Fighting for Veterans like Rocky

Rocky proudly shows off his Air Force hat as he begins to share stories of his time in the military.  Adorned with the year 1947, the year the Air Force was formed, and the phrase “No one comes close”, the hat is a reminder of his service as a radar operator in the early 1970’s.  During his time in the service, Rocky spent a year stationed in Okinawa and then later off a remote island in the South Pacific.  After his remote duty, he returned to the United States and was ultimately discharged as a Sergeant in 1975.   

The physical toll of his military service followed Rocky into older age.  His loving wife of over 25 years became his primary caregiver as he faced the onset of Parkinson’s, in addition to suffering from colitis and other agonizing physical injuries throughout his body.  During his time overseas, Rocky was exposed to chemicals linked to Parkinson’s, colitis, Crohn’s disease, and other auto immune disorders.  Like many veterans, Rocky was slow to connect his resulting medical issues to his time in the service.   

“As American soldiers we are trained to be independent.  We are hesitant to go to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) to ask for help or to get disability benefits.  It’s easy to relate to someone with a bullet wound or a shrapnel wound, but when you look like you are healthy, it is harder to see the damage that was done.” 

Rocky’s condition became so debilitating that he had to stop working in 2014.  He and his wife were forced to sell their home when their social security benefits were insufficient to cover their mortgage and his medical bills.  He knew additional benefits were available to him as a veteran, but he did not know where to start. 

“I didn’t know how to navigate the disability benefit process alone.  It was too daunting.  There is no way we would have been able to do it without help.  Thank God for Emon.” 

Emon Northe, staff attorney and Veterans Legal Services Project Coordinator at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, became an impassioned advocate for Rocky and his wife, Celeste.  Ultimately submitting an application over 400 pages long on Rocky’s behalf, Emon worked tirelessly to help Rocky secure a grant of individual unemployability which provided access to backpay and disability benefits, as well as healthcare benefits for his wife.  Emon’s work had a lasting impact on Rocky’s long-term economic stability: 

“The disability benefits have allowed us to totally turn our lives around financially.  We were able to buy a house and make it wheelchair accessible.” 

Unfortunately, Rocky’s experience is not unique.  The VA’s disability benefit process is extremely stringent, requiring extensive documentation from the time you are hurt through the day you apply for benefits.  Rocky leaned on his wife’s thoroughness to help him supply the necessary documentation and acknowledges that not all veterans are fortunate to have that family support.  In addition, Emon’s legal experience and thorough knowledge of the benefit system meant she knew where to push for further documentation and what would ultimately be required to ensure Rocky was granted access to benefits.  Without support from family or legal representation, many veterans are left to navigate the system alone and are vulnerable to continued instability. Rocky is grateful for the Advocacy Center: 

“It gives us peace of mind that there is an organization like yours that is willing to step in for people that don’t have the money or the resources.  Having someone there for you is a blessing.  You showed me that it was not my fault.  You helped me see that I served this country and was hurt because of it.”      

During his time as a client, Rocky developed a special relationship with Emon and expresses deep gratitude for her dedication: 

“Emon went above and beyond to help us.  I would adopt her if she let me.  She was like an angel to us, but I guess angels don’t carry cell phones.” 

If you or someone you know is a veteran facing economic instability or housing insecurity, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is here to help.  We serve low-income veterans and families in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Union Counties who are seeking help with disability benefit claims and appeals, discharge upgrades and over-payment issues, as well as additional civil legal matters, at little or no cost.  Learn more how we can help. 

Advocating for young immigrants like Talha

Talha has faced more challenges in his young life than some people do in their entire lifetime, but life wasn’t always difficult.  Born in Turkey, Talha grew up in a loving family with his parents and younger sister, supporters of the Hizmet Movement.  For Talha, this meant having access to one of the best sources of education in his country.  It provided him the opportunity to explore areas of study that were not accessible to the average Turkish student and introduced him to his love of robotics.  After finishing middle school in the top percentage of students nationally, Talha eagerly prepared to attend one of the best high schools in his country.  That summer, everything changed.

