Pro Bono Month Spotlight: Sullivan Supports the Transformative Power of Education in Dorchester Through Longstanding Pro Bono Partnerships

Of the many pro bono relationships maintained by Boston-based law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP (“Sullivan”), those with College Bound Dorchester, Inc. and the Neighborhood House Charter School are the longest-standing.

In 1965, former corporate partner Charlie Cabot helped establish College Bound Dorchester (then known as Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses, Inc.) by merging three settlement houses (Denison House, Little House and Dorchester House) with the goal of better serving the Dorchester community and its minority, immigrant and low-income populations.  Over the years, College Bound has included many additional programs including Kit Clark Senior Services, a summer camp, an alternative middle school and a food pantry.  In the mid-1990s, College Bound became the incubator of one of the first charter schools in Massachusetts, the Neighborhood House Charter School.

College Bound’s current focus is on transforming neighborhoods through education, particularly those affected by generational cycles of poverty, street level violence and a widening economic inequality gap.  Its ‘Boston Uncornered’ solution engages gang-involved or formerly incarcerated youth and turns them into positive leaders in their neighborhoods by training them as trusted peer mentors.  They in turn support program participants who receive educational supports and a weekly stipend that affords them the space to pursue educational opportunities to help them turn away from the streets for good.  Michelle Caldeira, Senior Vice President of Strategy & External Affairs at College Bound Dorchester, cited the program’s continued success.  They have served over 500 young people in the city each year with a 70% college matriculation rate and a reduced recidivism rate of 91%.

“We are grateful for the significant dollar value of their pro-bono work, we are indebted to Sullivan & Worcester for all the additional ways in which they support College Bound and Uncornered – serving as officers on our board of directors, providing guidance on personnel matters, shepherding the sale or acquisition of capital assets, amplifying our work and even filing copyright applications. I also want to note David Guadagnoli’s work on managing the partnership always being available to answer a quick question or dig deep on thorny issues, doing it all with amazing efficiency and a sense of humor,” said Caldeira.

In the Pope’s Hill neighborhood of Dorchester stands the K-7th grade campus of NHCS, whose mission is to provide students with the skills and support they need to graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education on the path to achieve life success.  The School now serves over 700 students, the majority of whom are drawn from one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhoods.  Until recently a K-8th grade school, NHCS is in the process of expanding through to the 12th grade.

“Working with these organizations offers many, if not all, of our attorneys the opportunity to do pro bono work within their respective areas of expertise, which is rare among pro bono clients,” said David Guadagnoli, a Tax Partner at Sullivan.

For over half a century and at least 21,000 pro bono hours later, Sullivan remains a fierce champion for and partner of both entities.  Guadagnoli, who currently serves on the Board of College Bound Dorchester and leads Sullivan’s relationship for both entities, explains how this unique partnership has provided opportunities for lawyers throughout the firm, regardless of practice area, to contribute pro bono services and make a unique impact in the community.

With the same types of challenges faced by for-profit clients, Sullivan has remained steadfastly committed to both organizations, in large part because each offers virtually every Sullivan attorney the opportunity to contribute in their own specialty area – corporate lawyers have rewritten bylaws, managed filings, overseen restructurings and provided guidance in critical areas of governance; real estate attorneys have bought and sold properties and negotiated leases; financing lawyers have helped each organization finance and refinance short and long term debt; tax attorneys have helped each organization maintain their tax-exempt status and avoid tax traps; employment attorneys have supported the management teams with HR support and advice; litigators have defended each organization as needed; intellectual property attorneys have helped with trademark and copyright issues; and benefits attorneys have assisted in ensuring that each organization offers a robust menu of benefit offerings.  In addition to pro bono legal work, several Sullivan attorneys have served as directors, trustees and clerks of each of these organization through the years.

Molly Stearns, Director of Strategic Projects at NHCS, says that “Sullivan has become our ‘downtown home,’” supplying meeting space for the school leadership in addition to thousands of hours of pro bono work and service.

“We are so grateful that Neighborhood House Charter School has benefited from an extraordinary 25-year pro bono partnership with Sullivan.  Their advice on matters ranging from governance, to real estate transactions, to personnel matters, to employee benefits has been invaluable.  Sullivan attorneys have served as ad hoc members of various Board committees and presented to our middle schoolers about the legal profession on Career Day.  In ways large and small, Sullivan has helped Neighborhood House sustain a 25-year track record of success.  It’s an honor to have gotten to know so many wonderful lawyers at Sullivan along the way.”

As these two organizations remain committed to supporting those in need of opportunities, they have each found a steadfast partner and friend in Sullivan.