Author: Helen Hobson

Raleigh, NC – Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) proudly announces that its domestic violence documentary, Beyond Fear, has been honored with the Silver Award for Documentary: Short Form (Under 40 Minutes) – Non-Broadcast at the 45th Annual Telly Awards. This prestigious award recognizes excellence in video and television across all screens, judged by industry leaders from top video platforms, television networks, streaming services, and production companies.

This year’s Telly Awards saw fierce competition, with notable winners including Adobe, Calvin Klein, ESPN, LinkedIn, Mother Jones, MTC Entertainment Studios, NASA, the LA Clippers (NBA), PlayStation Studios, Sawhorse Productions, TelevisaUnivision, and more. LANC’s Beyond Fear was recognized among this illustrious group, earning accolades for its powerful storytelling and impactful message.

Beyond Fear, produced by LANC’s Chief Communications Officer, Helen Hobson, in collaboration with Front Runner Productions, delves into the harrowing experiences of three domestic violence survivors who found support and help through LANC. Through their heartfelt and deeply personal narratives, the documentary brings to light the often hidden and traumatic realities of domestic violence, celebrating the resilience and courage of these survivors as they strive to break free from abuse.

“The caliber of the work this season truly has reflected the theme of going beyond the frame. Our industry is experimenting with new technologies like never before, crafting truly compelling stories to draw attention to some of the world’s most pressing issues,” shares Telly Awards Managing Director Amanda Needham. “The Telly Awards is uniquely positioned to meet the industry where it’s actually making work, be that on television or TikTok.”

Helen Hobson expressed her gratitude for the recognition, stating, “We worked tirelessly to honor the voices of our clients through Beyond Fear. This award is a testament to their bravery and the critical importance of telling their stories.”

This year marked a record-breaking milestone for the Telly Awards, with nearly 13,000 entries from across the globe. Winners were selected by the Telly Awards Judging Council, which includes prominent figures such as Nathalie Van Sasse Van Ysselt, VP of Design and Creative Services at MSG Sphere Studios; Barry Christie, Global Creative Lead at Meta Creative Shop; Farihah Zaman, Director and member of Brown Girl Doc Mafia; Aiden Darné, VP, Global Studio Lead at Shutterstock; and Malinda Wink, Executive Director at Minderoo Pictures.

For the full list of the 45th Annual Telly Awards winners, please visit

To watch Beyond Fear, please visit:

About The Telly Awards

The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring video and television across all screens. Established in 1979, The Telly Awards receives over 13,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents. Entrants are judged by The Telly Awards Judging Council—an industry body of over 200 leading experts including advertising agencies, production companies, and major television networks, reflective of the multiscreen industry The Telly Awards celebrates. Partners of The Telly Awards include the Gotham Institute, NAB, Stash, NYWIFT, LAPPG, Production Hub, Green the Bid, Video Consortium, and Series Fest. New Partners include FWD- Doc, AI Film Festival, Reel Abilities Film Festival, and Film Fatales.


About Legal Aid of North Carolina

Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity.

Media Contact:

Helen Hobson, Chief Communications Officer,, 704-430-7616

Author: Helen Hobson

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

12:00pm – 1:00pm EDT

***1 hour of General CLE credit (***pending approval by the North Carolina State Bar)

Cost: $65

Register here:

Program Overview:

This CLE will explain how unemployment insurance (“UI”) can support domestic violence survivors when a survivor must leave their job or when they lose their employment because of domestic violence. Participants will learn how claimants qualify for benefits and how they remain eligible. It will specifically address how domestic violence can show up at a survivor’s work and how it can impact a survivor’s eligibility for UI. This CLE will also use example cases for participants to have an opportunity to practice analyzing different fact patterns. Note: This live webinar will be a repeat presentation of a CLE program from LANC’s 2023 Statewide Summit.


Bella Book

Bella is a Staff Attorney in the Wilson Office of Legal Aid of North Carolina. She works on a variety of legal issues, including unemployment insurance, public benefits, and consumer protection. She is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and is currently an Education co-chair of the Employment Executive Committee at the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and sits on the Labor and Employment Council for the North Carolina Bar Association.

In 2021, Bella graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, where she argued on behalf of unemployment insurance recipients at every level of the Michigan state court system, including presenting successful oral argument at the Michigan Court of Appeals in Scott v. Dep’t of Labor & Econ. Opportunity/Unemployment Ins. Agency, No. 350690 (Mich. Ct. App. May. 25, 2023) and successful written argument before the Michigan Supreme Court in Dep’t of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs v. Lucente, 508 Mich. 209, 973 N.W.2d 90 (2021). She received the Craig Spangenberg Oral Advocacy Award and the Robert S. Feldman Labor Law Award, both by faculty nomination.

