Birthed out of the Legal Aid Act of 1978, West Tennessee Legal Services was incorporated after local bar members of West Tennessee expressed a need for an entity that would “act as a referral system” and aid the Bar Association by taking on non-fee generating cases. Through tireless efforts of what became members of the West Tennessee Legal Services Board of Directors, John Vlcek, Lucy Haynes, Mary Boyd, Roy Herron, Mary Jo Middlebrooks to name a few, West Tennessee Legal Services began the task of assisting the people of West Tennessee to obtain resolutions to their civil legal issues by hiring Gary Vanasek of Cleveland, Tennessee to lead the organization. Eager to get underway, Vanasek employed Jane Jarvis, as the first Staff Attorney and the organization opened its doors to the public at Suite 225, Downtown Office Building, better known as the McCory Building located on Highland Avenue on January 1, 1979. Desperately seeking a permanent home for the organization, Vanasek requested and was granted permission to purchase a furniture store in the Williams Building, located at 210 W. Main Street which still is home to the organization. The organization, at inception, served five counties, Madison, Haywood, Hardeman, Chester and Henderson counties.
Fortunately, though the Expansion Grant of 1981, West Tennessee Legal Services expanded to acquire offices in Selmer, Huntingdon, and Dyersburg and began assisting clients in 17 counties: Madison, Decatur, Gibson, Hardeman, Haywood, Henderson, Crockett, Dyer, Lake, Obion, Benton, Carroll, Henry, Weakley, Chester, Hardin and McNairy. Becoming fully staffed in 1981, the Jackson office was comprised of five staff persons, three staff attorneys in Dyersburg, three staff attorneys in Selmer, and five staff attorneys in Huntingdon. The late 80s and early 90s the agency began focusing on funding components for servicing various civil legal needs. Funding was received to implement a Senior Citizens Law Project, a Caregivers Project (addressing the needs of the out of town families of individuals with prolonged illnesses), and the Community Counsel Project (helping to incorporate area social service organizations). During the 90s funding of other substantive law areas became more pronounced. Grants were acquired to assist the disabled, unemployed, homeless, and those who suffer from domestic violence. In 1994, the agency applied and received a grant from the U. S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to fight discrimination through enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. Due to the success of this project HUD funding increased and service delivery to those needing rental counseling, pre-purchase counseling, and mortgage default counseling was supplied. In October of 2000, the agency expanded again to include funding for other LSC Programs to provide the same services in housing in five (5) States across the country. Today, WTLS passes through funding to 12+ States. Each year the funding has grown to keep pace with the needs of West Tennesseans to have additional income, victim compensation, freedom from abuse, access to education, and better lives while managing incurable disease diagnoses. As funding opportunities dwindle amid Congressional cuts, support from our funders becomes imperative.
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