Boy gives a boost to work of Detroit legal aid clinic
By Linda Laderman
Life didn’t have to give 10-year-old Steven Burzynski lemons for him to make lemonade.
Last summer Steven decided he wanted to support the William Booth Legal Clinic in Detroit, (WBLC) where his aunt, Amy Roemer, is the director. So, with the okay from his mom, he turned his front yard into a neighborhood outlet for the perennial thirst quencher.
As Steven tells it, the idea to raise money for the clinic came to him when he was looking for something “fun” to do during his summer vacation.
“One summer day for fun I was going to set up a lemonade stand,” said Steven. “While I was getting everything ready, I decided I wanted to do this for fun. I thought that if I made any money I should share it. Being generous makes you feel really good.”
Not only did Steven share the profits, but he donated $130, and raised an additional $652.50 in matching contributions which he earmarked for the clinic’s fund-raiser, the “Walk for Justice” held yearly at the Detroit Zoo.
“Steven calls where I work ‘The Walk for Justice’ because he hears about our annual fund-raiser from January to April. Our whole family is involved in the planning of this thing,” Roemer said, adding, “One day he just asked his mom if he could have a lemonade stand and when she said yes, he made a sign that said, ‘All Proceeds Go to the Booth Legal Clinic.’ He such a sweet, kind, good-hearted kid that he donates any money he gets for losing a tooth or for bringing in the neighbor’s mail to the walk.”
With the planning for this year’s walk in full swing, Roemer expects attendance at the April 21 event to surpass last year’s record.
“Last year was our biggest walk to date, with 500 walkers,” Roemer said.
“Because Booth Legal Clinic is an arm of the Salvation Army, we’re not public relations people, which makes us extra proud of how we’ve been able to figure out how to do this and to grow the event each year.”
Roemer has been with the clinic since 2008 when she met Robert Dickman, an attorney who, with his wife Ellen, established the Salvation Army’s sole legal clinic in 1994.
“After graduating from Chicago-Kent College of Law, I worked for now retired Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Mester, who was on the board of the clinic. He talked to me about it constantly so I wanted to meet Robert because I was impressed with him leaving a pretty profitable legal career because he wanted to give back,” Roemer said.
Since it is the only clinic of its kind in the Salvation Army’s network, WBLC is a unique and integral part of the organization’s mission to help underserved communities, according to Roemer.
“We’re a holistic legal aid clinic that is part of the larger constellation of services the Salvation Army offers. We can give our clients more than just legal advice and assistance,” Roemer said. “While we’re talking to them about their legal issues and we learn they have housing issues or they can’t buy their kids school supplies we can direct them to other Salvation Army programs where they’ll find additional services.”
WBLC also has a robust outreach program that aims to inform the legal community about its services and to refer area residents who are eligible for its services.
“We don’t do walk-ins with clients, but we are in Wayne County Circuit Court Thursdays every month where we help anyone with any family law problems, we do a child support program at the Detroit Law Library twice a year, and any time someone needs a legal aid table at an event we’re there,” Roemer said.
Like her nephew, Steven, Roemer said she thrives on the good feelings that the opportunities to help others brings.
“I love the relationships I actually make with my clients. I feel the work we are doing is really making a difference in their lives,” Roemer said. “Our clients live at or below the poverty level. Most of them have difficulty coming up with their rent, let alone navigate the complexities of the legal system, so the money we raise through the walk, in addition to the funds we get from the Salvation Army, plays an important part in our funding.”
For his part, Steven is already strategizing how he might raise more money to support the services his aunt and her legal staff provide.
“I am a huge fan of the Detroit Pistons,” he said. “I want to see if I can get them to match my donation. I feel very proud to be making a difference.”
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