United After the Storm: Synergy among organizations leads to effective disaster legal response.

Author:Brown, Jessica
 
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In Collier County, Naples attorney Edward Larsen was hyper focused on reaching survivors of Hurricane Irma who needed legal assistance.

As the judge advocate of the Collier County American Legion, Larsen knew there were many elderly veterans in need. And, as a board member of the local United Way, he was aware of low-income and rural residents affected by flooding and wind damage.

Larsen also serves as a board member of the Collier County Bar Association. "Synergy" is how he describes the way his relationships with multiple organizations forged partnerships among them to help the community recover from a disaster.

"The people in legal aid are very committed to what they do. We feel a responsibility to them to ensure they have the tools they need to provide the services that society expects they will be providing," Larsen said. "That's why the Collier County Bar Association funds them, and why United Way gives them a large contribution every single year as well. When they go into a community like Everglades City that has been devastated, they're able to sit down, open up their laptops, and start addressing the needs of the people in that community. I think they've achieved that very well."

The coordinated efforts of the United Way and the American Legion linked clients to pro bono clinics and services provided by Legal Aid Service of Collier County, which helped with matters such as wills, health-care proxies, emergency housing, and insurance claims. Legal Aid Service of Collier County received a $99,225 Legal Aid Disaster Relief Grant from The Florida Bar Foundation to support their disaster relief work.

Larsen not only helped to connect local organizations, but personally handled several pro bono clients who had lost everything.

"Their manufactured homes were just ripped apart by the winds. We had others where the flood waters were two and three, four feet in the houses. They lost everything. We had veterans who had developed infections from the contaminated water," he said.

"And legal aid was able to serve hundreds of these people who were severely affected by Hurricane Irma. The feedback we received was just phenomenal. People were reporting back that they were contacted in a timely manner, that they were able to speak to people, not only in English but also in their native language, if it was Creole...

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