Author Archives: Jennifer

About Jennifer

Jennifer Wyatt, the Executive Director of R2JNC and a North Carolina lawyer.

Advocates for Childrens’ Services

Roads to Justice NC ((R2JNC) partners with organizations and firms all over North Carolina. Advocates for Children’s Services, a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina is one of those partners, focuses on issues facing school-aged children. From Special Education to the School-to-Prison-Pipeline, ACS’s attorneys are kept busy handling a variety of cases from all over the state. While their staff is able to commit some time to outreach, North Carolina is an enormous state. In some senses, organizations like ACS are able to “outsource the outreach” to R2JNC.

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This is how it works: if the community wants a workshop on School Discipline issues, R2JNC organizes the meeting space and arranges for an ACS staff member to come out for the workshop. R2JNC has partners in a wide range of legal areas, so we work on bringing as many workshops as desired, which is much more efficient than ten different organizations trying to do the same. Additionally, we can refer qualified people to ACS during our legal clinics. In this way, we not only help the community, but we help ACS increase their exposure in rural North Carolina.

R2JNC is here to efficiently bring advocates and the community together. Please donate!

 

 

Legal Rights AND Responsibilities

I-voted-stickerRights and responsibilities are opposite sides of the same coin. Our system of law afford us certain rights, such as the right to vote. Right along with it though, we have the responsibility to not only exercise that right but to stay informed of the issues and make our decisions accordingly. It’s one of the few times as an adult that we get a sticker for doing the right thing.

At Roads to Justice, we talk about other rights and responsibilities in our clinics, workshops, and roundtables. In honor of my older daughter’s 18th birthday today, here is a non-exhaustive list of things we all need to do to be responsible adults:

  • Read before you sign anything.
  • Even more importantly, understand what you are signing. Ask questions. No one was born knowing everything, so there is no shame in asking.
  • Put important agreements in writing.
  • Keep important documents in a safe place.
  • Keep copies of contracts, even gym memberships. You never know when an issue may arise.
  • OPEN YOUR MAIL REGULARLY
  • DO NOT IGNORE PROBLEMS. ASK FOR HELP. I cannot stress this one enough. People are a lot less judgmental than you might suppose. A stitch in time saves nine. It really does.  

Any others to add?

 

How Is Your Legal Health?

public-health-symbolAre you legally healthy? Having peace of mind that if something goes wrong you’re prepared is crucial to the well being of your family. At Roads to Justice we work with women to make sure they have the tools they need to care for themselves and their families. We often start with a “baseline” diagnosis. Some of our questions:

  • Are your important documents in a secure place? Examples- birth certificate, passport, military discharge documents, marriage certificate, deeds and titles.
  • Are your tax forms up to date?
  • Do you have legal documents directing what happens when you die or if you are incapacitated?
  • Do you know if you qualify for public or private benefits?
  • Are your assets and investments secure and working for you?
  • Do you know how your assets are titled?
  • Are you appropriately insured?
  • Do you know when to reassess your legal health? Examples- when you buy a house, get married, have a baby, or turn 18!
  • Do you have an attorney you can call if you have questions?

Many of use take our health for granted. For people with low incomes or who live in areas underserved by lawyers, it can be a big hassle to get things in order. Roads to Justice helps get people moving in the right direction.

Please consider helping Roads to Justice help others! Please donate via the Paypal button on this webpage. Thank you.

Project Pamlico Fundraiser Begins Today!

Today we kick-off our Project Pamlico fundraiser!

R2J_Primary3_LogoIn order to provide learning and information sessions in Pamlico County this fall, we need your support. R2JNC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, so your donation is tax-deductible. Please consider making a gift today. R2J_Primary3_Logo

Where will your donation go? Roads to Justice NC works hard to keep costs low. For example, our staff will be traveling to Pamlico County in a high-mileage, low-cost vehicle and lodging with local residents. We make use of free meeting space whenever possible, and accept in-kind donations from local businesses to offset costs.

When Roads to Justice NC spends money, all efforts are made to keep that money in the community we serve. We chose small, local businesses whenever possible. At the end of each Project, we report on where donations were spent. You can feel good about money donated to R2JNC.

We have set a $10,000 goal to be met by September 15, 2014, when we plan to hit the ground running in Pamlico County. Please click on the Paypal button to your right (or at the bottom of the page if you’re on your phone), the donate button in the banner above, or follow this link for more information: http://www.roadstojustice.org/donate

Thank you for your support!

