors that impact all of us might include train delays, a late paycheck, or overcooking the dinner in the oven. Bigger stressors that impact only some of us include rebuilding a life in the wake of domestic violence, getting food on the table for four children as a single grandparent while working full-time, or educating young ones about ways to stay safe from gun violence. For the 15% of adult New Yorkers and 22% of children who are living below the poverty line, stress is so deeply woven into the realities of their days, it may be difficult to imagine life without it.

How can we reconcile these statistics, and gain a deeper awareness that, although stress impacts all of us, the creature comforts that some of us may be accustomed to are a distant thought for so many other Americans? Now that we know that stress is a major contributor of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, what “stress medicine” should we prescribe to aid in this crisis? And in learning that stress is often at the root of depression, anxiety, and suicidality, how can we aid in improving the mental health of our fellow New Yorkers, and address the social inequalities that are an inarguable reality?

the creature comforts that some of us may be accustomed to are a distant thought for so many other Americans

Today is #StressAwarenessDay 2017, and in attempting to answer these questions as a mental health counselor in NYC, I look towards existing models that work to reduce stress for individuals and families every single day. I have experienced the inner workings of a variety of mental health clinics in my time as a psychotherapist, and it is rare to find an organization that honors, serves, and truly values its clients as much as The Family Center in Brooklyn. Although there is only one day annually to raise awareness around the impacts of stress, the mission of The Family Center sheds light on how we can all work towards eliminating stress for New Yorkers in need, 365 days a year.

it is rare to find an organization that honors, serves, and truly values its clients as much as The Family Center

Much of the medical model in this country has moved towards fixes for what has already happened – antibiotics for infection, blood pressure medication to aid in symptoms related to obesity, or psychotropic medications to alleviate PTSD. Sometimes, these solutions are all we have to help an individual – the problem has compounded and the root is buried deeply below. But when it comes to stress and helping our community, we also have this moment right now – making life easier on the day-to-day for those who are in desperate need of a pause in the avalanche of difficulties they must fend off for themselves and their children as a daily reality.

It is the choosing to operate in the “here and now” that makes The Family Center a true asset to New York City, and sets them apart from so many other organizations who utilize “band-aid fixes” rather than focusing on how to truly serve the ongoing needs of a community facing social inequalities. The Family Center offers clients family law and lifetime planning services so that parents can make informed choices now, rather than later. They provide preventative programming for youth, such as mentoring services and trauma-informed care, to help at-risk youth feel supported today, rather than tomorrow. The Family Center consistently adds new programming to adapt to the needs of their client families, such as financial literacy initiatives and increased requests for grant funding to keep their services accessible for clients. They work tirelessly to evolve as an organization by listening to the needs of their clients daily, rather than waiting for annual reports that may

Lindsey Pratt, second from left, with other Family Center Leadership Council members and supporters at our annual picnic in Central Park for clients and their families.

show the numbers but lack the voices of those they intend to serve.

And it is with this model that The Family Center upholds as their daily mission that we all might learn something about coping with stress: The best preparation for tomorrow is doing our best today. Stress may be a daily occurrence, but what can we do today to work towards a more peaceful tomorrow, for ourselves and our communities? We may start by getting involved with an organization that gives back in the way that The Family Center does, and by strengthening our understanding of how we might alleviate stressors not only for ourselves, but others, too. May we all find ways to help reduce the load on #StressAwarenessDay 2017 – after all, a shared burden is a lighter burden.

-Lindsey Pratt, Leadership Council member

Learn more about Lindsey at www.meetlindsey.com!

The Family Center & Planned Parenthood NYC Team Up for Parents & Caregivers

This month, The Family Center has been thrilled to partner once more with Planned Parenthood of New York City to bring the Adult Role Models (ARM) program to our parents and caregivers.


ARM Program Participants and Facilitators

ARM is a unique peer education program designed to assist parents and other caring adults in educating their children about sexuality – a topic that we know many adults find intimidating.  For the last four Fridays, participants have been getting information, peer support, and tools and techniques on on how to answer tough questions and better communicate with their children. Participants have been encouraged to become their children’s primary sexuality educators and to share their values about sexuality with their children.

As always, our clients who have participated this month raved about the experience, both the quality of the service delivered by the peer educators, as well as the opportunity to learn from and build community with one another.

I found the program to be a great learning experience.” -Jacklyn

I loved the program.  I learned a lot to teach my children and never wanted to miss a session.” -Rayattie

I learned so much about how to speak with my children that I want to pass it onto other parents.” -Carolynne

Thank you to Planned Parenthood of NYC and their terrific Peer Educators, Diane, Ivette and Berniece, for bringing this wonderful and important program to The Family Center.

Gratitude in the New Year

The Family Center’s dedicated Legal Wellness Institute team helps thousands of NYC families with complicated legal matters every year. Jonathan, one of our Legal Services Coordinators, and Caroline, Legal Services Assistant Director, recently received a lovely note of gratitude from a client family whom he helped obtain guardianship of their intellectually disabled adult daughter.

Legal Wellness Institute staff, including Caroline (left) and Jonathan (3rd from left), with a grateful client family

Hi Jonathan,

We would also want to thank you, Caroline and your team, in helping us secure our legal guardianship for our daughter. Thank you that it went so smoothly because you all did your homework well. We really appreciate it! Thank you for all the care and effort you all put in, especially you.
Truly yours,
A happy client family*
*Name withheld to protect client confidentiality.