Known internationally as a progressive Muslim group focused on education, disaster relief, and medicine, the Hizmet Movement was blamed by Turkish political leaders for a coup attempt in July 2016.  Turkish President Erdoğan alleged the Hizmet Movement was a terrorist organization and began imprisoning Movement leaders.   Talha’s father was one of those political prisoners.

“My father was just helping people. He would travel to Somalia [to work on aid relief].  He helped people get coal in the cold winter.  He was a good man, but they arrested him.”

Talha, his mother, and little sister were left to fend for themselves.

“We had no money, nothing.  I couldn’t say my father was in the Hizmet Movement. I couldn’t tell people my father was in jail.  I had to hide myself; it was really hard.”

Two years later, faced with limited opportunities for education, Talha decided to escape to the United States at the age of 17.  He came to Charlotte to live with his father’s friend, who helped him connect to the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.  The Advocacy Center’s help came at a crucial time.

“I didn’t know how to speak, how to write, or how to read English.  I had no one around me.  I had just escaped from my country, and I didn’t know how to be a refugee.  But then my friend found Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.”

The Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program staff attorney, Kiara Vega, worked diligently to help Talha apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).  Talha’s application for SIJS was approved and he was granted a Green Card. 

When Talha heard his request for permanent legal status was approved, he was overcome: “I was completing my college applications and I needed a Green Card, otherwise I wouldn’t be eligible for scholarships.  One day my friend went to the mailbox and brought me an envelope.  I opened it and it was my Green Card.  At that moment, you cannot even realize my happiness.  It meant college for me, it meant a future life in the US for me, it meant a lot.”

Talha believes the Advocacy Center changed his life.  He wants to improve his English, but eloquently describes what the Advocacy Center means to him:

“I was in a room, the door was locked, and I couldn’t get out.  I needed to open that door to get to my new world, into my new life.  Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy was the key.  You helped me open the door.”

Now a student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Talha’s future looks brighter as he pursues a degree in aerospace engineering.  He maintains a strong relationship with his family back in Turkey and hopes they will be able to join him some day in the United States.    He believes all his fellow Turkish citizens deserve a better future.

Your support of the Access to Justice Campaign ensures we can fight for young immigrants like Talha, providing opportunity and stable immigration status. Donate today to help us keep up the fight.

Health care coverage at a critical time

Ana’s doctor referred her to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to discuss health care options and other public benefits assistance as she approached retirement.  At the time, Ana didn’t know what an impact that call would have on her life. 

Ana immigrated to the United States from Mexico almost 15 years ago.  A legal permanent resident, she was not aware of the public benefits available to her. When she contacted the Advocacy Center, one of our health insurance Navigators, Abigail Duemler, helped her determine the benefits to which Ana was entitled.  Quickly approaching retirement age, enrolling in Food and Nutrition Services provided critical food security for Ana.    

Even more importantly, Abigail helped Ana to enroll in Medicaid and then in Medicare when she turned 65.  Having access to affordable health care was crucial when Ana became critically ill with COVID-19 last winter.  Fearing for her life and worried about the resulting medical bills, Ana’s family was relieved to know her medical costs would be covered.   As she continues to recover from the long-term effects of the illness, Ana remains thankful: “I am so grateful to [have health insurance].  When I receive the bills and see that Medicaid is paying, I am so grateful.  I don’t know what I would have done without your help.” 

When Ana speaks of the Advocacy Center, it is with immense appreciation: “You have been such a strong guide for me.  It’s an excellent organization.”  Yet Ana realizes there are so many more people just like her that might need help. 

“There are many people like me who come from another country, who may not speak English, and are not aware of the help they can get.” 

Navigating public benefit and health care systems is increasingly complex, even more so for non-English speaking North Carolinians.  The Advocacy Center’s team of federally trained health insurance Navigators includes bilingual staff members that are a critical resource for native Spanish speaking clients.  Ana hopes her friends and neighbors contact the Advocacy Center: “I want to help other people find [the Advocacy Center] so they can get support just like I did.” 

