We invite you to join us this week for our local Celebration of Pro Bono, a chance for us to celebrate and acknowledge the incredible work that more than 300 pro bono attorneys and volunteers have contributed to Prairie State and its clients over the past year.
This week, we focus on active and retired attorneys and other professionals who devoted more than 5,100 hours of their time and expertise over the last 12 months in order to help a significant number of clients in cases that Prairie State staff could not otherwise assist.
The impact of our pro bono program is staggering. In addition to over 725 cases taken by telephone counseling volunteers and more than 800 cases referred to local office volunteers, a new, centralized Pro Bono Unit has been formed to connect even more clients to attorneys through clinics, projects, and other volunteer opportunities in the areas of family law, consumer law, criminal records expungement and sealing, evictions, and more. We are grateful to have been able to close more than 1,500 cases this year and look forward to what’s to come with you!
Congratulations to our 12 Outstanding Pro Bono Community Honorees and our 2022 Distinguished Pro Bono Advocacy Award recipient, Bill Spiro!
Program-wide: Bill Spiro
Attorney William (Bill) Spiro began volunteering with Prairie State’s telephone counseling service in April 2020 advising clients by phone on a wide variety of legal issues. From the outset of his pro bono service, Bill was ready and willing to advise any client with any legal issue, often taking the time and going the extra mile to speak to a client in their native language using an interpreter. Cases in our hotline service must be placed with volunteers very quickly, and sometimes on short notice, but Bill never said no to helping a Prairie State client in need. In all his cases, he provides sound legal advice, a calm, honest, guiding hand, or even a pep talk to boost a client’s confidence before going into court.
When the Pandemic Pro Bono Eviction Project launched in late 2020, Bill quickly jumped on board assisting clients with advice and negotiating agreements that allowed the client to stay in their home, or move out on a mutually agreed upon schedule, avoiding the potentially drastic effects of eviction. Overall, Bill has been a most reliable and productive volunteer, helping in more than 300 cases, with over 100 cases in the Pandemic Eviction Project.
Congratulations on receiving this well-deserved award, Bill, and thank you for your pro bono service to PSLS clients.
This year’s Prairie State Outstanding Pro Bono Community Honorees are:
Susan Bursztynsky, Ottawa Office
In celebration of National Pro Bono Week, today we highlight Volunteer Susan Bursztynsky for her service and dedication to our clients at the Ottawa PSLS office.
Susan never backs away from a difficult case to do what is right. She is dedicated to victims of abuse and fights for them to be heard and protected. Susan not only volunteers her time with Prairie State, but she is also the Executive Director of Safe Journeys Domestic Violence Shelter. The PSLS Ottawa office is lucky to have such an asset in our community.
We are so thankful for your service, Susan!
Linda Cunabaugh, Woodstock Office
PSLS Volunteer Linda Cunabaugh has spent more than 35 years actively supporting legal aid efforts in McHenry County and has volunteered with PSLS since 2003. Linda says, “For every difficult client you may encounter, there is a humble, grateful legal aid client whose life will be made better by your efforts. You really can find deep satisfaction in using the gifts you have to help others.”
Linda’s last case was a domestic relations case that took two years and 55 hours. She stayed on when many would have left. She has truly dedicated her life to service, particularly to Prairie State as a volunteer, and we are honored to celebrate her this week!
Thank you, Linda!
Karren Farmer, Kankakee Office
Karren is one of our Outstanding Community Pro Bono Honorees, generously lending her time and expertise in pursuing justice and restoring hope for our clients.
Karren has long been an ally and supporter of PSLS. In addition to the time she has spent volunteering with the borderless eviction project, Karren has assisted our office with a number of other cases including bankruptcies and foreclosures. She has contributed to fundraisers, shared her legal expertise, and given morale support to our local office.
Thank you for your service, Karren!
Stephen Heine, Peoria Office
Pro bono volunteer Stephen Heine is an eager volunteer, always quick to respond and help with any type of case we send over. There’s never a question asked about how potentially dense a case is, and he is not worried about taking on more than one case at a time, even if one is difficult. We appreciate Stephen’s eagerness to jump in feet first proactively and are lucky to have his patience, compassion, and skills!
Thank you for your service, Stephen!
Judge Lori Lefstein (Ret.), Rock Island Office
In celebration of National Pro Bono Week, we recognized Volunteer Judge Lori Lefstein (Ret.) for her service and dedication to our clients at the Rock Island PSLS office. Lori is one of our Outstanding Community Pro Bono Honorees, generously lending her time and expertise in pursuing justice and restoring hope for our clients.
We are so fortunate to have you on our team, Lori. Thank you!
