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Board of Directors Awards

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Attorney Thomas Tupitza Receives Excellence Award

Attorney Thomas A Tupitza, attorney Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett, P.C, was awarded a 2011 Excellence Award from the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network for his outstanding work on behalf of legal aid both locally and statewide. Tupitza served on the NWLS board of directors from April 1994 to June 2007 and during his tenure he was president from 1997 to 2000, and a member of the Finance Committee from 1995 to 1996, and again from 2002 to 2007. During this time he was actively engaged in the mission and vision of the organization, volunteering his time and talents to the challenges facing legal services in northwestern Pennsylvania.

In 2005 he was named by the Pennsylvania Bar Association to fill an unexpired term on the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) Board of Directors. He was elected Treasurer in the same year and has since served as Chair of the PLAN, Inc. Budget and Finance Committee. He is currently serving his final term on the PLAN board, which expires in March, 2013.

When NWLS began preparations in the summer of 2008 for our fortieth anniversary celebration in May 2009, Tupitza joined the steering committee for the event and he was instrumental in securing major funding from his law firm for the celebration at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown Erie. He has also been a consistent and generous contributor to the mission of NWLS during our bi-annual fundraising solicitations during the past decade.

Announcement and Video



Attorney Jay W. Alberstadt Recognized for Service

Attorney Jay W. Alberstadt, Jr., attorney with MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton, LLP was awarded a 2008 Excellence Award from the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network for his outstanding contributions to the mission of legal aid in northwestern Pennsylvania. Alberstadt joined the NWLS board of directors in 1982, and has served continuously since then, including a total of twelve years as president of the board.

His appointment to the NWLS board in 1982 coincided with the creation that year of the Legal Aid Volunteer Attorney (LAVA) Program in Erie County, a pro bono project co-sponsored by NWLS and the Erie County Bar Association (ECBA). Attorney Alberstadt became active in LAVA, not only accepting pro bono cases referred to the private bar as part of the project, but also chairing and serving on the ECBA’s advisory committee for the pro bono initiative. LAVA has been recognized as one of the pre-eminent pro bono projects in the Commonwealth, and it was awarded the 2002 Louis J. Goffman Award for service to the civil legal needs of low-income people.

With more than a quarter-century of service to NWLS, attorney Alberstadt has been actively involved in a leadership role in the growth and development of civil legal services in northwestern Pennsylvania. As part of his tenure on the board, NWLS implemented many changes in its service delivery system, including the creation of a central intake unit that has become a prototype for other legal services programs across the country.

Announcement and Video
Awards Video



Patricia Mickel Receives 2008 Liberty Bell Award
NWLS Board Member of 16 Years

The Erie County Bar Association awards Patricia Mickel the 2008 Liberty Bell Award at the Erie County Law Day Ceremony on May 2, 2008.  Pat has demonstrated strong commitment to the civil legal needs of low-income individuals and families in northwestern Pennsylvania.  She joined the Board of Directors of Northwestern Legal Services in 1992, and has served continuously on the board for the past sixteen years, including numerous terms on the Executive Committee as a board officer. She has also been very active in the Client Council of Pennsylvania, an organization that provides guidance and feedback to the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN), the agency that administers state funds for legal services.

As part of her service to Northwestern Legal Services and other legal aid programs, Pat has been a part of Peer Review Teams for both the Legal Services Corporation (federal) and the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (state). She has also been an active participant in the NWLS planning retreats for both staff and board members, and she provided important input into the development of our current mission statement. Pat remains a strong advocate for the civil legal needs of low-income people at home, and across the nation.

Pat is an example to our community that one person can make a difference in helping others develop a strong sense of individual responsibility so that citizens can recognize their duties as well as their rights. In this process, she has worked cooperatively with her neighbors to make our home a better place to live.

As a single parent in a public housing project in Erie, Pat decided to take a leadership role in helping fellow residents of public housing throughout the city. In 1990 she was the co-founder of the Erie Tenant Council, a voluntary association comprised of representatives from all of the Erie Housing Authority’s residential complexes. The council works with Erie Housing Authority staff and other social service agencies to develop and implement educational and recreational programs for residents, and to encourage residents to become positive catalysts for change in their neighborhoods. It also refers individuals and families to appropriate legal representation and counsel when circumstances warrant.

As President of the Erie Tenant Council for the past ten years, Pat has emphasized the need for training initiatives and classes designed to teach residents of public housing units organizational and leadership skills so that ordinary citizens can take responsibility for confronting challenges that exist in their communities. She was instrumental in writing and then implementing a Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that enabled the hiring of a staff person to help neighborhood tenant councils facilitate program goals.