Wage Theft During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is busy and stressful for many workers, especially hourly workers in the retail, food service, and delivery sectors. During this busy time, employers are less likely to pay workers for all hours worked or to pay overtime rates. It is important for workers to understand common practices that result in unpaid wages and incorrect hourly rates, also referred to as wage theft.

What to look out for

According to the US Department of Labor, common employment law violations during the holiday season include:

  • Misclassifying employees as independent contractors to evade liability under employment laws
  • Failing to pay salespeople and cashiers for time spent prepping or closing out registers
  • Requiring stock room and warehouse workers to work through breaks without pay
  • Requiring workers to clean or perform closing duties after they have clocked out
  • Failing to pay promised holiday rates or overtime rates

Who is at risk

Temporary holiday and seasonal workers are particularly vulnerable to wage theft. Employers count on these temporary workers to be unfamiliar with their employment rights and too busy to keep careful track of hours worked. Many temporary or seasonal workers are hired through subcontracted companies or temporary staffing firms, making it even more difficult to track down unpaid wages after the holiday rush is over.

What to do

If you think that your employer isn’t paying you proper wages for all hours worked, it is important to keep records of your pay and hours. Make sure to keep any records of agreed upon pay rates, paystubs, and actual hours worked. It is also a good idea to keep records of any communication with your employer, manager, or supervisor regarding your schedule, hours worked, and pay rates. Pay close attention to any differences between promised overtime or holiday pay and the amount you are actually paid.

The US Department of Labor has a free smartphone app to help workers track their hours.

Learn more

You can learn more about your workplace rights in North Carolina by calling the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau at 1-800-625-2267 (1-800-NC-LABOR). You can also file a Wage Complaint with the Wage and Hour Bureau; more information is available on the NCDOL website.

If you would like to discuss possible unpaid wages, call us at 704-376-1600.

Kenneth Schorr, Executive Director, Announces Retirement

After nearly 34 years of service, our Executive Director, Kenneth Schorr, will retire on March 1, 2022. While leading an effective and dynamic program of individual and systemic advocacy, Ken’s concluding goals were to lead our organization through its 50th anniversary celebration and rebranding in 2017, conduct a successful capital campaign, and acquire and move to a new building. As our capital campaign approaches our goal, and our organization will move to our new office in early 2022, those goals are nearly complete.

Ken began his service as Executive Director for Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy in April 1988. During his tenure, he recruited and supported lawyers and other staff to be experts in their areas of legal practice, provided individual client assistance in employment and other areas of law, and assisted other advocates across the range of our legal practice. Throughout his career, he has worked to keep our agency focused on the clients and community we serve, expert and agile in its work, and connected and collaborated with partners and supporters.

Ken’s professional career has been committed to helping those who are disadvantaged or disfavored in our community. We have all been impacted by his dedication.

The Advocacy Center Board has appointed a Search Committee, chaired by Jose Vega, Wells Fargo and Ed O’Keefe, Moore and Van Allen. The Search Committee and the Advocacy Center Board of Directors have selected Elinvar Leadership Solutions to support the executive search and to ensure a smooth transition. Although Ken’s determination and tenacity leading our organization will be missed, he leaves the Advocacy Center in a strong position to move forward with new leadership. Through this transition, the Advocacy Center will continue to work tirelessly to fulfill our mission to pursue justice for those in need.

Protect yourself from holiday scams

‘Tis the season for holiday scams! We share some helpful tips on common scams and how to protect yourself.

Shopping Online

The two most prevalent scams when shopping online: 

  1. Non-delivery scam where a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received, and
  2. Non-payment scam involves goods or services being shipped, but the seller is never paid.

What to Do

  • Call your credit card company or you bank. Dispute any suspicious charges.
  • Report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov and Contact NC Attorney General’s Office 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file an online complaint
  • Use good cybersecurity hygiene:  DON’T click on links in emails, websites, or social media.  Go directly to the website yourself from a browser like chrome or edge.

