Mission, Priorities, History

MISSION

Philadelphia VIP leverages the powerful resources of the community to provide quality volunteer legal services and ensure access to justice for low-income Philadelphians.

Our priorities are preventing homelessness, preserving income, stabilizing families and promoting community economic development.

KEY FACTS

Founded in 1981, Philadelphia VIP provides legal services for low-income residents and families facing civil legal problems that threaten their basic human needs – shelter, employment, financial stability, education and health.

  • Through its volunteers and staff, VIP serves more than 3,500 individuals and families yearly who could not otherwise afford attorneys and whose cases could or would not be handled by other public interest organizations.
  • Our clients are among the poorest in the City and region. To be eligible for our services, a client’s income must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelinesConsequently, our most financially secure single clients still earn less than $23,000, while a family of four lives on less than $48,000.
  • VIP serves a multi-lingual population, principally Spanish speaking. However, increasingly we see clients who speak Russian, Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian, reflecting of growing and changing immigration patterns in the Greater Philadelphia area.
  • VIP handles any civil matter that is non-fee generating and for which there is no right to counsel. 
  • The majority of VIP’s cases are referred to us from our sister organizations, Community Legal Services and Philadelphia Legal Assistance. Cases also come from specialized legal services organizations throughout Philadelphia.
  • In stark terms, VIP is the agency of last resort for many low-income individuals and families who face critical legal problems that affect their basic needs.

To read more about VIP, download our brochure:
The Impact of Saying Yes

History and Timeline

2016

  • VIP celebrates 35 years as the hub of pro bono services with its 35th Anniversary Gala, raising over $500,000 on March 12th with 475 attendees at the Westin Philadelphia.
  • New staff positions are created at VIP including a Volunteer & Communications Coordinator and a full time Family Law attorney.
  • VIP hosts its first Family Law Ethics CLE training program.
  • Supervising Attorney Roxane Crowley collaborates with the Center for Community Progress and is featured in their blog: “Heirs Property, Part I: Preventing “Tangled Titles” and Subsequent Blight in Philadelphia.”
  • The ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division awards VIP board member Bob Tintner, the Making a Difference in Community Service Award for their 2016 Difference Maker Awards.
  • The Legal Intelligencer publishes the article “Pro Bono Assistance Can Offer Homeowners Hope” written by VIP Superivsing Attorney, Lauren Ascher.
  • Kathleen Wilkinson, VIP volunteer and past Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association is awarded the O’Brien Award for outstanding service to the legal community as a defense attorney. The award was presented at the Association of Defense Counsel luncheon and Wilkinson chose VIP as her donor organization of choice. Read the announcement in The Legal Intelligencer.
  • The Association of Paralegals (PAP) awards their 2016 Pro Bono Award to Christine Flynn, a VIP Mortgage Foreclosure volunteer and advocate. Additionally, PAP presented VIP with a generous donation to continue its vital pro bono work.
  • Philadelphia VIP implements a new 5-year strategic pan. Read the Strategic Planning Narrative

2015

  • VIP volunteer Robert Scott wins the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section 2015 National Public Service Award.
  • VIP volunteer Matthew Lee wins the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) Excellence Award.
  • VIP hosts its first Divorce Clinic in partnership with CHUBB. The two-part clinic began in October 2015 where volunteers met with clients to prepare and file a divorce complaint.

2014

  • The Young Lawyer’s Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association awards VIP Volunteer Kim Takacs the Craig M. Perry Service Award.
  • VIP hosts its first annual Taste for Justice fundraiser.
  • The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals awards Erica Place their 2014 Pro Bono Award for her work with the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program through Philadelphia VIP.
  • The Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession names VIP to the 2014 Honor Roll of Legal Organizations Welcoming to Women Professionals.
  • VIP Volunteer Donald Parman wins the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section 2014 National Public Service Award.

2013

  • VIP premieres New Volunteer Orientation program.
  • The Young Lawyer’s Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association awards VIP Board Member Alex Braden the Craig M. Perry Service Award.
  • The Philadelphia Bar Foundation awards TE Connectivity the 2013 Pro Bono Award for their volunteer service with Philadelphia VIP.
  • The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals awards Karen Aloia their 2013 Pro Bono Award for her work with the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program through Philadelphia VIP.
  • The Philadelphia Bar Association’s Family Law Section awards Philadelphia VIP Managing Attorney, Ourania “Rainy” Papademetriou, the Herbert R. Weinman Jr. Award for her outstanding public service.

2012

  • Philadelphia VIP implements new strategic plan.
  • Philadelphia VIP conducts a poverty simulation at signature Pro Bono Opportunities Day event.
  • Philadelphia VIP partners with CEIBA, Congreso, and the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania to host Voter ID Clinics.
  • Philadelphia VIP goes “paperless” and develops an effective way to electronically transfer cases between sister organizations, Philadelphia Legal Assistance and Community Legal Services using Legal Server.

