Legal Aid fundraiser Freed to Run returns to Jacksonville
Berkley White, 82, almost lost his house for nonpayment of property taxes — even though he had been sending money to a loan-servicing company for that purpose.
White, currently in a rehabilitation hospital after a series of health crises, thinks he was taken advantage of because of his age. “I believe so. I’m not exactly a young man,” he said.
With the help of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the company’s planned sale of his house was halted. White still fears losing his house — his homeowner’s insurance is now requiring a new roof he cannot afford — but is grateful he’s not homeless. He particularly praised Marissa Vetter, a Legal Aid eviction grant manager and housing counselor.
“If not for Marissa, I don’t know where we’d be,” he said.
White is the kind of Legal Aid client that Mike Freed had in mind when he envisioned Shelter for Elders, a new endowment that will fund the agency’s housing-related legal assistance for indigent seniors. Proceeds from the 2023 Freed to Run Friday and Saturday, the latest incarnation of the Jacksonville attorney’s annual fundraiser for Legal Aid founded in 2017, will benefit that initiative.
Until this year, Freed to Run benefitted the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership pairing lawyers, doctors and health care institutions to resolve legal problems affecting pediatric patients. The goal to set up a $2.25 million endowment for the partnership was met in 2022, with the help of Baptist Health matching funds.
Then Freed, an attorney for 30 years and longtime Legal Aid supporter, pondered what to do next. “It was a nice fundraising scheme. Seemed like such a waste to stop,” he said.
The new mission of Freed to Run became clear in August with the death of his father, who had lived his final years with all the resources and family support he needed at hand.
“My father passed away about the time I was contemplating a new cause. He had resources, he didn’t need to worry about finances and had a lawyer,” Freed said. He knew many other seniors had no such safety net, he said, so he decided to continue the fundraiser to help them.
“With Freed to Run, we created permanent legal aid funding to serve Northeast Florida children whose health issues are further complicated by their civil legal needs,” he said. “Now we are going to do the same for our elders who are faced with housing insecurity in their golden years.”
Helping children and now seniors, he said, is “humbling and inspiring.”
“Every important mission needs a catalyst, I was happy to be a catalyst,” he said.
Not enough funding, ‘backup plans‘ to help seniors
A growing number of seniors, age 60 and up, approach Legal Aid for help with housing issues such as reverse mortgage foreclosures, door-to-door scams, wrongful evictions, substandard living conditions and discriminatory practices, according to the agency.
When they make contact, they are “usually confused … bewildered, disappointed,” President and CEO Jim Kowalski said. “They’ve been taken advantage of, or there is an issue going on that they have never seen before.”
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Shelter for Elders “will provide a permanent funding source for legal resources, expert counsel and advocacy services to supplement grant funding designated for seniors that has historically fallen well short of the need,” he said. “We run out of … funding before we run out of old people.”
Florida is hard on our seniors, with few “backup plans” to help them, Kowalski said. “We have to have more backup plans, at least to provide legal assistance.”
Helping seniors retain their homes — to “shelter in place” — improves their health, as compared to them being “forced into long-term-care or other congregate living facilities,” according to Legal Aid.
Freed has again come to the rescue.
“He is so invested in helping us solve issues we have in this community,” Kowalski said. “It’s an extraordinary thing, for him to be so involved in our mission and to understand it in a way a lot of our funders don’t.”
Linda Lavin, CEO of ElderSource, the Jacksonville-based Area Agency on Aging and the Aging & Disability Resource Center for Northeast Florida, commended Freed and Legal Aid for taking on seniors’ cause.
“Jax Legal aid is making a tremendous effort to tackle a very difficult and complicated issue in our community,” Levin said. “Our Helpline receives a tremendous number of calls from seniors struggling with a variety of issues and there is never enough funding to go around. Many thanks to them for creating this event and making this a focus of their mission.”
New initiative, new event format
Since its founding in 2017, Freed to Run was a six-marathon series from the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee to the Duval County Courthouse. The new version beginning this year — the Freed to Run Challenge — will take place on the streets surrounding the courthouse.
Freed found difficulty attracting enough participants in the marathon series, particularly on the Tallahassee end. He sometimes found himself the lone runner, joined by more people as the event moved closer to Jacksonville.
The unique multi-marathon idea got “people’s attention,” he said, but was too dependent on its founder “than a philanthropy should be to succeed” in the long term.
The new version, he said, is “more communal, easy to support.”
Individual participants and relay teams will raise funds based on goals of completing half-mile laps around the courthouse for 12 or 24 hours. The distance covered by each individual or team will be measured by counting the number of laps they complete around the courthouse at any pace they choose, running or walking, according to Legal Aid.
There also is a related 5K and a bike ride from St. Johns County to the Duval Courthouse.
“With our new event format, we anticipate that many more people will be able to participate,” Kowalski said. “No one has to take a day off of work or travel to a distant starting point. Almost anyone can participate in an event that is entirely local on a weekend, and in which they can go at their own pace.”
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The matching funds this time around will come from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund, which will match $25,000 in donations provided the event raises at least $75,000 from other donors. Over the next two years, the Weaver Fund also will match a gift of up to $25,000 from a single donor each year provided that at least $50,000 can be raised from additional donors.
Philanthropists Weaver and husband Wayne Weaver are former owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
[email protected], (904) 359-4109
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville fundraiser Freed to Run to help seniors in housing crises
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