Be Careful How You Pay for Items Online or By Phone

Never wire money directly to seller or load money onto “pre-paid” gift cards.  This is how scammers typically want payment and the money is often not recoverable.  Use a credit card or protected bank debit card if you do not have a credit card, check statements, dispute with your bank.  Gift cards are to give for gifts, not to make payments to another.

Phony package delivery notices

Scammers know people receive unexpected packages this season and will send realistic-looking delivery failure notifications so you’ll follow up and reveal personal info. Before you hand over information on the internet, head to your local post office or call the delivery service to verify the notification.  These notices can be by fake email or door hangers. 

Fake charities

These crop during major disasters and around the holidays. Leaflets and phone calls from organizations with familiar-sounding names will ask you to open your wallets for a good cause. To be safe, don’t give to any charity with whom you didn’t start the contact.  Check legitimacy through the North Carolina Secretary of StateCharity Watch, or Charity Navigator.

Robo-calls

Hang up or don’t answer!  If you do not recognize the number, let it go to voicemail, you can call back. Scammers use robo-calls to pitch holiday goods, fake products, work-from-home schemes and insurance scams. 

Avoid Social Security and IRS scams.

The government will not call and threaten you, ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.  Don’t “verify” your number or be scared into thinking your benefits are about to be suspended.  Hang up and contact SSA, IRS or other government agency directly yourself. 

Beware of “person in need” and grandparent scams.

Scammers pose as a grandchild, friend or relative stranded or otherwise in trouble and need money quickly and quietly.  They may ask for money by mail or gift card.  Don’t be pressured, hang up and call another relative or friend if you are still concerned to help you investigate.

Old school pickpocketing

Crowded malls and shopping centers are havens for pickpockets. To combat this threat, it’s best to wear purses across the body and wallets in front pockets or inside a closed jacket. Consider leaving the house with the bare minimum, like your ID and debit or credit card (the latter which offer fraud protection and security features not available with cash).

Be cautious of any unsolicited door-to-door sales pitch or offers. 

Don’t sign or agree to anything on the spot – if an offer seems too good to be true it probably is. 

The more you and loved ones know about scams, the easier it is to spot and avoid them. If you need help, contact the Advocacy Center’s Consumer Protection Team for more information.

Advocating for breast cancer patients like Charlotte..

Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28, Charlotte knows how terrifying and stressful it can be to hear you are sick. But rather than address her health concerns and acknowledge what she may be feeling, Charlotte’s doctor immediately asked how she planned to pay for her treatment.  A single working mother of a 9-year-old son, Charlotte’s fears and stress levels were quickly amplified as the harsh reality of her expensive cancer treatment began to sink in.  

Concerned she would have to sell the house she had worked so hard to buy, Charlotte decided to advocate for herself. 

Charlotte learned about the Breast and Cervical Cancer Medicaid (BCCM) program from her sister who had been in contact with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.  BCCM helps eligible women to pay for their breast and/or cervical cancer treatment.  (To be eligible, women must be uninsured or have insurance that does not cover the necessary treatment, fall at 250% of the poverty line for their family size, and are a U.S. citizen or have qualified immigration status.)  Meeting these requirements, Charlotte proactively applied to the program on her own. 

“I applied for the Medicaid program on my own and they kept denying me.  I was really stressed during [my treatment].  The hospital was sending me bills and I didn’t know what I was going to do.” 

What Charlotte did not know at the time was that to be eligible to apply for BCCM, individuals must meet eligibility criteria for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP). A BCCCP provider must then submit the BCCM application on behalf of that individual.  When she submitted the application on her own, Charlotte faced delays and hurdles in the complicated process.  

Charlotte contacted the Advocacy Center for help.  A Family Support and Health Care staff attorney at the Advocacy Center, Becca Friedman, identified the procedural roadblocks and communicated with the local agency to work towards a resolution.  Becca was able to advocate for Charlotte and Charlotte was successfully granted BCCM eligibility. 

