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Voices of Service: MetroWest Legal Services

In this episode, we chat with Betsy Soulé, the Executive Director of MetroWest Legal Services, who brings 35 years of tireless service to those in need. We delve into the organization’s impact, from providing free legal services to low-income individuals and families, to their vast immigration program aiding survivors of domestic violence, unaccompanied minors, and recently, Afghani refugees. We also discuss the empowerment of survivors who have overcome adversity. discuss the upcoming Nancy King memorial golf tournament, a joyful event dedicated to a former leader and aimed at raising funds to continue the organization’s mission. Learn, be inspired, and discover how you can contribute to a cause that changes lives every day.

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Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors

Hey everybody, this is Jimmy welcome back to another episode of the show today we have a guest making her second appearance on the Jimmy tingle show, the one and only executive director of Metro West legal services. 35 years of experience as a as a employee of the organization, and 15 years as the Executive Director, please welcome to the show the one and only Betsy Soulé. Hello, Betsy. How are you today?

Hey, Jimmy, great. Thanks for having me. Of course, we’re

very excited. You’re celebrating 25 years, and we’re celebrating with a golf tournament. Among other things. It’s the 25th anniversary, but it’s also a golf tournament that I will be playing at and that you are invited to participate in. We sell single tickets or you can come as a foursome. And it’s going to be a wonderful event on May 22. At the charter oaks Country Club and Hudson mass, the charter oaks Country Club and Hudson mass. I did it the last two years. It is a blast. All proceeds to benefit Metro West legal services. And this the Nancy King memorial golf tournament. And Nancy King was the executive director for many years and sadly passed from cancer. And we do this golf tournament every year and her honor. And Betsy, it’s great to see you again. You look fabulous. How do you stay so young and and healthful and youthful? After 35 years of working in Metro West legal services?

I have no idea.

Well, it you’re you know what it is you’re doing service, you’re constantly doing service and it rejuvenates people who do service? I mean, I really think that’s the key to it. No comment.

I think it could be the key. It could be one of the keys. Yes.

But tell us tell us what the tell us what MetroWest Legal Services does exactly.

So MetroWest is a private not for profit corporation. And we provide free civil legal services to low income elderly and disabled individuals and families in civil legal matters in 45 communities in the Metro West region.

Excellent. And you’re located in Framingham? Correct? That’s right. Great. And the website is m w That’s And you can learn more about them. The organization there, you can also donate there. And you can also volunteer to help this organization that we’re always looking for volunteers. And most importantly, all as important. You can also sign up for the golf tournament. They’re on May 22, at the charter oaks Country Club, and beautiful Hudson mass. So Betsy, you’ve been with the organization 35 years, you’ve been the Executive Director for 15 years. Tell us how has the pandemic affected you folks?

Oh gosh, well, like everybody else, you know, we had to shift our, our organization, our operations on a dime, literally, you know, the pandemic hit us. Everybody had to transition to working from home, getting all those things set up. But once we got our technology in order to do that we really didn’t miss a beat. We were able to serve clients from our homes. A lot of the court systems initially either closed down or moved to zoom. I guess the big. The big technology lesson out of all this was you can zoom and do many things that way. But we had clients that were in all kinds of legal predicaments during the pandemic, I think one of the hugest ones was around housing. And we bulked up our housing staff, because so many people were losing jobs and unable to pay their rent. And this was a huge, huge problem during the pandemic. So working with all of them, connecting them to rental assistance and other ways to preserve their tenancies was front and center for sure. And like all of our other subject areas, there was plenty of work, the focus just switched and, and differed somewhat because of the pandemic.

Right. Was the state of Massachusetts responsive in terms of stepping up and helping you folks navigate this whole crisis? And was the federal government also helpful?

The state I will say, the governor, he rolled out an eviction diversion initiative, probably about four or five months into the pandemic and was able to provide really enhanced funding so that we could add a lot of staff to do eviction prevention work, the state also increased, as well as the Feds rental assistance by leaps and bounds because this was not only people who were low income folks in subsidized housing, it was people on the private rental market that lost jobs and then had really exorbitant rents to pay. So it allowed for much higher amounts of rental assistance than would normally be the case. So that was great. And then ARPA money, the American rescue plan, act money, a lot of that money came to Massachusetts and legal services was able to benefit from that and get some funds to do some innovative projects,

the political representation that we have here in Massachusetts, did you find that beneficial in terms of the local member of Congress, senators, were they stepping up? Were they hands on as well,

they were I think everybody was the state legislature as well, as the federal government was doing all it could to, to get funds out to the state or to the communities, so that we could address a number of the needs that were being presented to us as quickly as possible.

And as the need increased, were you able to retain the staff we ate, because you need a lot of people to make all these these ends meet?

Yeah, you know, a number of those increased funds ended in the last year or so. And so we had this highly trained staff that we had brought on during the pandemic. And one of the goals was really to keep everybody that we possibly could. And so that required looking for other sources of funding. And we were able to find some different sources to keep a number of those people, we didn’t get to keep everybody, but we kept a good portion of them. And so our staff grew by about a third during COVID. So that was no small. Number.