Before law school, she worked for the Jewish Women’s Archive, a feminist digital archive dedicated to celebrating the contributions of Jewish women to history. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 2015 where she double majored in English and History. She currently lives in Raleigh with her husband and two very good cats.

Benjamin Holt

Benjamin Holt is a Staff Attorney at the Central Intake Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina.  He works on a variety of cases but focuses on unemployment benefits.  He has developed and presented trainings on and drafted educational materials for clients and the public about unemployment benefits.

Prior to joining Legal Aid in 2022, Benjamin served as an Appeals Referee at the Division of Employment Security.  He has heard and written decisions in over 1500 cases.  Benjamin has ruled on cases covering a variety of issues including qualification, eligibility, antedating, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and Pandemic Mixed Earners Unemployment.

He graduated from American University in 2011 with a BA in international studies and from Duke University School of Law in 2014 with a JD and LLM in international and comparative law.  He is licensed to practice law in North Carolina.

Author: Helen Hobson

Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) unveiled its innovative LANCMobile unit at a launch event held yesterday, May 1st, at the Haywood County Public Library: Canton Branch. The event marked a significant step forward in the organization’s mission to provide vital legal services to underserved communities, particularly in disaster-stricken and rural areas. The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured special remarks from LANC staff and the Mayor of Canton, NC, Zeb Smathers.

LANCMobile addresses a critical gap in the American justice system, where low-income individuals facing civil legal matters often lack adequate representation. According to recent studies, 92% of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help. In North Carolina, approximately two million people, 18% of the population, are eligible for LANC services but face geographical barriers preventing access.

Born out of the pressing need exacerbated by natural disasters like Tropical Storm Fred in 2021, LANCMobile was established with a grant from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The initiative aims to serve disaster-affected areas while also addressing broader issues of legal deserts and rural community neglect.

“Our primary purpose is to get people the assistance they need,” said Alicia Edwards, Project Director of LANC’s Disaster Relief Project. “We have two fully serviced offices inside where we can meet clients. We can come out to their community, screen them, deal with their legal issues, and provide fully serviced assistance right from the bus.”

Scheree Gilchrist, Chief Innovation Officer at LANC, emphasized LANCMobile’s broader mission beyond disaster relief. “We are going to take the bus and identify the areas that have the most need and work with our community partners to deliver those services,” Gilchrist stated.

The event garnered support from Mayor Zeb Smathers, who highlighted the significance of LANCMobile in bringing hope to communities in need. “This is where you affect people in the trenches… This is where you make a difference,” said Mayor Smathers. “Where y’all go and this bus goes, hope is not too far behind.”

LANCMobile’s impact extends beyond immediate legal aid provision. Through data-driven strategies and community partnerships, LANC aims to identify rural communities most in need and devise tailored solutions to overcome communication, infrastructure, and service accessibility challenges.

“This is a crucial step in our commitment to innovation and making a lasting impact in the communities we serve,” noted Gilchrist. “LANCMobile not only addresses immediate needs but also fosters a culture of community engagement, empowering rural communities to assert their rights and access legal resources.”

LANCMobile’s schedule can be found at


Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Learn more at

Follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube.  

Media Contact 

Helen Hobson, Chief Communications Officer, 704-430-7616, 

Author: Helen Hobson

RALEIGH, N.C. – Legal Aid of North Carolina announces a Conciliation and Voluntary Compliance Agreement, resolving a housing discrimination complaint filed against the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR). The complaint was filed on behalf of an individual whose application to the ReBuild NC Homeowner Recovery Program was rejected due to proof of ownership requirements applied to owners of heirs’ properties. The ReBuild NC Homeowner Recovery Program administers Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funds to assist survivors of Hurricanes Matthew and Florence in rebuilding their homes. 

The complaint, filed in February 2023 with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleged that NCORR’s proof of ownership requirements, as applied to owners of heirs’ properties, disproportionately impacted and denied equal housing opportunities to Black/African American homeowners seeking disaster recovery assistance funds, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. “Heirs’ property” is a term used to describe family-owned property that is passed between generations of family members without a valid will or formal estate. While heirs’ property can present challenges, each heir shares legal ownership of the entire property with the other heirs and can maintain it through repairs, improvements, and payment of property taxes. Decades of research shows that heirs’ property issues most often impact Black families, and that heirs’ properties, particularly in the South, are disproportionately owned by Black/African American landowners. 

