Commitment to service is one of MoFo’s core values. Every year, lawyers in our offices put that commitment into practice by providing thousands of hours of free legal assistance. MoFo lawyers engage with pro bono clients in many ways, from high-profile litigation whose impact is felt by thousands, to helping individuals access critical benefits, to strengthening organizations that serve communities and society at large. Here are just a few examples of MoFo pro bono in action.

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Morrison Foerster

Gender-Affirming Health Care Research for Human Rights Watch

In May 2024, the Vance Center for International Justice honored Morrison Foerster for a multi-national research project on gender-affirming health care that the firm conducted for our pro bono client Human Rights Watch. Hear our lawyers describe the project and why it matters.

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Alfredo Silva Honored by the American Bar Association with the 2023 National Public Service Award

Alfredo Silva Honored by the American Bar Association with the 2023 National Public Service Award

Alfredo Silva, co-chair of the Social Enterprise and Impact Investing Group and a member of the Pro Bono and ESG Strategy Committees, received the 2023 National Public Service Award from the American Bar Association’s Business Law section.

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Morrison Foerster
American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award: David Cross

David Cross was profiled by the American Bar Association as a 2023 recipient of its Pro Bono Publico Award, which represents the top honors given by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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Pro Bono News

Accolades + Awards

Lawyers Who Lead By Example

Human Rights First Honors Morrison Foerster for Outstanding Pro Bono Asylum Work

Human Rights First presented Morrison Foerster with the 2022 Marvin E. Frankel Award at its Manhattan gala earlier this week, recognizing the firm for its outstanding pro bono service to Afghan asylum seekers.

Morrison Foerster was recognized for its contributions to Project: Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA). PALA was begun by Human Rights First to assist the thousands of Afghan refugees who were brought to the United States following our country’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer. When Human Rights First asked for help responding to the deluge of calls it received from Afghans seeking legal representation, MoFo pro bono counsel Dorothy Fernandez sprang into action. She recruited and organized more than 150 MoFo lawyers and staff to conduct initial screening interviews of Afghan refugees who had contacted Human Rights First, to determine the refugees’ eligibility for immigration relief. MoFo completed some 330 of these interviews, and in ten cases, our lawyers – motivated by the stories they heard – asked to represent these clients for the entire asylum process. Dorothy also organized a second project, filing applications for “green cards” – permanent residence – for the families of 30 Afghans who had received Special Immigrant Visas because of their work for U.S. forces.

In choosing MoFo to receive this honor, Jenna Gilbert, Director of Refugee Representation for Human Rights First, said, “Out of all our law firm partners, Morrison & Foerster LLP (MoFo), has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to pro bono work on behalf of Afghan refugees.”

Morrison Foerster corporate partner Timothy Harris, who serves as managing partner of MoFo’s Palo Alto office, accepted the award on behalf of the firm. Tim earned his own recognition from Human Rights First earlier this year, when the organization named him a Pro Bono Star for his extraordinary representation of, and assistance to, an Afghan family seeking asylum. Expressing his appreciation for this recognition, Tim noted: “MoFo is honored to support the mission of Human Rights First and its dedication to defend human rights for all. This award underscores our ongoing commitment to making a difference through pro bono service and highlights MoFo’s collaborative efforts to make a real difference in the lives of Afghan asylum seekers.”

The Marvin E. Frankel Award honors law firms who carry out its namesake’s dedication to human rights and pro bono service. Marvin E. Frankel, in addition to his career as a federal judge, was a founder of Human Rights First and former chairman of its Board of Directors.

Watch Tim discuss his work representing an Afghan refugee family and what pro bono means to him:

Recent Accolades + Awards:

Michael Jacobs, who recently retired from Morrison Foerster, has been named by the American Bar Association (ABA) as the 2024 recipient of the John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award. This award is presented in recognition of outstanding contributions to the quality of justice in legal communities, ensuring that the legal system is open and available to all.

Michael is being honored for his efforts over 25 years to give tangible form to the California state constitution’s promise of equal educational opportunity for all schoolchildren. He has accomplished this through a series of impact pro bono cases that have dramatically improved the quality of education for countless K-12 students in California public schools. Please see press release.

Morrison Foerster was honored with the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo’s Guardian of Justice Award for the firm’s profound commitment to justice. MoFo attorneys’ work has included conservatorships for family members who are caring for adults with disabilities; guardianships and adoptions when parents cannot care for their children; restraining orders for domestic violence survivors; estate planning and other assistance to low-income seniors; and help for tenants facing eviction.

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono recognized the firm’s extraordinary pro bono services in the ABA’s Free Legal Answers program. MoFo lawyers earned this distinction for answering 90 civil legal questions posed to ABA Free Legal Answers last year. Our California-licensed lawyers participate in the ABA Free Legal Answers program, which allows users to post legal questions to be answered online by pro bono attorneys.