Great. Wow, that’s a lot. And how many total staff do you have?

We have now 37?

Staff? 37? That’s a lot. But in the big picture, it’s not that many to take on the challenge that you have in Metro West.

No, not at all. Not at all, I think, um, you know, through the years, the state legislature has been very generous with us, and the turn away, rate has decreased and now we’re down to about 47% of people get turned away. But probably five years ago, that was like 65%. And so the, the extra funds have really made a significant difference. But the other thing we have to remember is that a lot of times when you get new funding, you just think I need, I’m gonna hire another attorney, we can help more people. But you have to take care of your infrastructure, you have to take care of the staff that you have raising salaries, things of that nature, because while people aren’t in this for the money, it’s been very hard to hire over the last number of years and Legal Aid, and I think just in, in general, in the population. And so we’ve used some of those additional funds to address some of those infrastructure needs.

Right? That’s a one of the things that I want my listeners to know. And the people watching this to know is when the last few years that I’ve been involved with you folks, we did a couple of live events at the Center for the Arts in Natick. We did I think one or two there, we did one on Zoom, we did a couple of golf tournaments. Now this will be my fifth, I think. And when you meet the staff, and you meet the people who work there, and you see the commitment of the people, these people are attorneys, they spent four years in law school, they spent four years in college, they have a lot of education, and they have completely dedicated themselves and committed themselves to people in need, which is pretty impressive. And in order to retain these people, obviously, you need funds, and you need to keep everything, you know, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s in terms of needs and everything that has to go into, like you said retaining the infrastructure. Part of the what was the whole purpose of this golf tournament that we’re doing in this fundraiser is to add the money necessary to keep you folks going over the next hopefully next 25 years. So that’s I just want the listeners to know that these people, many of them could be making a lot more money in the private sector, but they’ve dedicated themselves to helping people in need and all of the issues. You talked about legal aid, housing, you actually you deal with immigration as well.

Absolutely. We have a huge immigration practice that got a lot bigger into 2017 But we Yes, we help survivors of domestic violence with immigration status. We represent a lot of unaccompanied minors who have come over the border and landed in Massachusetts to get Special Immigrant juvenile status, which will lead them to citizenship someday. In the last year, we’ve been working on a new grant to help Afghani refugees who came over when the Taliban took over again. And, you know, the US left Afghanistan. So the immigration practice continues to be very large, and there are many more people we could help if we had more resources.

Isn’t the Metro West legal services dealing with all these national and international issues? Only on a smaller scale? Is that correct?

It’s true. I mean, you know, we deal with it in this region of Massachusetts, as a state, every legal aid office is dealing with immigration matters. And on the National Front, I think many legal aid organizations are as well.

I mean, you look at Afghanistan, all of a sudden things change there, you have Afghan refugees, you didn’t have that five years ago, the situation with on the border now, like you said, unaccompanied minors, does that completely blow you away that there are children showing up in Massachusetts, without parents without guardians? And how will you respond to do something like that?

Yeah, we started our work with unaccompanied minors back in 2017. With the Framingham public schools, who came to us and said, you know, we’ve got a lot of undocumented kids in our school system. And then, given the political climate at that point in time, they were very concerned about them, because they weren’t doing well in school, they seem very anxious and depressed, they were afraid that ice was going to come and take their parents away or take them away. So we started there. Framingham has a very large immigrant population. And we since then have started a program in the Marlborough public schools as well. But there are kids coming from all over, that have been through horrific things and have made journeys that none of us would ever imagine making as an adult, nevermind a child, and these kids are they’re really resilient, you know, but the statistics from the federal government and and other sort of think tanks will show you that most kids don’t have a lawyer in immigration proceedings kids. And you know, if they don’t, the likelihood that they’re going to get deported goes up significantly. But with legal assistance, the odds are much better that they will find a path to two legal permanent residents.

Right. And obviously, I assume most of them don’t speak the language. They don’t speak English or

Spanish and Portuguese for the most part. And now with our use our Afghani clients, it’s Dari and Pashtu. Even harder to find, wow,

wow, you’re doing unbelievable work, Betsy. And I just want to let the listeners know you can support them, you can go to the website, M W, That’s M. W You can donate you can volunteer, if you want to, if you’re a golfer, we’d love to see you on May 22. At the at the golf tournament, there’ll be a lot of fun. I will be performing running the auction, but come out and have a good time. Great lunch, great buffet a lot of fun, super cars, you’ll see some of the clients, you’ll see a new video that they just created about two domestic violence survivors that they dealt with and help this year. Betsy, tell us about the domestic violence issue. I understand that the statistics went up during the pandemic with that issue.

