Posted in: Lawyers › None
Imagine being pulled over for speeding. You get handed an $80 ticket and start to weigh your options. Should you pay the $80 and keep the points on your driver’s license? Or should you pay the $180 to take the defensive driving course and get those points off your driver's license? While for some of us the choice is easy, for many South Carolinians coming up with an extra $100 means rent might not be paid that month or food for their family goes unpurchased. However, the Rainy Day Fund, a Columbia nonprofit founded by a SC Bar member and her mother, is working to fill that gap.
Kieley Sutton, assistant public defender and homeless court attorney at the Richland County Public Defender's Office and her mom Leanne Sutton co-founded the Rainy Day Fund after seeing the financial frustrations people faced while they were involved in the legal system.
"I became one of the partners with the Richland County Library Social Work division to help pay for birth certificates and identity documents," said Sutton. "So many of our clients trying to get into programs requiring a state ID did not have them because of the cost. That concept of routine injustices that fall under the radar that we saw so much of is what inspired us to make a difference."
After seeing so many times firsthand the effect that these small financial burdens had on their clients’ success, Sutton and her mom worked to bring together a group of passionate lawyers, social workers, and volunteers to form the Rainy Day Fund board. Together, they work to fill the gap that has not been previously filled, so people facing financial insecurities while involved in the legal system can thrive.
"We try to have a well-rounded group of folks who have different knowledge of different resources," said Sutton.
The Rainy Day Fund relies on referrals from service providers. The process helps to ensure efforts are not duplicated and that clients have support and case management. Paying for Uber rides to court, paperwork fees, and even storage facility fees so citizens can access their documents are just some things the group has helped their clients with.
"I think one of our favorite things to pay for is driver's license reinstatement fees because the access to transportation and the ability to drive to work, appointments, or court without facing the huge consequences of driving without a license is so important," said Sutton. "It's been great to see people who can drive again after 20 years without a license just because of finances. We work to help people get their liberty back."
Sutton had a few suggestions for attorneys who want to get involved with the Rainy Day Fund.
"We're currently working on a newsletter and encourage lawyers who would like to be involved to subscribe and learn about the group's efforts in the community, including sponsoring a hygiene cabinet at the Richland County Library," said Sutton. "There are so many different ways to be involved."
The organization is a SC Bar Foundation grantee and has several other South Carolina attorneys serving on the board including Maisie Osteen, Morgan Drapeau, Lindsay Adler, Emily Blackshire, Destinee Wilson and Haley Hubbard. To learn more and contribute visit https://rainydayfundsc.org.