2011

  • Philadelphia VIP moves to new offices at 1500 Walnut Street, Suite 400.
  • Philadelphia VIP celebrates 30 years as the hub of pro bono in Philadelphia.
  • VIP hosts a 30th Anniversary Gala on March 19 with over 460 attendees.
  • VIP kicks-off the “30 for 30” Challenge asking all Philadelphia lawyers and law students to pledge 30 hours of pro bono during 2011.
  • VIP receives a $75,000 donation and kicks off a challenge match campaign.

2010

  • Ourania “Rainy” Papademetriou, Philadelphia VIP managing attorney for litigation, receives Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award.
  • VIP featured in national and local publications.
  • Host Committee formed for VIP’s 30th Anniversary.
  • VIP received a 3 year Oak Foundation Grant to expand its Tangle Title initiatives.
  • VIP, PLA and CLS received the William Penn Foundation Grant for a joint technological initiative.
  • VIP adds second Corporate Pro Bono Day, a VIP signature event.

2009

  • Public Relations firm Furia Rubel agrees to provide pro bono press releases to increase VIP’s visibility in Philadelphia.
  • VIP receives a $21,000 grant from The Walter E. Hering Fund #2, the Henry Griffith and Anna Griffith Keasbey Fund, the Lillian Gest Memorial Fund, and the William P. Gest Memorial Fund #2, of the Philadelphia Foundation to support its general operations. VIP also receives a $25,000 grant from the Citi Foundation to support its mortgage foreclosure program.
  • VIP Managing Attorney Stefanie Fleischer Seldin named Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Civil Legal Aid Attorney of the Year.
  • VIP Managing Attorney Ourania Papademetrious was named Chair of the Public Interest Section of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
  • VIP win’s the TD Foundations “Housing For Everyone” Competition for the second year in a row and received $100,000.
  • ABC’s Nightline produces a story about VIP’s work with the City of Philadelphia’s Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Program called “Save my Home.”
  • Volunteers and clients were featured in articles published in the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer surrounding the housing crisis and VIP’s work to keep Philadelphians in their homes.
  • VIP was given their first Philly Fellow to work as the Communications and Development Associate.

2008

  • VIP launches new website to remain in constant communication with its clients, volunteers, the Greater Philadelphia Region and the world.
  • Pro Bono Opportunities Day, VIP’s signature recruitment event, hosted by Montgomery McCracken, is attended by 60 attorneys from 20 firms, making it the largest turnout VIP had in the past five years. After an introduction to the value of pro bono service by Chancellor-Elect Mike Pratt, Professor Lou Rulli and VIP volunteer Rhashida Douglas, four substantive trainings are held on nonprofit law, probate/homeownership, custody and public housing.
  • The Samuel S. Fels Fund provides funding to VIP for its new marketing initiative, aimed at increasing awareness of VIP and the number of attorneys who volunteer with VIP.
  • Philly Foreclosure Rescue Effort (FReE) launched.

2007

  • Corporate Pro Bono Day is a great success, with over 25 in house counsel from area corporations providing services to clients seeking advice about small business and non-profit formation.
  • VIP welcomes the public to its first Open House. Over 80 volunteers, board members, community members and clients tour VIP’s office, met the staff and learned about VIP’s new initiatives.
  • VIP secures grants from the Philadelphia Foundation to begin a strategic planning process led by Dorel Shanon.
  • Sara Woods becomes VIP Executive Director.

2006

  • The staffs of VIP, CLS and PLA in addition to another 300 guests attend the joint Anniversary Celebration for the 3 organizations. Superb food, great music and a memorable slideshow reflecting the organizations’ histories resulted in an evening to remember.
  • By the end of the year VIP’s fundraising efforts yield great results to ensure VIP’s financial stability.

2005

  • Pro bono practice groups launched at Philadelphia firms to provide a reliable flow of volunteer attorneys for the homeownership prong of VIP’s LawWorks project. Pepper Hamilton started the first group and remains one of the most successful.
  • Adopt-A-Block is created to expand VIP’s homeownership efforts from assisting individual clients to stabilizing a neighborhood by helping multiple clients in a block.
  • VIP’s annual First Year Associates Day is renamed Pro Bono Opportunities Day to include all attorneys interested in learning more about pro bono service to low-income clients. This event includes CLE trainings and an opportunity to represent a VIP client.

2004

  • LawWorks becomes a project of VIP with support of the Business Law Section, LawWorks Steering Committee, the staff of LawWorks and the VIP staff. The Homeownership and Tangled Title projects become integrated into LawWorks.
  • Family Fun Fest launched, designed to celebrate everyone who is a part of Philadelphia’s pro bono community. In lieu of a fundraiser, VIP planned a “friendraiser” – a picnic in the park. 200 people attended this event including attorneys, law students, clients, staff from various public interest groups, and their families.
  • After the inauguration of a joint program between the HIAS and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia and Nationalities Service Center based on the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), VIP trains volunteer attorneys in the requirements of VAWA and subsequently referred 8 cases to volunteer attorneys who assisted in filing for asylum.
  • VIP and the Delaware Valley Association of Corporate Counsel (DELVACCA) created “Corporate Pro Bono Day” to recruit corporate counsel to train volunteers in nonprofit law. As a result, these trained volunteers assist nonprofit organizations and small businesses with legal issues.

