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  • August 17, 2022

    Helping Children, Families, Immigrants, and Access to Justice through Law Foundation Grants

    Thanks to donations from State Bar members, the Wisconsin Law Foundation annually provides high-impact grants to programs that promote public understanding of the law and improve the administration of justice. Learn more about the grants and recipients.

    Shannon Green

    Keynote presenter Eric Butler of Talking Peace

    Keynote presenter Eric Butler of Talking Peace (second from right), a pioneer of the restorative justice movement, talks to teens during the 2022 Restorative Justice Youth Summit in June in Madison. Held by the Wisconsin Teen Court Association, the Summit is one of several recipients of a Truman Q. McNulty Grant from the Wisconsin Law Foundation. The grants support charitable or educational programs or projects that promote greater public understanding of the law and improve the administration of justice.​

    Aug. 17, 2022 – Teen court youth, pro se family law litigants, families burdened by medical debt, and new immigrants to Wisconsin are among those helped because of grants from the Wisconsin Law Foundation that are funded by Wisconsin lawyers.

    The Wisconsin Law Foundation is the charitable arm of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Thanks to donations from State Bar members, the Foundation annually provides high-impact Truman Q. McNulty grants of $1,000 to $2,400 each to charitable or educational programs or projects that promote greater public understanding of the law and improve the administration of justice, and to projects that directly impact Wisconsin residents.

    In 2022, the Foundation awarded a total of $20,100 in grants to nine organizations that help children and families, support teen court programs, assist those who can’t afford legal representation, help Wisconsin’s immigrants, and offer legal assistance to pro se litigants.

    Here’s more about the recipients and their programs.

    Making an Impact in Wisconsin’s Communities

    Recipients include ABC for Health’s “Say It Forward” program in Madison, which supports community legal education that helps families avoid surprise medical bills, medical debt, and aggressive collections actions. “Our research of nearly 10,000 cases shows that 99% of people in small claims medical debt cases go without any legal help,” says Brynne McBride, chief operating officer. “With the support of the Wisconsin Law Foundation, we can help families avoid coverage gaps and related medical debt at this critical, historic moment.”

    The Boys & Girls Club of Portage County’s Legal Eagle Teen Court program connects teens with adult role models involved in the justice system, says Angela Voss, Director of Grants & Program Development for the Club. This year, at least 20 teens will participate in the Legal Eagle program, learning about the justice system and careers in the legal profession. “Ultimately we hope that teens will gain an interest in the legal system that will encourage them to be active participants in their communities and share that information with their families.”

    Briarpatch Youth Services’ Restorative Justice Program in Madison allows youth to participate in a restorative justice process in lieu of a municipal fine, following a referral from law enforcement for ordinance violations such as retail theft, property damage, truancy, battery, or disorderly conduct. “If youth choose to participate in this process and complete their restorative justice agreement, they are successfully diverted from the youth justice system,” says Joseph Bednarowski. Volunteers ages 12 to 18 receive specialized training and act as neutral facilitators who help participants create a restorative agreement. The youth participants then have 90 days to complete the terms of the agreement. “If the agreement is completed satisfactorily, the youth does not have to pay a fine and will not have a municipal court conviction record.”

    Madison’s Catholic Multicultural Center offers the most comprehensive set of low-cost immigration legal services in southern Wisconsin. Currently, the center is handling more than 330 cases involving immigrants from Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi, Somalia, Afghanistan, and other areas. The goal is to support recently arrived refugees in need of low-cost immigration legal services. The McNulty grant “makes a meaningful difference in allowing refugees to access the legal services they need,” says Laura Green of CMC.

    The Sauk County Pro Se Family Law Clinic helps self-represented litigants with information about court procedures and paperwork, interpreter services, and access to a volunteer attorney for advice on their specific situation, said Circuit Court Commissioner Debra O’Rourke. The Clinic receives assistance from volunteer undergraduate students and legal interns, coordinated through the Sauk County Family Court Commissioners Office.

    “Our work is made possible by people like you,” said Molly Dobberke Riehle, executive director of Central Legal, a family law consultation program in Milwaukee. Over the past year, Centro Legal assisted more than 1,200 area residents with legal aid. “Our ultimate goal is to help remove legal obstacles so that our clients can establish stable and healthy family environments, remain employed or improve employability, and establish independence and financial stability.”

    The Milwaukee Justice Center provides a civil legal help line for area residents. It also offers legal advice from volunteer attorneys, operates a mobile legal clinic, and assists parents discuss child placement schedules and negotiate with child support offices on payments. In 2021, the center assisted more than 8,000 people thanks to the help of volunteer attorneys, law students, and undergraduate students. “This is the work of many hands to further the common good,” says Mary Ferwerda, executive director. “We truly cannot do this important work without the involvement of and support by groups like the Wisconsin Law Foundation.”

    In Crawford County, the Teen Court program gives first-time youth offenders an opportunity to go in front of a group of peers to determine sentencing for an offense after they admit to committing the offense, in place of the offender going immediately into the juvenile justice system. The court, comprised of youth jurors, has handled more than 100 juvenile cases since it began operation in November 2011. “Teen Court is very cost-effective way of dealing with low-level offenders. Our hope is that, in participating in the program, they will feel more worthwhile and strive to make themselves better,” says Jessica Winkler, who administers the program.

    The Wisconsin Teen Court Association’s 2022 Restorative Justice Youth Summit, held in June for the first time in person, aims to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline for juveniles involved in the justice system. “Stakeholders in juvenile justice must work to dismantle current inequitable and punitive practices, and address youth needs with ‘360-degree accountability’ – involving those harmed, those who caused the harm, and the community,” says Annie Lisowski, youth development educator for the UW-Madison Extension. The Summit offered a national speaker, breakout sessions, and panels for youth and the adult professionals who work with them.

    More About the Wisconsin Law Foundation

    wisconsin law foundation logo

    The Wisconsin Law Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational organization that serves to promote public understanding of the law, improvement of the administration of justice, and other law-related public services through funding of innovative and creative programs that improve the vision of the American justice system.

    Want to make a donation? Visit the Law Foundation’s donation page at

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