As a result of the Conciliation and Voluntary Compliance Agreement, Respondent NCORR has agreed to: 

  • Adopt a new proof of ownership policy, now in Version 9.0 of the CDBG-DR Homeowner Recovery Program Manual and corresponding forms, that complies with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Under the revised policy, owners of heirs’ property will now only need to agree that they have or will notify, in whatever way they see fit, any party that may have an ownership interest in the property about their participation in the ReBuild program, if such parties are known to the applicant; 
  • Provide written notice of the new policy to the approximately 74 applicants previously rejected from, or otherwise deemed ineligible for, the ReBuild Homeowner Recovery Program due to previous proof of ownership requirements as applied to owners of heirs’ property; 
  • Allow these approximately 74 applicants previously rejected from the program due to the prior proof of ownership requirements applied to owners of heirs’ property to submit appeals for reentry into the Program; and 
  • Train NCORR staff on the requirements of the new policy. 

With these changes, NCORR affirms its commitment to compliance with federal fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability.  

“Legal Aid of North Carolina is proud to announce this resolution, which reduces unnecessary barriers for owners in heirs’ properties to access crucial disaster relief funding, while also preserving the existing homeownership structure and keeping these properties in the family. We hope that these revised policies can serve as a model for other disaster relief programs in North Carolina and CDBG-DR funded programs across the country,” said A.D. Skaff, Supervising Attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project. 

“We commend NCORR for prioritizing fair housing, implementing these new policies, and working with us to resolve this matter, so all homeowners in North Carolina recovering from devastating natural disasters have equal housing opportunities,” said Lauren Brasil, Co-Director and Managing Attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project. 

A copy of the Conciliation Agreement is available here.  

Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can contact Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project by calling 1-855-797-3247. 

Legal Aid of North Carolina’s involvement in this litigation was made possible in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program. 


Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Learn more at

Follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube.  

Media Contact 

Helen Hobson, Chief Communications Officer, 704-430-7616, 

Author: Helen Hobson

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EDT

***1 hour of Ethics CLE credit (***pending approval by the North Carolina State Bar)

Cost: $65

Register here:

Program Overview:

Internships provide a meaningful experience that promotes skills training. Law students can observe and assist attorneys in their work, develop an experiential understanding of what these legal professionals do and how they do it. To ensure that interns have a meaningful learning experience and to protect the interest of a firm or organization’s clients, it is necessary that each intern has adequate supervision from a licensed attorney. There are several ethical considerations that supervising attorneys should be aware of when agreeing to host an intern. This program will provide practical tips on how supervisors can enhance their interns’ experience through effective, intentional supervision. The ethical rules that will be discussed are Rules 1.6, 5.3, and 5.5.


Niya Fonville Swint serves as the Chief Community Engagement Officer with Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), where she oversees the recruitment and administration of the organization’s Martin Luther King Jr. Summer Internship Program. Niya served as a staff and supervising attorney with LANC, where she mentored and supervised both law students, legal support professionals, and young attorneys for a decade. Immediately prior to entering her current role, Niya served as director of the Campbell Law Externship Program and Associate Director of the school’s Career and Professional Development Office.

Author: Helen Hobson

← Back to For Seniors

Lenoir, NC – Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) recently organized a free wills clinic in Caldwell County, providing legal assistance to seniors in the community. The event, held on March 18th and 19th at the Caldwell County Library, saw 47 seniors receive support from LANC staff and volunteers.

The clinic aimed to address a crucial need among the elderly population by offering guidance and assistance in drafting wills and advanced directives. For many seniors, ensuring their affairs are in order brings a sense of security and peace of mind. By providing these services at no cost, LANC is increasing access to justice and legal resources for vulnerable members of the community.

“I was very pleased and delighted to meet with the LANC attorneys,” said Ms. Hernandez (pictured on the right), a client who received assistance at the clinic. “Everyone was very friendly and made me feel very comfortable during this process. I am grateful that [they] were there to guide me and provide this much-needed service.”

During the two-day event, LANC staff and volunteers provided personalized support to each attendee, ensuring their individual needs and concerns were addressed. From drafting legal documents to providing guidance on estate planning, the clinic offered comprehensive assistance to help seniors navigate complex legal processes.

