Restorative justice center offers two new free clinics

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The Orleans County Restorative Justice Center (OCRJC) has launched two new free initiatives. Beginning on May 2, the center will add a free legal clinic for elder issues to its regular free legal clinic. The second initiative will begin later in the month — a free financial coaching clinic. Dates and times for clinics will be by appointment to start.

The definition of “elders” in this case is anyone 50 years old or older.

“We organized the legal clinic for elder issues because we saw there was a big need in the region, and elder community members have unique barriers to accessing help,” said center director Barbara Morrow. “Finances are a huge barrier for some, but another less considered barrier is discomfort in talking about personal issues. A lack of transportation can also get in the way of elders getting their needs met sometimes, and even knowing where to turn first for advice.” Northeast Kingdom Homecare helped to underwrite the elder legal clinic.

The financial coaching clinic is also free for Orleans County residents, and includes confidential help to make choices about available money, look at cash flow, and live within a finite amount of income.

“Sometimes people have a money crisis, and that means they need referrals to services,” Ms. Morrow said.

But then comes the step where they need to find solid ground again. Some have lost banking privileges and have no safe place to make money transactions. The clinic aims to help people reach money goals, whatever they may be. However, the coaches are not “advisors” nor can they provide investment advice.

“Basically, if what you’re doing now isn’t working, we can help if you are willing,” Ms. Morrow said.

“Older generations face an unusual set of circumstances with many living at or near the poverty level and trying to remain in their homes,” said Meg Burmeister, executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Council on Aging. “Opportunistic lending practices have left many saddled with debt they cannot afford. This coupled with Vermont pride often leave them nearing loss of their homes. We see the challenges people face on a daily basis on our helpline as they struggle with paying bills, heating homes, and ending the month with enough food to eat. These clinics will be a godsend in terms of providing an opportunity for people to confidentially discuss their legal problems and get expert advice which often helps with a plan to get them out of their dire circumstances.”

Ms. Burmeister continued with real life examples of financial or legal need for elder community members, and how the present free legal clinics have helped. One couple anticipated working well into their 70s when illness forced them to close their farm. As a result, the income changed dramatically in a very short time. An attorney was able to help them to explore options to manage their debt in a way that avoided foreclosure.

Another woman recently came in as a result of a difficult divorce and had been the victim of many years of financial exploitation by her husband.

“The attorney was able to support her in exploring options to protect her financial situation for the future,” Ms. Burmeister said. “There is a huge need for these clinics.”

OCRJC operates with a cadre of capable, trained volunteers in addition to its professional staff. It acknowledges Northeast Kingdom Homecare for support of the elder legal clinic, and Community National Bank which has been a long-time supporter. Gifts to the center can be made securely through PayPal at www.kingdomjustice.org, or via check.

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