Thomas McClure, Bloomington Office
Thomas McClure is another one of our Outstanding Community Pro Bono Honorees.
Reflecting on Thomas’ work, his nominator wrote: “Illinois State University Professor Tom McClure has a long history of taking pro bono divorce cases when he worked in private practice in Kankakee and as an ISU Professor in Bloomington. In the fall of 2020, Thomas launched the ISU Expungement Clinic in partnership with Prairie State Legal Services. He accepts clients seeking expungement and the sealing of their cases, and then assigns the files to his students, who prepare the necessary court documents. He then reviews the documents, makes corrections, and sends them to Prairie State to file with the Circuit Clerk. Since August 2020 when the clinic began, with the help of 85 ISU students, he has helped 58 people request to seal or expunge their old criminal cases and he donated $100,000 to create an endowment at ISU to continue the ISU Expungement Clinic in perpetuity. Through this program, he helps people who cannot afford attorneys get a second chance at life and inspires and trains our future pro bono lawyers and paralegals.”
Thank you, Thomas, for your dedication!
Elsa Miller, Telephone Counseling
This week we highlight Volunteer Elsa Miller for her service and dedication to our clients using our telephone counseling service. Elsa has volunteered in PSLS’ telephone counseling program since the inception of the pro bono program in 2015, advising clients by phone on a wide variety of legal matters. During that time, she has counseled nearly 700 clients and volunteered more than 550 hours of pro bono time.
Elsa also is a former PSLS staff attorney, representing DuPage County clients from September 1991 to July 2000.
Thank you, Elsa, for volunteering with PSLS in the telephone counseling program, and for so generously serving our community.
Sherri Rudy, Rockford Office
Sherri Rudy, an expert in probate law, has been involved with the Rockford office volunteer lawyer project for more than 20 years and has provided representation in 25 guardianship cases over her tenure with PSLS. When the Rockford office was experiencing an increase in the need for attorneys to assist with adult guardianship cases, Sherri offered to help provide training for interested attorneys and continues to offer her assistance whenever needed. In addition, Sherri serves as a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) and was involved with the recent GAL training through the Winnebago County Bar Association. Sherri is committed and passionate about her service to the law community and to PSLS. We are happy to honor her during this year’s Pro Bono Week!
Thank you, Sherri!
Schlesinger & Strauss, LLC, Waukegan Office
We wish to recognize Schlesinger & Strauss, LLC for their enduring and tireless commitment to serving low-income clients in Lake County. Over the past year, they have been among our most proactive volunteers, and they are one of our go-to volunteers for family law cases.
We are thankful for everything they’ve accomplished and continue to do for our community!
Kathy Schlueter, Legal Help for Homeowners
Kathy Schlueter was Prairie State’s very first telephone counselor starting in 1997. For the next 23 years, she worked as a telephone counselor or Legal Help for Homeowners telephone counselor before retiring in 2019. Last fall, Kathy returned to PSLS and has spent 264 hours serving Legal Help for Homeowners program clients, helping 26 different clients. Not only did she use her prior expertise to provide intake and advice on multiple files, but she also willingly and very effectively stepped outside her comfort zone to provide extended services to multiple clients. Kathy is smart, and innovative, and has tirelessly given her time to our clients and achieved great results.
We are so fortunate to have you on our team, Kathy. Thank you!
Lidia Serrano, West Suburban Office
Lidia Serrano has volunteered with PSLS for the past few years taking on mostly divorces in which there is a marital residence and/or minor children. Lidia’s assistance is very significant because she accepts referrals for our Spanish-speaking pro bono clients. Clients who need a Spanish-speaking attorney are always very difficult to refer because we have a very limited number of Spanish-speaking volunteers and they always have at least one ongoing case, so it is greatly appreciated when she takes a case. Lidia is great to communicate with and is very responsive.
Thank you, Lidia!
Chris Spesia, Joliet Office
Our last pro bono volunteer, Chris Spesia, is also one of our 2022 Outstanding Community Pro Bono Honorees.
His nominator wrote: “As a longtime volunteer with PSLS, Chris assists low-income seniors with advance directives and simple wills. Many of these clients are vulnerable and nervous about meeting with an attorney. Chris treats each client with patience, dignity, and compassion and helps them to navigate difficult times. Most recently, he assisted two separate clients with advance directives and a simple will but determined that creating a trust was in each of their best interests. He did this even though he initially only agreed on assisting with their wills and advance directives. One client commented, ‘My lawyer was above and beyond my expectations.’ Chris has a good heart and all the clients referred to him have been very appreciative of him.”
Thank you, Chris!