The Youth Advocacy Foundation (YAF), the nonprofit arm of the Massachusetts juvenile public defender agency, is the 2020 winner of the Reginald Heber Smith Award for Excellence in Legal Services.
The award, presented by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, goes to an organization that has exhibited innovation and excellence in legal advocacy. YAF received the award at the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly 2020 Leaders in the Law event on March 5.
Below is the video that was shown at the event:
“The work that we do at the EdLaw Project is transforming for the children and it is the same thing that many of you are trying to do for your own children, which is to make sure they have the best opportunity for educational success. As you saw in the video, this work can have life-changing impact,” said Marlies Spanjaard, executive director of the Youth Advocacy Foundation, during her speech at the event. “Whether that means getting a child help in learning to read or clearing up a disciplinary incident or an unfair disciplinary practice, it is incredibly meaningful and gratifying to be a part of that change. It helps me—and all of us at the EdLaw Project—to feel good about the future and about the foundation we are laying for the next generation. Receiving this award tonight affirms that our work is important to all of you, too, and for that we are deeply grateful.”
Through zealous legal representation and community-based services, YAF fights to decrease the risk of chronic court involvement and to increase the chances that young people will grow into healthy, thriving adults.
YAF’s innovative EdLaw Project has been in existence since 2001 and has provided direct representation to nearly 2,000 children. Through the EdLaw Project, court-appointed attorneys across the state receive specialized training and support to help them incorporate education advocacy into their practice.
“I am grateful to be among so many leaders in the law. As I look around the room and see so many of my colleagues, it is truly gratifying to have an event that brings together such a cross-section of so many practice areas,” Spanjaard said. “Though we may have diverse practice areas and interests we also have a lot in common. This night showcases that we all share a commitment to excellence in our practice. We care about our work. A big part of what makes me care about my work is the children we serve, and I imagine that this is something you can all relate to.”