As director of Friends of Parkside, Zachary Rowe is tasked with ensuring the effectiveness and long-term health of his eastside Detroit organization. Friends of Parkside serves the Villages of Parkside, an affordable housing community near the intersection of Warren and Conner, with programs that address health, education, and safety of residents. Friends of Parkside was started by residents of the Villages of Parkside (formerly Parkside Homes) in 1991, including Zachary’s own mother.
“They really didn’t set out to start an organization, but the opportunity came so they could apply for a grant and get funding, so they did,” Zachary said.
“These women had never planned anything, they had never thought about the process of starting an organization. The fact that the organization is still here 20+ years later is a testament to the vision of those women who started the organization.”
Zachary said that much like other nonprofit organizations that grow and change over time, Friends of Parkside has faced some challenging periods.
“We’ve had our peaks and valleys. Anybody who’s been in work with nonprofits will tell you that organizations go through different cycles,” he said. “You have the founding folks that leave, and new folks come aboard.
“Friends of Parkside was no different. With a long history, you always have things that you should do or could have done. Unfortunately, there were some things that we didn’t do because we didn’t know how to do them at the time. In any case, that led us to need some legal advice and legal assistance. Being a small organization, we didn’t have the money to pay a lawyer.”
Zachary reached out to the Legal Team at Michigan Community Resources to apply to receive pro bono legal services. Zachary said that it was a relatively easy process to get started. “For me, it was just a matter of sending an email inquiring about what we needed, (to see) if that’s something they can help us with. I filled out the questionnaire—it was 5 or 6 pages, but for the most part, it was information we already had, so it wasn’t anything incredibly difficult to fill out. And then, just having a telephone conversation with the staff from MCR to explain our situation in more detail.
“After that, we were assigned to a lawyer who we had a chance to talk to about our case and what needed to be done. He explained the process in terms of what to expect. And then from there, we were off to the races.”
The team connected Zachary with Leo Goddeyne, an attorney with Miller Canfield based in Kalamazoo. “Zachary is a committed leader and I believe he is working hard to make good things happen in Parkside,” Leo said. “He was a great partner on this project.”
“It was more of a collaborative effort,” Zachary said. “Even though I’m not a lawyer, I do know about my organization, I do know the history. (He was) just listening, and open to my suggestions in terms of how we sort of presented things.”
“Working with them has been a real pleasure—working with the team, and also with the pro bono lawyer that worked with us on the case,” Zachary said. “(Leo was) really responsive. I just cannot say enough good things about that experience. Usually I’m sort of one of the ones who doesn’t like to work with lawyers. *laughs* But that was really a good experience, and fortunately for us, we had an excellent outcome.”
“I enjoy working with people who lead and volunteer for nonprofit organizations,” Leo said. “They are focused on a bigger cause, which usually involves helping others and the community. I like working with this type of person.”
“Many nonprofit organizations have legal questions or face legal issues and sometimes are not even aware that they are facing potential legal problems. Often times, the leadership may not have the skills to deal with these and may not have the financial ability to pay to hire an attorney to assist in resolving them. Being a lawyer, I can work with them to try and resolve legal problems. Providing my services on a pro bono basis allows the organization to save its money and use it to further its mission.”
“Providing pro bono legal services impacts me personally and professionally,” Leo said. “Personally, it gives me satisfaction to know that I am helping to improve my community or to further my personal beliefs.
“Pro bono legal services have also made me a better lawyer. While doing pro bono services, I have worked on issues that I often do not see in my regular practice, but I sometimes find that the knowledge I gain from the pro bono project can be used in my regular practice.
“I also have worked with a wide range of clients through my pro bono service and the interaction with these clients has made me better in understanding the issues they are facing both legal and personal and this has helped me to in communicating with clients and in helping them to resolve their problems.”
To learn more about pro bono legal services that can benefit your organization, visit our Legal Services page.
If you are an attorney or firm interested in providing integral pro bono legal services that benefit nonprofit organizations and the communities they serve, visit our Attorneys page, or contact Maureen Krasner at firstname.lastname@example.org.