The Importance of Education in Advocacy

Decisions will be made that affect your life, whether you’re the one that makes them is up to you. In the legal world, you may forfeit rights you didn’t even know you had or you may make poor decisions based on faulty information. Knowledge is critical. Roads to Justice North Carolina provides education to women in rural North Carolina, so that they can improve the lives of their families with more informed decision making.

This summer Roads to Justice went on hiatus when our executive director (me, Jennifer Wyatt) took time off to tend to a family medical issue. In recent weeks my conviction grew that it was important for me, as a mother, to make informed decisions about my child’s care. This isn’t a legal story, but I’d like to share how it relates to Roads to Justice’s mission.

In 1997 my one year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. It didn’t take long to learn that doctors cannot be the sole decision makers. The use their expertise to advise, but in the end the patient or the patient’s guardians are the ones who have to decide what to do. It took education combined with love and understanding of my daughter to come up with the best decisions for her over the years.

Whether it was dealing with doctors and nurses, health insurance companies or hospital bureaucracy, I always had to be on my toes. Later when she entered school using a wheelchair, a I had to learn a whole new level of advocacy to get her what she needed. I could not possibly advocate for my daughter without at least a basic understanding of the underlying issues. R2JNC helps women find basic understanding of legal issues so they can better advocate for their families.

When you’re dealing with a medical condition, it’s easy to see that there’s something wrong and that it needs to be addressed. Outside the medical arena for the average person, legal issues can sneak up on us. Whether it’s the landlord not responding to calls about repairs or increasing harassment at work, we usually focus on personality issues. We don’t always recognize the legal issue until things get really messy. We must understand our rights before we can assert them. I’m proud to work for an organization that helps people help themselves.

20140707_142652My daughter is recovering from her very rough summer surgery, and I’m excited to get back to work. I’d like to thank the Roads to Justice North Carolina extended family for their love and support during this time.

We’re getting ready to kick off our next fundraiser. Please consider donating, whether it’s sending us a check or clicking to donate via Paypal on this webpage. Thank you!

 

Aiding the Elderly

According to the North Carolina State Demographics Unit, older adults are the fastest growing population in the state. The number of adults over 65 is expected to double from 2000 to 2030. Some rural counties with retirement communities, like Pamlico, have even more elderly residents. The poverty rate for the elderly in many rural areas tops 25%, making them some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Women make up 59% of adults over 65 in North Carolina. That ratio changes dramatically for adults over 85 to an astonishing 72% being female. Roads to Justice offers learning opportunities specifically for women in this demographic so that they may better advocate for themselves. seniorpov

There are resources out there for senior citizens (such as the Low Income Energy Assistance Program), but as we increasingly shift to a web-based society, folks without computers have increased barriers. Computers and technology presume a level of familiarity and literacy that our many of our elders do not have, some of whom retired before computers were commonplace. Roads to Justice delivers information in person and does not require an Internet connection.

We respect the experiences of the women we serve, and conduct our learning sessions as conversations. We believe more learning occurs when it’s interactive; it gives us a chance to learn from the participants and have a lot more fun!

Some of the workshops and clinics especially relevant to the elderly:

  • Consumer protection
  • Healthcare and the Law
  • Disability Law
  • Estate planning

In the future, Roads to Justice plans to add Internet literacy classes to our catalogue, as well as work with tech nonprofits to get more rural North Carolinians online.

It’s our honor to get to know long time residents of rural North Carolina. Stay tuned for news, updates, and the occasional interesting anecdote!

 

 

Not Legal Aid

apples-and-orangesWhile many legal service professionals immediately understand the difference between our mission and Legal Aid’s, I thought I would take a moment to explain the differences. In some senses our two organizations seem very much alike. Our goals are very similar- that low-income people are able to remove barriers to their future success. We also work together on projects, but our focus is very different.

Roads to Justice provides legal education. Legal Aid focuses on legal services. One way to think about it is that Roads to Justice provides DIY information. Our goal is to increase the legal literacy of rural communities, which will hopefully lighten Legal Aid’s load. Often in life we find ourselves in with problems where a little more legal information would be helpful, but doesn’t quite rise to a level that requires a lawyer. On the other hand, if a lawyer really is required, we are able to make referrals and connect people with appropriate assistance.

Legal Aid NC, like Roads to Justice, does offer workshops. For example, they have a once a month video workshop on child custody. The differences are that we offer workshops on a variety of areas, based completely on what legal issues are most pressing to the women in the communities we visit, and  that we work in person. We figure workshops are only useful if people know about them and actually attend. Two-way communication is the most important aspect of our work. Legal Aid attorneys cooperate with Roads to Justice, often being the presenters at our workshops.

