It is well to be prepared for life as it is, but it is better to be prepared to make life better than it is. —Sargent Shriver
The Shriver Center as we know it today was born out of adversity that challenged its leadership to prepare for an uncertain future. John Bouman and his fellow welfare advocates at LAFC were confronted with a major roadblock—the imposition of federal restrictions on their legal, policy, and advocacy work on behalf of low-income clients. Across town, Rita McLennon at the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services (NCLS) was faced with a similar challenge—federal defunding that significantly reduced resources.
John and Rita and their colleagues came up with an inventive solution to combine forces and build synergy with one another’s work. John’s team brought their legal and policy advocacy expertise to NCLS, which had a long history of providing communications essential to public interest and legal services attorneys nationwide. The two groups married sharp analysis and a track record of innovation to an ever-expanding resource network.
More recently, with the acquisition of the Center for Legal Aid Education, the Shriver Center expanded its work to include advocate training. Informed by its advocacy work, the Shriver Center’s specialized training and leadership development courses give equal justice advocates the skills they need to obtain bigger, better, and bolder gains for their clients.
Although the Shriver Center’s reputation has grown over the years, one thing has remained consistent: an astonishing staff that lends their talents and their lives to achieving the Shriver Center’s mission. The staff’s willingness to constantly innovate and ongoing preparation to face the challenges ahead is why the Shriver Center has had such an impressive impact in improving the lives of people in poverty.
Before he was elected President, Barack Obama, who had learned about the work of scores of nonprofit groups through his service on foundation boards, described the Shriver Center as the most effective of any group he knew in improving the lives of large numbers of poor people. Since then income inequality has worsened, and the challenges facing people living in poverty have multiplied. Clearly, the Shriver Center is needed now more than ever.
The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law continues to prepare itself to make life better for better for people living in poverty. And with perseverance, experience, and strong alliances, the Shriver Center just keeps getting better at changing lives.
Jean Rudd is the former President of the Woods Fund