Pro Bono Week Spotlight on Legal Intern Dahlia Romanow

DahliaIn honor of National Pro Bono Week, we’d like to introduce one of our fantastic legal volunteers.

Dahlia Romanow has been a legal intern in The Family Center’s Legal Wellness Institute (LWI) since May.

Dahlia is currently in her second year at NYU School of Law. Dahlia was a full-time legal intern over the summer and decided to volunteer with us again this fall part-time while she continues her studies.

Before moving to New York for law school, Dahlia received a bachelor’s degree in classics at Smith College. She then spent two years working as an AmeriCorps Legal Advocate at South Coastal Counties Legal Services Inc., a nonprofit legal service provider in the Fall River area of Massachusetts. In this position, Dahlia gained valuable experience, helping clients with issues relating to family law, consumer debt and bankruptcy, and housing court.

Dahlia has a strong commitment to pro bono legal assistance. At NYU, Dahlia also currently serves on the boards of two student groups: The Identity Documents Project, which helps trans and gender non-conforming New Yorkers update their federal and state legal documents to ensure they match their names and genders; and the HIV Law Society.

In her time volunteering with LWI, Dahlia has particularly enjoyed getting to apply the skills she’s learned in law school in a real-world setting – including drafting motions that have been filed in court (and won!). She also has also enjoyed getting to see cases through to successful completion, including a name change petition that she took the lead on, which was recently granted.

Dahlia was drawn to the Legal Wellness Institute’s holistic approach to direct legal services and has enjoyed working with clients and gaining experience in many areas of law.  Having lost her father unexpectedly at age 18, Dahlia also has a strong personal connection to The Family Center’s work.

Pro bono legal volunteers play a vital role in helping LWI serve more than a thousand vulnerable New Yorkers each year. The staff and clients of The Family Center’s Legal Wellness Institute thank Dahlia and all of our other pro bono volunteers for their time, energy, and talents.

A Special Reconnection

Recently, The Family Center received an email through our website from a former volunteer who mentored one of our children some time ago.  Dara’s note is heart-warming and at the same time, encourages our Board, staff, volunteers and supporters to persevere in our work to keep vulnerable families stronger, longer.  Her words also reveal that we don’t just strengthen families: we build communities.

Back in early 2000’s I became a mentor to Amanda. I was only her mentor for maybe 2 years. I don’t really remember why I stopped being her mentor. Anyway, 15+ years later, she found me on Facebook and messaged me. She emailed me the following:

“Hi Dara,
I don’t know if you remember me, but you use to be my mentor when you were apart of The Family Center back in the early 2000’s. I always wondered how you were and what you were up to? I also wanted to say thank you for everything you did for me back then, I truly appreciated everything you’ve done and I’m glad to see your doing well. Congratulations on you marriage (I know I’m off a several years sorry!) and your kids are sooooo adorable!!! I’m so happy for you! Also, please give a hug to Nikki for me, it’s funny I’m actually listening to “Test Drive” right now, it is such a good album! Why haven’t you guys put anything else out though? Anyway, much love and hugs to you both!!!  – Amanda”

We have emailed back and forth quite a bit since then. I love that she reached out to me. I honestly didn’t think I made that much of an impression on her!

I just wanted to email this to you as yet another story of how the Family Center helps the families who participate in your organization. I was so glad I got to be a part of it.



Amanda and Dara in 2003

We are so grateful to Dara -and Amanda- for giving us permission to share this story with you, our blog readers.

Do you have a story about your Family Center experience?  If so, contact us!

At The Family Center, we delight in spreading news about the good work of volunteers and supporters like Dara.

Amanda Lombardo on swing.Buddy Camping.06.03

Amanda at a Family Center event

New Directors Join The Family Center Board

The Family Center is proud to announce that a new cohort of Directors has joined our Board.  See a photo of our dedicated new Directors below and read more about them on our website.


From left to right: Maggie Jiang, Brian Pasalich, Helen Wanamaker, Rosie Hill, Adam Mintz and Vikram Shankar

A TFC Alum Shines in Miami

Thankful for The Family Center

Macys volunteers 2

Beth, far left, volunteering at The Family Center’s 20th Anniversary Gala in 2014

Beth McCarthy, a member of The Family Center Leadership Council, recently emailed her friends and family with a sweet note about us and our work.  We thought we’d share:

Hello and happy holidays!

As you may know, I am a member of the Leadership Council at The Family Center, which is a nonprofit that provides legal, social, and mental health services to NYC families living below the federal poverty level.  I have been volunteering with this organization for many years and am so proud of the work being accomplished.

