The Lycoming Law Association Public Service Award is given to a non-lawyer whose public service has had a significant impact in the legal community. This year's awardee is Danna Rich-Collins.
John Person, of the local Legal Services office, introduced Danna and highlighted her extensive service to the poor of this community. For nearly 40 years, she has committed herself to the Legal Services program and to serving the underserved. His remarks in making the presentation follow:
I have known our honoree for many years. I first knew her as a neighbor and a friend, and when I was in private practice, I would receive the occasional phone call from her asking me to take a pro bono case. At the time, I did not give much thought to what Legal Services did and certainly had no appreciation for the amount of work our honoree did. When I later became a co-worker of our honoree, I gained immense respect and admiration for all that she has done and does for Legal Services.
Three words come to mind when I think of our honoree – committed, compassionate, competent. Those of you who know Danna well can probably think of many other words that would describe her abilities and the way she performs her job.
Danna is extremely committed to the mission of North Penn Legal Services. She is incredibly passionate about the marginalized and dispossessed of our society, that is the poor. When Danna was interviewed for her first job with then Susquehanna Legal Services, the interviewer was the late Judge Tom Wood, then director of Legal Services. His interview notes included “well oriented toward poor people, personal experience, positive and insistent re poor people, strong on rights.” Danna was hired in 1975 as a paralegal, and 39 years later she has not lost that passion, care, and concern for the dispossessed in our society. Her passion and care for the poor is not simply something that she talks about, but it is a way of life for her. Danna’s position at Legal Services is not so much a job but more of a lifetime calling.
Over the years as guidelines and funding have resulted in Legal Services not being able to provide attorneys in all cases, Danna has initiated various efforts to assure that the poor continue to be helped. Included among those, she initiated custody clinics, divorce clinics, use of judicare attorneys, use of student interns from Lycoming College to assist in services, and many other initiatives. Perhaps top among those is Danna being instrumental in implementing the pro bono system in Lycoming County. Over the years, Lycoming County has been one of the leaders if not the leader statewide in private attorney participation in pro bono. I believe this is due to Danna’s efforts in recruiting pro bono attorneys and also reflects the high regard in which Danna is held by the members of the local bar. In 1977, Danna was also one of the co-founders of the Emergency Women’s Shelter, now Wise Options for Women, which serves such a valuable function in our community.
Danna is an extremely compassionate person. Her compassion is not only directed to the poor of our society but to all people. Danna is extremely loyal and concerned about her co-workers at North Penn Legal Services. Too often, Danna will blame herself for things that go wrong or other problems at the office which were not really her responsibility. Being somewhat of a bureaucracy, there are frequently many administrative requirements at Legal Services. Danna is extremely sensitive as to how these administrative burdens impact her co-workers. Oftentimes, Danna will assume many of these responsibilities in order to relieve the burden on others so that we may devote the bulk of our efforts to providing services to our clients.
Danna is extremely competent in the areas of law in which Legal Services engages. Except for the lack of some initials behind her name, for all intents and purposes, Danna is a lawyer. I am told that following college Danna and her husband Mike flipped a coin to see which one would go to law school initially. Apparently, Danna lost and Mike became the lawyer. Danna never did go to law school, and the Bar Association’s loss (sorry Mike) was Legal Services’ gain. Danna is extremely knowledgeable in all areas of practice of Legal Services. She is particularly well versed in the fields of Unemployment Compensation and Social Security in which she, as a paralegal, is permitted to represent clients. She probably knows more about those fields than most attorneys. I recall one occasion a few years back when Danna was going to be facing a rather experienced and good attorney in an unemployment compensation hearing. She expressed some concern to me, and I assured her that she forgot more unemployment law than that attorney ever learned. She won the case. In addition to her administrative duties with Legal Services and her many community activities, Danna personally handles a caseload. In 2013, she handled 180 cases. Significantly, she is the only non-attorney office manager in North Penn Legal Services.
I am sure that many of you who have worked with or dealt with Danna over more years than I have could add much more to these remarks. Those who have worked with her for many years can attest to the things I have said. In 2005, when Danna was recognized by North Penn Legal Services, Pete Macky, a long time attorney in the Sunbury Legal Services’ office stated “I would offer the observation that Danna is as much the embodiment of Legal Services in Williamsport as Albert Schweitzer was of medical care in Africa or Susan B. Anthony was of women’s rights in 19th century America. I cannot think of a higher compliment, so I will stop with that.” Another long time coworker stated “without Danna there would be no pro bono, no annual pro bono awards dinner, no self-help clinics, no birthday parties, no student volunteers returning for multiple semesters, and no pro se materials.” Betsy Grbenick, North Penn’s Human Resources person who has worked with Danna for many years, in reviewing the many things that Danna has done in Legal Services, stated “She believes in what she does and she lives it every day whether at work or at home. Call it social conscience or Catholic guilt – but when someone deeply believes in helping others, it shows in the caliber of everything they do.”
Danna can be summed up in the words of a poem written by a long time paralegal from Legal Services’ Mansfield office. One verse of which is as follows:
“a youngster you surely must have been when Legal Services beckoned but you faced the test and won the battles against mighty forces reckoned”
That pretty much sums up Danna’s contributions to Legal Services and to her community and to the people in our community. I am proud to present Danna Rich-Collins with the Lycoming Law Association Public Service Award.