By virtue of their profession and high public profile, law firms are exceptionally well positioned to support the communities they serve through the collective charitable efforts of their organization. From food banks to women’s shelters, firms give of their time, talent and treasure to numerous worthy causes. Separately, attorneys often augment their firm’s giving by channeling their individual philanthropy toward causes with which they have a particular connection. As part of our Annual Top Lawyers issue, we introduce you to two local attorneys whose personal experiences fuel their altruism.
Stepping Up for Citizenship
Gardner & Mendoza
In October 2000, Radlyn Mendoza co-founded the immigration law firm of Gardner & Mendoza alongside her husband John Gardner, and it was immigration concerns that made their phone ring. She often says that she didn’t choose immigration law; rather, it was immigration law that chose her. Mendoza’s parents were Filipino immigrants who for 30 years ran a neighborhood grocery in Ocean View. As a child, Mendoza’s entire world revolved around that store and its customers.
“I practically grew up in that store,” Mendoza recalls. “From the time I was old enough to be aware of everything that was going on around me, I observed my parents attempting to help people who were trying to navigate an unfamiliar legal system. Problems stemmed from language barriers, differences in cultural norms, and difficulty navigating contracts. I worked at the store over summer break when I was in college, and it became increasingly evident the degree to which the community needed skilled legal help from empathetic attorneys who could speak their language; there was unbelievable need.”
Given her background it’s no surprise that much of Mendoza’s philanthropy centers around immigration concerns. She’s Citizenship Day co-chair for the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s D.C. chapter (AILA DC) and she provides pro bono immigration counsel for members of the U.S. Armed Forces through AILA’s Military Assistance Program. But her overarching “passion project” is Citizenship Day in our region, where her firm, in coordination with a cadre of volunteers, help eligible, legal permanent residents apply for U.S. naturalization.
“Immigration has become a hot button issue,” Mendoza explains. “There’s a great deal of misinformation circulating and many myths that need to be dispelled. The topic isn’t always covered adequately in the media. The immigrant may be on your daughter’s soccer team. Immigrants are your neighbors. They are military spouses, scholars and scientists, and the DACA eligible. Immigration is about so much more than what happens at our borders. Our efforts are helping people in our community to become legal U.S. citizens, and I am proud of our work and our efforts.”
“It’s an exciting time to be an immigration lawyer, she continues. “The humanitarian issues surrounding the Afghan refugees in our state are of utmost importance. To help assess and meet their legal needs, I’ve volunteered to give legal orientations to newly arrived Afghans who are temporarily residing on our military bases.”
In addition to immigration-related work, Mendoza is a Board member of Girls on the Run Hampton Roads, an intentional life skills curriculum for girls focusing on physical fitness training, self-confidence, character building and making positive connections with others. Mendoza lauds the organization’s bi-weekly lessons which “have a giant positive impact” on a participant’s self-image and overall wellbeing. Mendoza is also on the Board and serves as Secretary of Believe Ranch and Rescue, a Colorado-based organization that saves horses from abuse and neglect, caring for them so that they can find safe, loving, permanent homes.
Advocating for the Arts
Arthur C. “Brother” Rutter
Rutter Mills Injury Law
For decades, Brother Rutter and his wife Meredith have been ardent patrons of the arts in Coastal Virginia. Through the Rutter Family Art Foundation, myriad nonprofit arts organizations around the region are supported and encouraged by the Foundation’s ventures, initiatives, and forward-looking perspective.
From Downtown Norfolk’s NEON Arts District and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach to CHKD’s Creative Arts Council and the Chrysler Museum of Art, where Brother is a Trustee and head of their Exhibitions Committee, one would be hard pressed to find a regional arts topic about which Brother is not passionate.
His enthusiasm for contemporary art is infectious, and while the Rutters’ generosity and championing of the arts in Coastal Virginia has been widely recognized, it’s their personal experiences that place important aspects of their philanthropy in context.
“My wife Meredith and I are 100% partners, and we share a passion for the arts,” Brother explains. “This shared passion has now grown into areas where healthcare and the arts intersect.”
As a four-time cancer survivor, Meredith made many trips to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio alongside her husband. Both institutions have “very robust art programs,” Brother notes. “We would walk the halls, look at the art and explore their arts programs in a deep and thoughtful way,” he remembers.
“Because of our immersion in these medical settings, we became profoundly aware of the role art plays in creating healing environments and in promoting better outcomes. Our experiences generated ideas that we wanted to bring back to our own community, and eventually these ideas evolved into fruitful partnerships between our Foundation and medical institutions like CHKD, and the Brock Cancer Center at Sentara to help them find ways to expand their arts programs.”
They hope to build excitement around the concept of philanthropically supported exhibits, art installations and other programs in spaces designed for healing.
“The arts, not just the visual arts, but also the theater and the symphony, all serve to bind the community together,” Brother continues. “Art excites, heals and teaches. Cultural institutions lead the way, and they become important community anchors.”