Oh, gosh, yeah, I mean, the pandemic for survivors of domestic violence was very difficult. First of all, because people were in essence asked to shelter in place with their abuser. And a lot of domestic violence survivors didn’t think a judge would ever give them a restraining order and kick somebody out of a house in the middle of a public health emergency. So I mean, those were very difficult times for folks. But many endured, and we were able to assist many in getting those orders which were being were being provided. But yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s been very difficult for sure, you know, everything from the safety of themselves and their children to if their abuser was the breadwinner, you know? There could have been job loss or if they were already separated, there might have been loss of child support. So there were many sort of issues that cropped up during the pandemic. Some we see a lot, some were more particular to the pandemic.

Right, and you use the term domestic violence survivor rather than domestic violence victim. And why that why that terminology, why the terminology survivor?

You know, it’s about empowerment, I think, I think it’s about empowerment for our clients. They’ve been through some things that are incredibly difficult and very traumatic, and the fact that they are living and breathing and trying to move their lives forward to find safety for themselves and their children and get on to a new chapter free of violence. They should be commended, because in fact, they are survivors. They might have been victimized by an abuser, but they are survivors.

Right? Well, obviously MetroWest legal services also survive as you’re celebrating 25 years, and the golf tournament has called the Nancy King memorial golf tournament. Tell us about Nancy King, what was her role at MetroWest legal services.

So Nancy was my predecessor. She was the executive director for 31 years. And just to clarify, it’s the 25th anniversary of the golf tournament. Oh, we are more like at about 47 years for the organization. So Nancy was the Director for 31 years, she hired me right out of law school. And she she was a real force to be reckoned with, I must say, she too dedicated her life to legal aid. And she was a sassy Irish American gal who knew how to twist arms and politic and fight for her clients as well as her staff. And so she was quite well known in the region in the area and very beloved. And so 25 years ago, she got this idea, I think through some of our board members that maybe we should try our hand at golf. Now, she didn’t play golf at all. And nor did many of us, I grew up watching golf on TV with my dad, because he liked to golf, but she didn’t know much of anything. So she took some golf lessons. But like everything else she did, she learned how to walk the walk and talk the talk and throw the golfing terminology around. And so we started and and now you know, 25 years later, we are still doing it. And it’s something that people seem to enjoy. That brings a different sort of group of supporters and donors out to to work with us and meet us and, and support our organization. So I’m sure she would be very pleased to see that this was still going on and would probably be already thinking about what’s the weather gonna be like on May 22. She often did ruminate about that for several weeks beforehand. That piece of it I will say I have inherited from her. Here’s hoping the weather gods will be kind to us.

Well, you know what the funny thing is about that is even if the weather is terrible, we always have a blast. Because I was there one year when it rained and we just persevered. Everybody went out. We all know it’s for a good cause we all know where the money’s going, what the purpose of it is the great work that you do. And so you know, yeah, it rains, it rains. Big deal. I mean, we don’t want it, we want it to be nice, but even if it isn’t, it’s going to be a great time for a great cause. Betsy, thanks a million for doing this interview. And thank you so much for all your work and on behalf of MetroWest Legal Services. I’m sure the staff feels the same way as I do. It’s really a remarkable service that you have been providing. You’ve been there 35 years, you’ve been the Executive Director for 15 years. You went to law school, I assume four years, three years. Three years. You’re wicked smart. Why did you get on three years?

Four at night three on the day. So Wow.

Good for you. And just tell me before we leave what motivated you to go into legal aid?

Law School, actually, I went to law school thinking I wanted to do international trade. And I took some classes and it really wasn’t, you know, floating my boat and somebody said you should do the Legal Aid Clinic at school. It’s pretty good. And I did and that was the life changing moment for me. And so I did the legal clinic at Catholic US law school and then I graduated and look for a job and legal aid. And here we are.

Excellent. Well, the tournament is May 22, the charter oaks Country Club and Hudson mass, you can get tickets and register at m w Mw If you are motivated to donate if you’re not a golfer, but you’d like to help the services that they’re providing, they certainly need the help, they’re still turning away 47% Of all the clients that come there. So if 100 people show up and need help, whether it’s housing or elder services, or immigration or domestic violence, 47 out of 100 are going to be turned away. The purpose of the golf tournament is to raise money, so that turning away less people and can be more effective, and helping those right here in Massachusetts, that our friends and our neighbors, and so you can help there, M w, Betsy Solei, our Executive Director, our fearless leader who will be at the golf tournament, I will be there as a comic both on the golf course. And after with a little my my performance and my auctioneering abilities. And we’re going to raise some money, some spirits, funds and awareness during the auction as well. And they’re going to show that video of the two domestic violence survivors who are just two remarkable people that the organization was able to help this last year. So Betsy, thank you so much, everybody register, M w You can donate you can volunteer if the spirit moves you if you’re retired and you want to spend some time helping people right here in Massachusetts you can do so they’re located in Framingham. They would love to help that would love the donation and we’d love you to show up on May 22 at the charter oaks Country Club in beautiful Hudson, Massachusetts. Betsy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thanks, Jimmy. Appreciate it.

We’ll see you soon. We will

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