Pat has worked in other ways to develop a collective vision for improving the lives of public housing residents. Examples of her “hands-on” approach to community needs was her work to establish the John E. Horan Garden Apartments Food Pantry. Under her leadership, the food pantry has been open for the past four years, providing much-needed food items to over 100 public housing families on a regular basis. Pat was responsible for organizing groups of residents and other volunteers to staff the pantry, and she continues to devote many hours of her own time to the project.

For the past five years Pat has served as member of the Erie Housing Authority’s Resident Advisory Board (RAB), a group that offers input to the Authority as part of their strategic planning process. Pat provided strong leadership to the RAB by first recruiting a cross-section of public housing residents to serve on the RAB, and by joining with her peers to provide guidance to the Authority on programming goals and spending priorities. She also serves on the Housing Authority’s Section 8 Family Self-sufficiency Coordinating Committee, a group that evaluates and recommends Section 8 residents to participate in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program.

Pat was recently part of a planning committee to help the Housing Authority design a handicap-accessible playground for the families living in the John E. Horan Garden Apartments. The playground is scheduled for completion this year (2008).

In addition to her volunteer efforts for residents in public housing, and legal aid for poverty-level individuals and families, Pat was a Girl Scout troop leader for ten years, and she has been involved with the “Companions on the Way” program administered by the local Area Agency on Aging. When she has the time, Pat also loves to volunteer to read at her granddaughter’s school.

The list of past recipients of the Liberty Bell Award is a very distinguished group of local citizens. Patricia Mickel is an important example to all of us that an “ordinary” person, with determination, hard work and a spirit of cooperation with neighbors and friends, can produce “extraordinary” results that benefit our community, and help ensure access to justice for all. Congratulations on this well-deserved award!

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Thelma Grady receives the 2005 Liberty Bell Award

Thelma Grady, Northwestern Legal Services (NWLS) board member and lay vice-president, received the 2005 Liberty Bell Award from the Erie County Bar Association. She was presented the honor as part of the Law Day luncheon on Friday, April 28 at the Erie Shrine Club.

The Liberty Bell Award is given annually by the Erie County Bar Association to a non-attorney who has “strengthened the American system of freedom under the law.” Grady was honored for her many years of community service to the Erie region, and her leadership role in legal services on a local, state and national level.

NWLS executive director Robert A. Oakley, Esq., delivered the introductory remarks at the Law Day event that honored Grady’s many contributions to the Erie community. She was instrumental in creating local programs such as Crime Watch, the Erie Tenant’s Council, the Welfare Rights Organization, and the Clients’ Council of Erie County. Grady was also involved in Project Vote, an initiative that enabled voter registration materials to be distributed at county assistance offices, and she has been active in the local chapter of the NAACP.

Grady was also honored for her many years of service to NWLS as a board member, along with her work on behalf of legal aid with the Clients’ Council of Pennsylvania and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Jack Ford, Court TV news anchor and former legal correspondent for ABC and NBC News, was the keynote speaker at the event. 

>> View Nomination
>> View Full News Article at GoErie.com
>> New Letters of Support by Pennsylvania Legal Services,
National Legal Aid & Defender Association and Housing Authority of the City of Erie


Thelma Grady, honored for her work and dedication to the community!  

Thelma Grady was recognized as a public housing hero by the Erie Housing Authority for her commitment and dedication to the low-income community.

 Thelma has been an active supporter and board member of  NWLS, past  president of the Clients Council of Pennsylvania, Clients Council of Eriethelmapic.jpg (53935 bytes) County, and Erie Tenants Council. She has been a mainstay of public support of free legal services for low-income people throughout the state.  
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Congratulation, Thelma! 

Grady Receives 2002 Striving for Excellence Awards
Presented by Pennsylvania Legal Services

Pennsylvania Legal Services (PLS) recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication and commitment to legal services with the "Striving Toward Excellence" Awards.  Thelma Grady, was recognized as a recipient in March, 2002.  Thelma has been a long standing  Northwestern Legal Services' Board Member and a powerful advocate for the legal needs of low-income clients in her own community and across the nation.

For over 25 years she has worked in a leadership role on the local, state and national level to ensure that clients have received civil legal services, and has molded this commitment into positive accomplishments on behalf of low-income individuals and their families. Thelma continues to serve on the NWLS board of directors, and she remains a strong voice on behalf of our mission.