This past year the Leadership Council has undertaken and achieved many wonderful things for the clients of The Family Center. We have continued to develop our financial literacy program by teaching and providing workshops on budgeting, banking, credit and other financial services to those in need. As Kofi Annan said, “Knowledge is power, information is liberating and education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family.”  We believe that with this education the clients can take control of their financials allowing for more freedom and security in their daily lives.  We have also helped to host our annual Harvest Ball, sort toys through the toy drive and held our annual Holiday party which brings so much joy and excitement to the children, it is truly special.

I understand that this time of year is extremely busy but if you could take a moment out of your day to donate (using the link below) I would greatly appreciate it as would the people who you are helping directly.  Your donation will help us continue our efforts to improve the lives of those around us, especially in times of need. The families that The Family Center serves are often dismissed and forgotten and we want them, particularly the children, to know they are important and deserve the kind of holiday we all enjoy.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

Thank you!  Have a great day!

Beth McCarthy

We not only appreciate Beth’s kind words and thoughtful sentiments about our clients, we are also thankful for her!

Happy Holidays to Beth and all our supporters!  And a healthy New Year too!

The Family Center Has Moves

Clients at The Family Center are making moves! Recently, TFC hosted a dance and movement workshop in partnership with Gibney Dance, an NYC-based organization whose mission is to “bring the possibility of movement where it would otherwise not exist.” Clients from Familia Unida Latina (FUL), a peer-led Spanish-speaking support group, took part in the workshop; and Amy Miller, Associate Artistic Director of Gibney Dance Company, facilitated.

PrintGibney Dance partners with community organizations all across New York City to offer free workshops for survivors of violence, and people living with illness and loss. Gibney workshops focus on the principles of choice, self-expression, trust, and sharing, in order to create a collaborative space for healing. FUL group members had a great time moving and creating together, and found that the workshop provided a very energizing start to the day! Thank you, Amy and Gibney Dance for this wonderful opportunity!

-Sophie Schapiro, Family Center Social Worker & FUL Group Facilitator

#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!

The Best is Yet to Come

There have been seven birthdays, a few hundred Metrocard swipes, thousands of texts, one motorcycle accident (no injuries), two camping trips, and lately dozens of conversations about politics and socioeconomics. We’ve hit a lot of milestones together: Eddie’s two graduations, his 18th birthday, and most recently my wedding.

John and Eddie at John's wedding 6.2016

John and Eddie at John’s recent wedding

Having my little brother Eddie give a thumbs up from the back of the church calmed my nerves and put a smile on my face. After calling him my brother for many years, I now consider him a true and permanent member of my family.

The Buddy Program opened up both of our worlds to an incredible mixture of memorable experiences—mostly good, some challenging, but all of them meaningful. We’ve stood by each other through tough transitions and incredible achievements, and I know the best is yet to come.

Buddy Pair Share More Than Love of Movies

Devin, now 12 years-old, and I have been together for three years. Since that time, his grades have improved greatly. Our favorite hang-out is the AMC West 84th Street movie theater. One can find us relaxing there in the plush, bright red reclinging chiars.

Everett&Devin&GiantsVCruzDevin is an avid Giants fan and his favorite player is Victor Cruz. Thanks to Leah, the Director of Strategic Philthropy at Time Warner Cable, we were able to attend a fundraiser as special guests and meet Devin idol, Cruz.

My mother passed away last year in July. I observed a sense of maturity in Devin following that experience. Although we seldom talk about it -when we met three years ago, he had previously lost his own mother. It’s cool because we can related due to this shared space.

Everett, mentor to Devin in The Buddy Program

Pro Bono: Public Interest, Self Interest

This week is National Pro Bono Week. Pro Bono work is a big part of life at large law firms. Also, it is now mandatory for law students. In New York State, students have to complete 50 hours of pro bono service prior to admission.  Opinions vary on whether this a good thing. Law students are exceptionally busy.

I work at a non-profit that provides civil legal services to low income New Yorkers. In addition to many other law student and volunteer opportunities, we have a 50-hour pro bono program designed for students and graduates to meet this bar admission requirement.

We have a 50-hour program at our office and we accept almost every law student or graduate who comes to complete their hours. Some really don’t want to do this work at all, let alone for 50 hours. Occasionally, a law student trying to complete their hours walks into my office and says, more or less, that they hate pro bono work. They may say that they contacted my office about doing pro bono work only because they had to. They have little empathy, less time, and no desire whatsoever to continue pro bono work past the time required.

