LEGAL AID SOCIETY THEN AND NOW: AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The face of a community can dramatically change in 57 years and Palm Beach County is no exception.
The Legal Aid Society was started in 1949 and at its inception employed one attorney whose purpose was to give free legal advice to the economically disadvantaged. Court litigation was referred to members of the Palm Beach County Bar Association who handled the cases on a voluntary no-fee basis. This was the post-war era and for our county the beginning of rapid migration. Growth was fueled by soldiers returning with "sand in their shoes" to the tropical setting they discovered while stationed at one of the local military bases. They were seeking jobs or retirement in the Sunshine State. Downtown West Palm Beach flourished and television made its first appearance in the county before an audience of reporters and Philco t.v. dealers. Social problems were handled through churches, neighbors and families. Major health problems were tuberculosis, influenza and polio. The population of the entire county was 114,700.
By the mid-seventies the burgeoning rate of growth and development was continuing. Highrise buildings started to dot the waterfront, expansion was to the west with new communities and malls replacing the city center. Interstate 95 was completed connecting Palm Beach Gardens to Miami. Growth was through the migration of retirees with an influx of northerners to the Gold Coast of Florida. This burst of retirees would later have an impact on the health and legal issues of elder care. Emerging social problems of domestic violence, gender inequities, civil rights and fair housing sought remedies through the justice system. Social service agencies were replacing churches, neighbors and families. The population now reached 462,875.
Fast forward 30 years and the population of Palm Beach County now exceeds 1.2 million people. Growth and development extends to the four corners of the county. Migration continues and has been expanded by immigration from foreign shores.
The Legal Aid Society, renowned for its leadership in responding to our community's needs, now employs a staff of 85. Services extend far beyond the dispensing of free legal advice and include the administering of diverse programs providing:
- Advocacy for foster children and children orphaned through catastrophic events and violence;
- Protection for vulnerable elderly citizens, whose numbers increase each day;
- Safe refuge for families affected by the tragedy of domestic violence and homelessness;
- Representation for HIV infected men, women and children, each coping with the challenges of a devastating disease;
- Educational advocacy for physically and developmentally challenged children;
- Intervention for children and youth at-risk for delinquency, truancy and recidivism;
- Advocacy for immigrants seeking legal residency and citizenship;
- Education and representation for those at risk for housing discrimination;
- Planning and advocacy for clients and their families facing end of life issues;
- Hurricane preparedness education for Palm Beach County non-profits, and advocacy for our elder residents dealing with post storm issues;
- Advice, representation and education regarding Federal and State employment laws to enrolled Palm Beach County non-profits.
The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County continues to be recognized as a growing and dynamic organization that personalizes the human and social needs within the legal framework. As one of the first social service agencies serving Palm Beach County, we wish to acknowledge the thousands of clients, pro bono attorneys, generous supporters and collaborating partners who have come to know of our commitment to enhance the opportunities and living conditions for the disadvantaged in Palm Beach County through equal access to justice. With your continued support, the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County will fulfill our mission into the future.