We spend a great deal of time getting to know the community, through churches and community organizations. Also, unlike Legal Aid, we are not restricted in the legal areas we can discuss. Legal Aid does an amazing job with the resources they have. Roads to Justice works with many nonprofits to help them reach more people.

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Service Providers in Rural North Carolina

freud-on-screen150Rural towns are often unable to support full-time, permanent professionals. In many ways, medical and legal service providers are just like any other business owner, they also require a location with enough demand to support their supply. New technology helps bridge these gaps and bring services to rural areas.

Recently in North Carolina, psychiatrists began using Skype to connect to patients in rural emergency rooms, effectively reducing the wait for treatment. Some 28 out of 100 counties in North Carolina are without a psychiatrist. Similarly, many rural counties are without full-time, permanent attorneys. Roads to Justice seeks to address this issue through in-person outreach as well as using the latest technology.

One of the most exciting aspects of the communications technology boom is how accessible it is. Just years ago many of us cut short our long-distance phone calls because of the cost! Now if you’ve got a webcam and an Internet connection, you’re able to video chat with people all over the world for free. It’s astonishing but something we take for granted. However, people in many rural areas around the world are left out as high speed Internet connections have yet to arrive.

Roads to Justice brings information out to rural areas not able to take full advantage of the Internet. We provide classes and written information the old-fashioned way. At the same time, we work with law schools and technology nonprofits to assist the communities we serve link up with the Information Superhighway. Roads to Justice uses traditional methods and the latest technology to solve problems today, as well as prevent them in the future.

See this link for more about telepsychiatry in North Carolina.

 

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension

One of the greatest resources for all who live in North Carolina is the Cooperative Extension. Located in each of the 100 counties as well as with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the statewide partnerships works with public universities. They provide education in five areas: sustaining agriculture and forestry, protecting the environment, maintaining viable communities, developing responsible youth, and developing strong, healthy, and safe families. Roads to Justice works with offices around North Carolina to take advantage of networks and knowledge in the rural community.

ncce-100-logo-288pxThe Cooperative Extension was borne out of the Morrill Acts of 1862, one of the most important acts in American History for higher education. Recognizing the need for educated, practical decision-making, these laws gave federal land to the states to “land grant” colleges. Many of these universities make up our nation’s most prestigious public schools. North Carolina State University was established from these Acts. North Carolina A&T State University came out of later related acts from 1890. These schools focus on agriculture, science, and engineering.

Similarly, we at Roads to Justice provide education required for practical decision-making. Women in rural North Carolina make decisions for their families everyday. It’s important that they understand the legal implications of their decisions so that future problems are avoided. Education is fundamental to our success as individuals, families, and communities.

As always, your support of our mission is welcome! Please consider donating to Roads to Justice North Carolina so that we can continue providing much needed learning opportunities to families.

 

 

The North Carolina Tradition of Caring

colonial mapThe roots of North Carolina helping the poor go deep into history, all the way to the English Poor Laws when we were still an English colony. The Colonial Assembly charged the vestry of each parish to levy a tax for what was then referred to as “poor relief”. Dependent children were placed with families and learned a trade as an apprentice. It was simply a natural aspect of civilized life to care for the less fortunate.

The North Carolina Constitution of 1776 did not include any responsibility for the poor, but those responsibilities previously held by the local vestrymen were assumed by the elected overseers. In 1793 and 1831, the legislature authorized the building of almshouses with the use of county tax funds.

After the Civil War a new state constitution was drafted. The North Carolina Constitution of 1868 explicitly included a role for state government. Article XI Section 7 reads as follows:

“Beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate and orphan, being one of the first duties of a civilized and christian state, the General Assembly, shall at its first session, appoint and define the duties of a Board of Public Charities, to whom shall be entrusted the Supervision of all charitable and penal State institutions, and who shall annually report to the governor upon their condition, with suggestions for their improvement.”

In 1971, North Carolinians decided it was time for a new constitution and did not mince words regarding the importance of caring for the poor. Article 11 Section 4 continued the North Carolina tradition for caring for the poor. “Beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate, and the orphan is one of the first duties of a civilized and Christian state. Therefore the General Assembly shall provide for and define the duties of a board of public welfare.”

North Carolinians should be justly proud of their long history of concern for those suffering through hard times. Tar Heels are a thoughtful, practical people, and recognize that everyone needs help now and then. Those of us who can help, must. At Roads to Justice we seek to further that tradition well into the 21st century, making use of modern technology as well as good old-fashioned conversation.

In other upcoming post, we will discuss North Carolina’s dedication to education- also enshrined in the state’s most noble document- the Constitution!

Want to read more about North Carolina Constitutional History? Follow this link! And here is the link to our current Constitution. Enjoy!