The peace of mind Becca provided Charlotte as she underwent cancer treatment was critical: 

“If I didn’t have an advocate, the experience would have been so much more stressful.  Becca kept me updated and followed the process of my application because social services wasn’t updating me directly.  Without Becca, I don’t know what I would have done.” 

No longer plagued by the financial stress of her treatment, Charlotte was able to focus on what mattered the most: her health, her recovery, and her son. 

When asked what she wants people to know about her story, Charlotte quickly responds that she wants to help women going through the same thing.

“When you get the bad news.  That would be the first thing I would want to tell people: there is help available, you have options.” 

Charlotte is happy to say she is now cancer free, and life is slowly returning to normal.  Throughout her cancer treatment, she continued to work and re-enrolled in school.  Inspired by her journey, Charlotte is now pursuing a degree in the medical field. 

Your support of the Access to Justice Campaign ensures we can fight for neighbors like Charlotte, facing civil legal issues impacting their safety, security, and stability. Donate today to help us keep up the fight.

Racial Justice Implications of Recent Legal Decisions

In pivotal cases in courtrooms across America, we have seen victories and movement toward a more just and equal country, while also being reminded that there is still more work to be done.  

Our legal system shows progress in the fight against racism 

On November 18th, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt granted clemency to Julius Jones hours before his scheduled execution.  Jones had spent 19 years on death row for a 1999 murder that new compelling evidence suggests he did not commit. Governor Stitt took action after years of pleading and advocacy by the public, including a petition with more than 6.5 million signatures.  Supporters argued that Jones, a Black man, was not given a fair trial and that racism played a role in his sentencing.  Research has found that a disproportionate number of death-row inmates are Black, and that Black defendants accused of killing white people are more likely to be executed.  While the governor granted clemency, Jones still faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Days later, organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville were held liable for inciting violence against counter protesters in 2017.  The verdict was a clear admonishment of the defendants, a mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Confederate sympathizers. 

And finally, on November 24th, three white men were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in what many viewed as a modern-day lynching.   Arbery was chased down and killed by the men while jogging through their neighborhood.  Arbery’s family and supporters across the nation found some solace in the jury of mostly white citizens affirming that killing an unarmed Black man was not only morally wrong, but legally wrong as well.  

The work is not finished 

Our nation was divided on November 19th when jurors found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty in his shooting of three men during racial justice protests in 2020.  Jurors determined that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense in accordance with Wisconsin law.  Those in opposition to the verdict argued that Rittenhouse, a young white man, benefited from a blatant racial double standard.  Many have argued that if Rittenhouse was Black, he would not have been released on bail, nor had a public trial to plead his innocence.  Activists also raised concerns that racial justice protestors could lawfully be deemed a threat by armed vigilantes.   

The underlying truth in these cases is that violence and injustice against people of color has gone on for far too long.  Our legal system has historically justified the killing of Black men and women, serving as an affront to the claims of justice for all.  Furthermore, men and women of color face implicit bias and systemic racism in our courtrooms, resulting in disproportionate negative outcomes in criminal legal proceedings.  Justice should not be based on the color of your skin. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy stands with the Black community 

The Advocacy Center’s vision is to build a just community where all people are treated fairly and have access to legal representation. The long-standing inequities of our criminal justice system have been laid bare, yet we know firsthand that our civil legal system is equally rife with injustices.  We must stand as a community to say that Black lives matter.  But so too does the quality of life to which they are afforded.   At the Advocacy Center, it is our mission to address the disproportionate impact of civil legal issues threatening our neighbors of color, improve our clients’ quality of life, ensure stability, and promote opportunity.  

