Legal Aid Justice Center Plans Expansion of Services and Other Community-led Efforts Thanks to an Historic Unrestricted Gift.
Charlottesville/Richmond/Falls Church VA – The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) today announced that a long-time donor to the organization, Philanthropist Sonjia Smith, has given LAJC a one-time gift of $10,000,000. This historic show of support for LAJC’s efforts towards social, racial, and economic justice is especially notable due to its unrestricted nature. Ms. Smith’s only requirement was that LAJC not create an endowment but instead spend the gift and put the money to work now addressing urgent and long-standing community needs.
“LAJC has a strong base of support among community partners, supporters, and allies.” said Ms. Smith “I trust Angela and her team to be the deeply passionate advocates I’ve known them to be, and I trust them to use this gift to go where communities tell them to go and do what communities tell them they need.”
Planning for the use of the new funds is well underway. Angela Ciolfi, LAJC’s Executive Director, kicked off an extensive community-centered process that has included meetings with dozens of community organizations from across the state along with multiple focus groups and listening sessions.
“What we are hearing from community advocates and partners echoes what we have heard for years, that there is a real need for more of the support and services that LAJC can provide,” said Ms. Ciolfi. “This gift will allow us to make the initial investment to significantly broaden and deepen our work. It’s truly a momentous event.”
While the final roadmap won’t be completed for several months and there are many more conversations to be had, a few themes have clearly emerged. One is that LAJC’s best work happens where they have deep relationships of trust with community members and that happens more where they have staff who can be physically present. Today LAJC has offices in Charlottesville, Richmond, Falls Church, and Petersburg, as well as staff who live and work in Galax in Southwestern Virginia and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore. The Hampton Roads region has emerged as priority area for geographic expansion.
“Partners and advocates in Hampton Roads and other communities in the region have clearly said they want us there more often and more consistently. We acknowledge that we have a lot to learn about the area and want to start by taking the time to do some deep listening about how we can complement existing networks and best serve those communities,” said Ms. Ciolfi.
Ms. Smith’s gift will allow the Legal Aid Justice Center to strengthen its current work, including ambitious campaigns to reform oppressive systems in Virginia, provide additional support for its staff and community partners, and allow LAJC to provide services to more people in more parts of Virginia.