Legal Aid Society Launches Gilbert Family Fellowship to Expand Legal Services to Children and Young Adults

NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 6, 2016—Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Tennessee’s largest non-profit law firm, announced today that it has launched its Gilbert Family Fellowship—a program that will provide free civil legal services to children and young adults.

The program is made possible by a $100,000 donation from Harris A. Gilbert, a longtime supporter of Legal Aid Society and an attorney with Wyatt Tarrant & Combs LLP, with support from his children. The funds will be used over a two- to three-year time period to build a program across 48 counties that identifies legal issues children and young adults face and provides free civil legal assistance to them.

The fellowship will be the first legal assistance program in the state of Tennessee specifically targeting children and young adults in both urban and rural communities.

Gilbert Family Fellowship areas of assistance will include:

  • Securing necessary and appropriate health services, particularly mental health services, for children and young adults who need them, but do not have them.
  • Identifying eligibility for special education and related services for school-age children.
  • Preventing unfair exclusionary discipline of students that causes loss of important instructional time and opportunities to succeed.
  • Working with juvenile courts to identify youth who are at risk and in need of services.
  • Advocating for young adults exiting the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and/or those who are receiving post-custody services.

A growing body of research shows that many young adults face significant obstacles as they
“age out” of the foster care system. Such challenges, and other adverse childhood experiences often encountered by at-risk youth, can have serious and negative impacts on their adult lives—including homelessness, mental illnesses, incarceration and unemployment, among others.

“Our Gilbert Family Fellows will identify the chronic issues that unjustly plague at-risk youth in schools, in homes and in the community, and will become their legal advocates to overcome obstacles so they can experience a path for success,” said Gary Housepian, executive director of Legal Aid Society. “We could not do this important work without the generosity of Mr. Gilbert and his children, and we look forward to building healthier, successful lives for some of our region’s youngest citizens.”

Nine Legal Aid Society attorneys have been named Gilbert Family Fellows:

  • Paige Barbeauld—Clarksville office
  • Sonya Bellafant—Columbia office
  • Kimi deMent—Nashville office
  • Cherrelle Hooper—Gallatin office
  • Aimee Luna—Murfreesboro office
  • Rachel Moses—Cookeville office
  • Rae Anne Seay—Tullahoma office
  • Emma Sholl—Nashville office
  • Theresa-Vay Smith— Oak Ridge office

Legal Aid Society Skadden Fellow Vidhi Joshi, who focuses her practice on helping low-income individuals with criminal records, will provide additional assistance to Gilbert Family Fellows.

“When children fall through the cracks of justice, our future begins to crumble,” Gilbert said. “So it is my honor to work with Legal Aid Society and its team of Fellows to expand access to justice to our region’s youth. As a lawyer and as a parent, there is no better mission. And for our children, there is no better gift.”

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Tennessee’s Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands advocates for fairness and justice under the law. The non-profit law firm offers free civil legal representation and educational programs to help people in its region receive justice, protect their well-being and support opportunities to overcome poverty. It serves 48 counties from offices in Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Nashville, Oak Ridge and Tullahoma. Legal Aid Society is funded in part by United Way. Learn more at, or by following the firm on Facebook.


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