The verdicts in the Charlottesville, Jones and Arbery trials may bring us closer to a world of justice for all, but we know it is just one step in a very long journey.  We continue to watch cases where Black defendants have made similar claims of self-defense. In Wisconsin, Chrystul Kizer, a young Black woman and a victim of abuse, faces criminal charges for murdering her sex trafficker when she was 17.  And in Georgia, Marc Wilson, a young Black man, faces criminal charges for killing a white female after firing defensive shots at her vehicle.  The young woman and co-passengers of her vehicle had targeted Wilson with racial epithets, threw glass bottles at his vehicle, and attempted to run Wilson off the road.  It is our hope that the outcome of these cases will demonstrate that Black defendants can and must receive the same deference and protection afforded by a self-defense argument as white defendants. For now, the fight continues and we remain hopeful that one day justice for all will not only be said, but shown.  

2021-2022 Access to Justice Champions

We are grateful for those who are leading the way to fund our effort to ensure justice for all. Your commitment to the Access to Justice Campaign ensures legal staff will be ready when one of our neighbors faces civil legal issues threatening their safety, security, and stability. We can bridge the justice gap for those in need.

These donors have contributed at the leadership level of $1,000 or more to the 2021-2022 Access to Justice Campaign benefiting Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte, bringing us closer to meeting our $500,000 goal.

Mecklenburg Access to Justice Champions sticker

Alston & Bird, LLP

Blas P. Arroyo

David and Lyn Batty

Kimberly Bischoff

Ethan Blumenthal

Martin L. Brackett

Nachael Lynn Bright

Mark Busch

L. Cameron Caudle

Chapman and Cutler LLP

Daniel Clodfelter

John H. Cobb

Judy Seldin Cohen

Steven N. Cohen

Stephen Cox

Heather and Chris Culp

Larry J. Dagenhart

Leslee Daugherty and Roger Gilmartin

Scott and Sharon Dove

James E. Earle

Douglas and Tere Ey

Richard L. Farley

Robert and Laurie Fisher

Jonathan P. Goldberg

John E. Grupp

Robert and Alicia Hahn

Robert and Christy Hancock

Jessica and Burgin Hardin

Herrmann & Murphy, PLLC

Edward T. Hinson, Jr.

Carl and Patricia Horn

Paul R. Kinny

Emily Kern and Mark Metz

Mark Kinghorn

Eric Kopfle

Mary Mandeville and Kirk Keever

William C. and Sloane Mayberry

Mayer Brown

Kiran and Constance Mehta

Lisa and Ken L. Miller

John Mitchell and Linda Aberman

Luther T. Moore

Gena G. Morris

Russ Morrison & Patricia Zoder

Bryon Mulligan

Karen M. Nelson

Nelson Mullins

Keith F. Oberkfell

Felton E. Parrish

Cyndee Patterson

Alice Richey and David Pitser

S. Benjamin Pleune

Barrett Price

J. Norfleet Pruden

Allen K. Robertson

Patrick Rogers

D. Blaine and Ann Morgan Sanders

Seyfarth Shaw

Timika Shafeek-Horton

Cynthia Siemasko

John N. Suhr

Quince Thompson

Troutman Pepper

Alec and Mayleng Watson

Kate Wellman

Amy P. Williams

Caroline and Richard Wilson

Winston & Strawn LLP

Julian and Amy Wright

Emily Zimmer

Julie Zydron and Eugene Griggs

*Donors as of December 20, 2021*

Want to become an Access to Justice Champion? Make a contribution to be recognized as a leader of our fundraising effort.

We’re moving to a new home!

There are over 300,000 residents in Mecklenburg County who are eligible for our services and in need of legal assistance, but unable to afford private lawyers.  With demand significantly increasing over the past several years, we increased our staff and resource to better assist our community.  Our growth was met with its own challenges, and we quickly found our impact limited by physical space. 

Our new home at 5535 Albemarle Road will substantially improve our ability to provide dignified, confidential, convenient service by tripling our square footage and consolidating all our services under one roof. The services and staff our clients know and trust will remain the same, just at new location. 

Our office will be closing at 1431 Elizabeth Avenue on January 7, 2022 We will reopen at our new location on January 24, 2022. If you need assistance while we move, our office staff can still be reached during normal business hours, 704-376-1600.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new home!