Staff Attorney Savannah Morgan shared her experience, highlighting the connection formed with seniors throughout the clinic. “It is very fulfilling to be able to serve seniors in this way,” Morgan remarked. “I received so many hugs during the two-day will clinic. It is always great to chat and get to know our clients.”

LANC is committed to serving communities across the state, advocating for the rights and needs of low-income individuals and families. Events like the free wills clinic in Caldwell County highlight the organization’s dedication to providing essential legal services and resources to those who need them most.


Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Learn more at

Follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube

Media Contact

Helen Hobson, Chief Communications Officer, 704-430-7616,

Author: Helen Hobson

In every workplace, there’s that one person who seems to hold everything together. At our Foothills office, that person is Brenda Carlin, beloved support staff member, and dog mom to two office mascots – Shitzu’s April and Skylar. Brenda is versatile, navigating through responsibilities including client intake, office management, telephone correspondence, walk-in assistance, attorney support, procurement of supplies, mail organization, troubleshooting computer issues, and an array of other vital tasks.

Learn more about Brenda as she answers questions about her role at Legal Aid of North Carolina.

What is your favorite part about being a support staff?

I like to help people. I like making time for our clients. Whether it’s a walk-in, telephone call, or processing a domestic violence or housing case – I think that, in some ways, I help people by just giving them someone to talk to.  I try to make them feel like I have no other cases and it’s their time.  I have several contacts and resources that I give to most of our clients. I always offer them a cup of coffee or a cold drink and take a few minutes to just listen. 

What is your favorite part about working at Legal Aid of North Carolina?

My favorite part is working with the attorneys and being able to help our clients.  Even if they don’t become clients, I hope that I have been able to help them in some way. 

A lot of my passion comes from the fact that I grew up in a rural country community and was dirt poor.  I have four sisters and two half-brothers, and we didn’t miss anything growing up, because we didn’t know it was there to be missed. 

I have learned over the years that just listening to our clients, wishing them a good day, and giving them any information is sometimes all it takes. 

What is your favorite part about working with clients?

We get all kinds of people and all kinds of issues, but I truly enjoy listening and trying to get as many cases in as possible. 

Some of the clients have their own stories of life and it’s interesting.  I had one client who when he came in with a Will issue, stood and played with April and Skylar and then informed me that he had just lost his wife and was trying to get everything done before they buried her.  He looked at me and told me how nice it was to be able just to play with the dogs and then proceeded to say that he would love to take them home. I realized that I have a special Managing Attorney who allows me to bring April and Skylar. On many occasions, they have warmed clients’ hearts.

Do you have a favorite client memory?

I remember one client in the last six months that came into the office.  I don’t remember her particular issue, but it was one that we could not help with.  I remember she had her phone stuffed down her shirt, listening to a preacher preach.  And she wasn’t about to turn down the sound because when it stopped, she simply restarted it.  But she was telling me about her issues and how they kept telling her to come into our office. So, I listened for a while and finally offered her the NC referral number. I remember telling her that maybe her church could help.  She agreed and left after a few minutes.  Two days later she was back.  I listened to see if anything had changed for her, but it was the same story.  She looked and me and said that they had told her to come here, so I asked her who they were, and she informed me it was the birds.

More about Brenda:

Brenda’s life is enriched by the joy of being a grandmother to two sets of twins. Her daughters have each given her a grandson and granddaughter who share the special bond of twinship—one set at the age of five, and the other just celebrating their first year. Alongside her cherished family moments, Brenda finds fulfillment in her artistic endeavors, including reading, drawing, and quilting. One particularly proud moment, captured by Managing Attorney Jonathan Perry, is Brenda standing beside a wall hanging she crafted for the conference room.

As she contemplates her upcoming departure from Legal Aid, Brenda is filled with a mix of emotions. She will miss the camaraderie and meaningful work shared with her colleagues as she prepares to bid farewell at the end of this year.

Author: Helen Hobson

← Back to Education

RALEIGH, NC – Following a complaint filed by Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Right to Education Project (REP), the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) launched a formal investigation into the Wake County Public School System’s (WCPSS) treatment of students with disabilities. The complaint exposes a harsh reality: struggling students with emotional disabilities are being isolated instead of nurtured within the school system.

The complaint, filed on behalf of two African-American students with disabilities who attended East Garner Magnet Middle School (EGMMS), highlights systemic issues at EGMMS and within the district. Despite being bright and creative, the students were repeatedly suspended and removed from their classrooms when displaying dysregulated behaviors. Instead of receiving the necessary support to manage their disabilities and emotions effectively, they were frequently confined to a “behavior stabilization” room, isolated from educational opportunities and peer interaction.

