Narcisa Symank started working with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri as a volunteer while she attended law school at Saint Louis University. Symank and others were working with a number of Bosnian immigrants who were being denied citizenship. The Bosnians eventually won their citizenship, and Symank, who is Bosnian, provided translation services, among other responsibilities.
Symank, an attorney with Clayton-based Armstrong Teasdale, also serves as president of the board for Young Friends of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. Legal Services is dedicated to providing civil legal assistance to low-income Missourians, and the Young Friends help raise awareness of the group and provide volunteer legal support.
On Feb. 26, Legal Services will host its biggest fundraiser of the year, the Justice for All Ball, at Chase Park Plaza, 212 N. Kingshighway in St. Louis. Between 650 and 700 people are expected to attend. The Young Friends group will host an afterparty in conjunction with the fundraiser.
After the Young Friends formed in the summer of 2010, Symank was elected president of its board, and she continues to serve in that role. She said she loves Legal Services because it gives a voice to people who don't have access to certain legal services. The group helps people with issues such as finding housing and navigating a restraining order.
"I think we all have a civic duty to help improve our communities," Symank said.
Symank wants to give back, in part, because of the opportunities that were available to her upon arriving in the U.S. She was born in Sarajevo and lived there until violence forced her to flee the country in 1996. She arrived in Fenton as a high school freshman.
Today, she serves on a board that, this year, is aiming to attract a wider base of young attorneys who can provide legal support through the Young Friends. Symank speaks in glowing terms about the Young Friends, not only for the support it can bring to people in need but also for its networking capacity.
"It's a fun way to connect to other people," she said.
Dan Glazier, executive director of Legal Services, said his group's attorneys and social workers provide assistance in areas such as housing, domestic violence, access to health care and education to residents of 21 counties in eastern Missouri. In 2010, the group served approximately 7,000 clients.
"We are here to remove barriers for low-income people," Glazier said. But at this time, Legal Services is only able to serve about one person out of five people needing civil legal assistance.
Judy Miniace, development director for Legal Services, said the Young Friends started two years ago because of the work of two young lawyers. The group has grown to include between 65 and 70 attorneys.
Some Young Friends participants also work with the group's Volunteer Lawyers Program, which allows young attorneys to represent clients in court under the group's supervision. Miniace also said that the Young Friends have agreed to represent some cases once a month in the 21st Circuit Court for St. Louis County, located in Clayton.
It's a challenging time for providing these kinds of services, Glazier said. Because of the economic downturn, Legal Services is getting more and more clients in connection with cases of foreclosure and domestic abuse. Yet, it's also more challenging than in the past to come up with the resources to address those cases. Legal Services is hopeful that the Young Friends will help ease that problem.
The Young Friends are gaining momentum, and tools such as Twitter and Facebook also are helping spread the word.
"We have to be at the front edge of the technology that allows us to do and best assist our clients," Glazier said.
COST The cost is $125 per person for those under age 40; it's $175 per person for older attendees. The afterparty is free, though cash donations will be graciously accepted. Members of the Young Friends will receive a ticket for a free glass of wine, beer or soda at the afterparty. There will be a raffle, and free bar food will be provided. MORE INFO Proceeds benefit Legal Services. More information is available by calling Judy Miniace at 314-256-8742 or by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.