2003

  • VIP co-creates LawWorks as a Business Law Section project.
  • VIP starts the Tangled Title Fund to respond to the property title issues of clients in Philadelphia.
  • VIP helps to form the Russian Elderly Project with CLS to address cuts in services to Russian elderly day care services.
  • VIP develops the Subsidized Permanent Legal Custody Program in collaboration with the Department of Human Services in order to educate clients in the Foster Care System.

2002

  • Philadelphia Bar Association significantly reduces funding to VIP. Pepper Hamilton LLP steps in and gives VIP an invaluable grant to cover the funding gap to ensure that the mission of VIP progressed.
  • VIP raises over $120,000 from firms, the most in VIP history.
  • The South Sudanese Project is formed to respond to the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
  • Chancellor Allan Gordon appoints a Pro Bono Taskforce.
  • Sharon Browning starts as VIP’s Executive Director.

2001

  • VIP secures new computers and creates a new database to sufficiently track cases, keep in contact with volunteers, and centralize records.

2000

  • ALEC Project concluded once changes in Social Security were adequately handled by volunteer attorneys.

1999

  • VIP moves to new offices at 42 South 15th Street, 4th Floor.

1998

  • VIP Staff organizes Spring and Fall Fundraisers in order to secure funding to further the mission and promote initiatives.

1997

  • ALEC (A Lawyer for Every Child) Program is created to respond to changes in SSI regulations.
  • VIP performs workshops at Congreso de Latinos Unidos in order to assist Philadelphia’s growing Hispanic population.

1996

  • VIP’s 15 year Anniversary.
  • Summer Associates Day, VIP’s second signature recruitment event, is inaugurated in order to encourage law school students about to begin their legal careers to learn about pro bono work and VIP.
  • VIP’s Immigration Project is formed.

1995

  • In conjunction with the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Board, VIP initiates its CLE Program, providing CLE credit to volunteers who accept pro bono cases.
  • First Year Associates Day, a VIP signature recruitment event, launched to foster relationships with new attorneys to encourage them to participate in pro bono legal work.
  • Margaret DeMarteleire becomes Executive Director.

1994

  • VIP, CLS, HAP and CBAP move from the Sylvania House to 1424 Chestnut Street.

1993

  • VIP and CLS collaborate again to form another project targeted at some of the economic issues that plagued low-income Philadelphians. The Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project (CBAP) is formed.
  • To further its commitment to assisting Philadelphia residents with custody issues, the KidsCAP project is set up to help clients who seek to file custody for a child.
  • Golden Venture – Chinese Refugee Project is organized.
  • Dress Down Days Program is launched by VIP to recruit volunteer attorneys and promote pro bono service. Law firm staffs contribute to VIP in exchange for being able to dress down for one day at work.
  • Sara Petrosky joins VIP as Executive Director.

1992

  • Haitian Children Refugee Project is formed to help obtain political asylum status for newly arrived unaccompanied Haitian children.
  • VIP reaches an important milestone: 1,111 referred by VIP to volunteer attorneys.
  • “In the Child’s Best Interest” videotaped and narrated by KYW reporter Trudy Haynes.

1991

  • The VIP Volunteer Handbook is drafted to offer volunteers a resource to ensure that they offer quality and compassionate legal services to their clients.
  • VIP reaches an important milestone: 800 cases referred by VIP to volunteer attorneys that served hundreds of Philadelphians.

1990

  • VIP and Community Legal Services (CLS) collaborate to help form the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP). Both organizations donate office space and other support for the project.
  • VIP presents its first Business Participation Awards.

1989

  • VIP acquires necessary funding through increased grant awards as well as successful fundraisers, and uses technology along with this financial support to move its mission forward.
  • VIP receives several National and Local awards for service to the community that help establish the organization as one of the premier hubs for pro bono legal service in Philadelphia.
  • VIP collaborates with Action AIDS and AIDS Law Project in order to train volunteers to assist clients with legal matters.

1988

  • “Nowhere Else to Turn” video is created to help with custody issues in Philadelphia. VIP holds its first custody clinics.
  • VIP launches a United Way Donor Campaign to offer volunteers and supporters a way to contribute to the organization’s mission.

1987

  • VIP implements several new initiatives including training sessions for volunteers, collaboration with Bar Sections and Law Firms to take a certain number of cases a month, and a quarterly newsletter.
  • Recognition Programs, Volunteer Du Jour (Attorney for the Day) and Awards Ceremony honoring volunteers and firms with 100% participation, are initiated to honor VIP volunteers.

1986

  • Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for Action Program is renamed Philadelphia VIP, and recognized as the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Pro Bono Program.
  • Eve Klothen hired as first Executive Director, joining a staff of 2 paralegals and a secretary.

1981

  • Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for Action Program is born.
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