“No parent should have to watch their child endure what my eyes have seen,” declared Ms. Green*, mother of one of the affected children. “There are no support groups, there’s no help. I hope no other child has to endure what my child has endured.”

This investigation follows a lawsuit filed by a WCPSS family whose 8-year-old daughter was repeatedly restrained and forced into a seclusion room. Through the settlement, the public learned Wake County secluded 240 students during the 2022-2023 school year, 44 percent of them being Black students. While a “behavior stabilization” room is different from formal seclusion, these stories highlight a disturbing pattern: perpetuating a culture of isolation instead of offering the necessary support and resources for students to heal and thrive.

“While the investigation by DPI in response to our complaint focuses on systemic practices at EGMMS, the experiences of the students named are not anomalies,” noted Hetali Lodaya, lead attorney for the complaint. “Community members tell us that students across the district—particularly students of color with disabilities—routinely face similar patterns of isolation and ostracization. They are seen as a “problem” to be removed from the classroom, rather than as young people who deserve an education just like their peers.” 

“Our public schools face enormous challenges to fund support and resources for children with disabilities,” said Susan Book, a WCPSS parent and community advocate. “However, it costs zero dollars to treat all children with dignity and basic human decency.”

The complaint requests several remedies to address both individual and systemic violations. Among the requested remedies are compensatory services for named and similarly situated students, independent evaluations, and extensive training and support for school-based staff working with students with disabilities.

Access the full complaint here.

“When educators are trained to help students identify and regulate their emotions, develop healthy communication skills, and build resilience, all students benefit—not just those with disabilities,” emphasized Bekah Brown, Policy and Curriculum Specialist with Education Justice Alliance. “When we commit to investing in more than just the bare essentials, we not only fulfill our educational duty, but we also lay the foundation for a more just and compassionate society.”

This complaint is the fifth systemic complaint that REP has filed against WCPSS regarding its treatment of students with disabilities.

Lodaya shares: “When I asked one of the students named in this complaint what he wanted people to know about what happened to him, I was moved by his response: ‘Don’t let nobody get you down.’ Just as he continues to strive for more, we at REP will continue to fight alongside our clients and our communities for the creation of inclusive and equitable educational opportunities for all.”

*Name changed to protect client confidentiality


Author: Helen Hobson

Charlotte, NC – Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) is proud to announce that Larissa Mervin, Managing Attorney of their Charlotte office, has been named one of Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award recipients for 2024. This accolade celebrates Larissa’s outstanding contributions to the non-profit world and her leadership within the legal community.

Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Awards annually celebrate 40 emerging leaders who have demonstrated outstanding achievements in their organizations, communities, and industries before reaching the age of 40. Larissa Mervin’s inclusion underscores her accomplishments and influence as a legal advocate, community leader, and visionary.

Expressing her gratitude for the award, Larissa remarked, “I’m profoundly grateful for this award and feel fortunate to receive recognition for doing meaningful work that I deeply care about. The fact that I get to do it alongside the most amazing friends, colleagues, and organizational partners – all of whom consistently empower me to be the attorney I am and are also deserving of recognition in their own right – is just icing on the cake! Thank you to the Charlotte Business Journal for the recognition, and to my friends at Legal Aid and our pro bono partners for the nomination. I am incredibly appreciative.”

Larissa’s professional journey is characterized by her commitment to serving marginalized communities. Her passion for family law and domestic violence advocacy ignited early in her career, leading her to roles at Triangle Family Services and subsequently at LANC, where she interned during law school. Throughout her tenure, Larissa has advocated for vulnerable individuals and families, providing crucial legal representation, mentorship, and support.

In her role as a domestic violence staff attorney, Larissa litigated civil domestic violence protective orders, civil no-contact orders, and temporary custody cases, all while training and supervising peers and interns. Her leadership and dedication propelled her through the ranks at LANC, where she now serves as Managing Attorney for the Charlotte office and Regional Managing Attorney for surrounding areas – achieving these roles at a young age.

Beyond her professional achievements, Larissa is dedicated to community involvement. She volunteers for the Heritage, Arts, and Cultural Committee in Harrisburg, North Carolina, promoting art and multicultural awareness. Additionally, Larissa is actively engaged with her church, leading high school girls and participating in outreach initiatives locally and internationally.

Larissa’s commitment to excellence, innovation, and community service continues to inspire her colleagues and peers.