They have a point. Adding a week plus of charity onto a law student’s pre-existing commitments can seem insane. Some in the legal community question the benefit of forcing people to do “mandatory volunteerism.” Others may dismiss the idea of pro bono work  as a great ideal of the profession, arguing that pro bono work has more to do with helping the person or firm performing the service than it does with helping those in need. I understand these points. Doing good work for free is a privileged opportunity and it is easy to fall into self-congratulations, accolades and false praise.

But if a selfish exercise, it is no less a great one — one that all lawyers should do or try to do, if for nothing more than their own self-interest.  Here’s why:

Do Pro Bono For Your Resume. Pro bono work, especially for a cause you believe in, tells people something about you — something that cannot be reduced to grades, verdicts or billable hours.  One of the most attractive qualities in a job candidate is that they believe in something and that they want to share it with others. You can read any job website and it will tell you that charitable work on your resume is a good thing. Yes, every client and every hiring partner wants to know that you can get the job done. They also want to work with a human being. To give freely your time and knowledge — a lawyer’s most valuable commodities — is to let others know that you are willing to sacrifice. That is an attractive attribute in a candidate, an employee, and a co-worker.

Do Pro Bono to Be a Better Lawyer.  Whether it’s service for 50 hours or 50 weeks, you will  learn something in your pro bono work that increases your skill set. Doing pro bono work generally means working with clients and colleagues that you might not normally have contact with. Diversity of opinion, knowledge and background can be remarkably valuable. Whether you practice in financial services, litigation or tax, spending time working with disadvantaged clients is likely to expose you to different professional challenges. Here are some things our pro bono students have told us they learned in their 50 hours: (1) What an Order to Show Cause is and how to write one; (2) How to stop speaking  “legalese” when talking  to a client or adversary and how doing so can make one’s point more compelling; (3) How to listen to, speak with, and gather useful information from a client dealing with a highly emotional and emergent situation. These skills serve attorneys in any practice, and as such, most attorneys will eventually learn them. But what is the likelihood that a first-year associate would have the opportunity to learn these skills during their first 50 hours at a firm? The attorney who does pro bono work benefits by being better, sooner.  The firm benefits from having a lawyer who has worked in a non-law firm environment – one where the attorney has likely had to face unique, challenging moments.

Do Pro Bono Because it’s a Great Marketing and Recruitment Tool. It’s easy to dismiss pro bono work as just another PR stunt.  It’s about advertising; it’s about getting your name out there and showing largess, it’s generosity as marketing tool. Firms love to advertise their wins in pro bono cases, their awards for pro bono service, the ability of their associates to count their pro bono work as “billable.” So what?   Obtaining asylum for a pro bono client may take as much work as a successful  dispositive motion in a commercial contract dispute. The skills learned and utilized in either case are often the same. Any professional achievement is worthy of praise and dissemination. When a lawyer or firm responsible for that achievement states they are proud of it, that’s a good thing. If touting pro bono accomplishments yields positive consequences for that firm or attorney, that’s an even better thing, because it means that they will likely continue to perform pro bono work.

I don’t believe that all students or attorneys engage in pro bono work for selfish reasons. I only suggest that it’s not bad that some do.  Pro bono work performed or encouraged for the “wrong” reasons (because it is required for bar admission; because the firm can brag about it on their website; because the recent law school graduate can’t find paid legal work in the for-profit sector) is still work that is getting done.  The skills are still getting learned.  Most importantly, clients who would not otherwise have access to an attorney get representation. Even the pro bono volunteers in our office who clearly do not want to be here contribute enormously to our work. More people are served and are served well. Our clients love our pro bono volunteers and don’t express much interest in their motivation for being here.

So even if it is true that pro bono work is often motivated by a self-interest, that is not the whole truth.  The greater truth is that pro bono work helps thousands of people every year. It helps people to stay in their homes, protects them from abusive partners, keeps the innocent off of death row, and a million other worthy achievements. Notable is that when polled, students and attorneys alike describe pro bono as some of their most satisfying and engaging work. Many do more than what is required. Not every pro bono experience is personally transformative, but each hour of time (or 50), given without compensation, certainly has that potential — for the attorney giving their time and for the client receiving it.

This is National Pro Bono Week. Take on a case, sit at a Help Desk in Court, provide an hour’s worth of advice to someone who would not otherwise have access to your time and skills, earn your requirements for the bar. Whether your motives are selfish, well-intentioned or a bit of both, it matters less why you do it, than that you do it at all.

For students and graduates bristling at the pro bono requirement, I hear you. But you never know. You might learn something. Or worse, you might like the work.

Adam J. Halper and Caroline L. Bersak