Michael Jacobs, who recently retired from Morrison Foerster, has been named by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) as the 2024 recipient of the John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award. This award is presented in recognition of outstanding contributions to the quality of justice in legal communities, ensuring that the legal system is open and available to all. Michael retired from MoFo in March 2024 after four decades at the firm.

Michael is being honored for his efforts over 25 years to give tangible form to the California state constitution’s promise of equal educational opportunity for all schoolchildren. He has accomplished this through a series of impact pro bono cases that have dramatically improved the quality of education for countless K-12 students in California public schools.

American Lawyer named Morrison Foerster as the winner of its 2023 Corporate Purpose Award in recognition of the firm’s reproductive rights work since the Supreme Court ended the federal constitutional right to abortion with its 2022 Dobbs decision. In the wake of that decision, MoFo’s Privacy + Data Security team quickly issued MoFo Privacy Tips for Protecting Reproductive Rights, offering guidance for individuals, reproductive healthcare providers, and technology companies to safeguard personal health information. Post-Dobbs, MoFo lawyers have continued to litigate important reproductive rights cases, now focused on the danger posed to women by state abortion bans whose vaguely worded medical exceptions prevent women from getting necessary medical care when pregnancy-related conditions seriously endanger their health or lives. The AmLaw award also recognizes MoFo’s leadership forming the Abortion Defense Network, which has brought together top law firms and reproductive rights organizations to create a nationwide resource for abortion-related confidential, free legal advice.

Kids in Need of Defense, or KIND, named MoFo associate Tannyr Pasvantis as one of three recipients of its annual KINDness Matters Pro Bono Awards for the Washington, D.C. area. Tannyr, who recently relocated to the San Francisco office, has represented both children and adults with immigration matters over the last year, including a T-visa for a child victim of human trafficking, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status applications, and work authorization applications.

Casa Cornelia Law Center awarded San Diego attorney Caroline Pohl its Pro Bono Publico Award, recognizing her exceptional dedication to her pro bono client.  Caroline led a MoFo team that won asylum for a man from Iran who had been persecuted for practicing his Christian faith. 

Oasis Legal Services presented the firm with the Trailblazer Award for the firm’s work conducting country conditions research in support of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers. 

The American Bar Association presented Washington, D.C. litigation partner David Cross with its Pro Bono Publico Award during the ABA annual meeting.  The award is given to just five individuals or law firms across the country each year in recognition of outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for low-income and disadvantaged persons.  In announcing the award, the ABA cited David’s robust pro bono practice, including his leadership of ongoing litigation to ensure a secure voting system in the state of Georgia.  It also recognized David’s personal mission of bringing much-needed attention to the struggles and social stigma experienced by people with disabilities in the high-pressure world of Big Law, a mission arising from David’s experience of being born without a left hand.

The American Bar Association’s Business Law Section recognized San Francisco corporate partner Alfredo Silva with its National Public Service Award. The award recognizes the exceptional depth and breadth of Alfredo’s pro bono work. He is a skilled nonprofit advisor; was instrumental in organizing the Bay Area’s pro bono response to the devastation wreaked on small businesses by the Covid-19 pandemic; and led the firm’s collaboration with the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation to prepare a global report to policymakers on accelerating the formation and growth of social enterprises.

ACLU SoCal presented its Pro Bono Award to MoFo, honoring the firm for being a “true ally.” The organization cited the firm for multiple projects, such as providing legal research and analysis to its education equity team, support to the LGBTQ equity team and community partners, unstinting tax advice, and willingness to undertake “the small and unglamorous projects that can make all the difference.” The ACLU SoCal also individually recognizes San Diego tax partner Shane Shelley and Los Angeles tax associate Lauren Keller for their extraordinary pro bono contributions. The awards were presented June 1st at the group’s Advocates for Justice reception in Los Angeles.  

New York litigator Jamie Levitt, who is managing partner of the New York Office, was chosen by the Women in Law Section of the New York State Bar Association to receive the 2023 Kay Crawford Murray Memorial Award. The award celebrates Jamie  for “ recognizing the value of diversity in the legal profession and for dedicating her time to advance the professional development of women attorneys.”

New York finance of counsel Rex Niswander was given the 2022 Cornerstone Award by Lawyers Alliance for New York for his exceptional immigration advocacy in helping improve the quality of life of New York City neighborhoods. Mr. Niswander’s advice has permitted nonprofits, such as Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation and New York City Environmental Justice, to navigate the complications of visa applications, ensuring the safety and peace of mind of both the organizations and their employees.

Human Rights First selected Palo Alto corporate partner Tim Harris, who also serves as managing partner of the Palo Alto office, to receive a Pro Bono Star Award for his dedication and “incredible” work on behalf of an Afghan refugee who served as an interpreter with U.S. troops in Kabul and his family members. In addition to applying for asylum, Tim has offered many “acts of kindness” to help the family restart their lives in the U.S.

The Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation presented the firm with its 2022 Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Award. The award recognized the longstanding partnership between the firm and the foundation on pro bono projects, including on the drafting of an unprecedented global report on social enterprises commissioned by Catalyst 2030. The comparative analysis, Legal reform as a catalyst for social enterprise: an international social enterprise law & policy report, reviews laws and policies across 83 jurisdictions, with insights from dozens of regional counsel who participated in the project, to offer a menu of potential mechanisms that legislators, regulators, and policy makers can adopt to support and enable the development of social ventures in their jurisdictions.

The Law Society presented its Excellence in Pro Bono award to a collaboration of 12 global firms including Morrison Foerster for their work with Asylum Aid on behalf of stateless individuals living in the UK. The project helps individuals apply for formal recognition as “stateless” within the meaning of the UK’s Immigration Rules, which provides them with various protections, including the right to remain in the UK.

The National Law Journal named Morrison Foerster to its 2021 Pro Bono Hot List. The award recognizes the firm’s success in a number of cases including a successful suit against U.S. Customs and Border Patrol that resulted in vastly improved conditions in the temporary holding facilities for detained immigrants in the Arizona sector and a complaint that secured the reinstatement of six senior executives at the U.S. Agency for Global Media who were retaliated against because they raised concerns about the politicization of a previously non-political agency.

At its La Mancha Awards, Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego honored Morrison Foerster with its Law Firm of the Year Award for its advocacy on behalf of immigrants. Tokyo attorneys Keiko Rose and Sara Stearns, as well as San Diego Senior Paralegal Lisa Shunkwiler, were also individually recognized for their pro bono contributions.

One Justice selected Morrison Foerster as its 2021 recipient of the Champion of Justice Award. This annual award recognizes organizations that provide free, high quality legal services to Californians in need with the commitment to a future where justice is a right, not a privilege.

The Alameda County Bar Association presented Morrison Foerster, along with Cooley LLP, its Distinguished Service Award for providing pro bono legal services to survivors of the devastating California wildfires. Among other contributions, Morrison Foerster has regularly published updated versions of its Helping Handbook, a legal resources guide for wildfire survivors.
The Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) presented Morrison Foerster and Dentons with its Partner in Justice Award for the firms’ extraordinary partnership and work together on Boniface v. Viliena. This high profile case is challenging governmental corruption in Haiti and is seeking recourse on behalf of individuals who suffered human rights violations at the hands of the government. CJA recognized the firms as “remarkable partners in our pursuit of justice, going above and beyond in supporting our clients and the case in every way possible.”

Public Counsel named Morrison Foerster its Pro Bono Firm of the Year for the firm’s work on Ella T. v. State of California, the first civil rights action brought under any state constitution to protect students’ right to access to literacy. The case culminated in the State of California’s agreement to establish a $50 million block grant for high-needs schools, new statewide guidance on recently enacted legislation to address punitive school discipline, and an additional $3 million to establish an expert lead on literacy that will support school districts across California in improving literacy instruction.

The Law Society of Hong Kong has honored Morrison Foerster with the Silver Law Firm Award as part of its 2020 Pro Bono and Community Work Recognition Programme. The award honors local and foreign law firms who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to volunteer pro bono and community work. The Law Society also honored seven lawyers in Morrison Foerster’s Hong Kong office for their pro bono contributions, including Hong Kong Managing Partner Timothy Blakely. The firm engages in pro bono efforts in Hong Kong that range from counseling nonprofit organizations and social enterprises on legal needs to individual advocacy for people who otherwise would be shut out from access to justice.

The Federal Bar Council of the Second Circuit announced that New York litigation associate Chanwoo Park is the recipient of its Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service. Chanwoo currently represents four Black and Hispanic middle school girls who were subjected to non-consensual, intrusive searches, a case that highlights the issue of disproportionate school discipline imposed on Black girls. The award celebrates lawyers who practice within the Second Circuit and have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to pro bono legal services.

The Alliance for Housing and Healing presented Morrison Foerster with its Vanguard Award at a virtual ceremony. The Alliance recognized the firm for its successful defense of the Alliance against two lawsuits. Alliance provides the basic necessities of life – food and shelter – to people struggling with poverty, homelessness and HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.

Lawyers Alliance for New York named Morrison Foerster to receive its 2020 Cornerstone Award—its highest honor—in recognition of the firm’s exceptional record of providing pro bono legal services to the nonprofit organizations that serve and strengthen low-income New Yorkers. Over the last five years MoFo has undertaken 45 different legal matters for 35 organizations, offering corporate, intellectual property, employment and restructuring advice. Firm chair Larren Nashelsky is currently leading a team preparing a toolkit to help nonprofits that are facing pandemic-related financial stress understand their options under the Bankruptcy Code for restructuring or liquidation.

Morrison Foerster was given the 2020 Corporate Pillar Award on behalf of its partnership with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Gilead. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation gave the firm this award because of its long standing support through advocacy, pro bono legal counsel, volunteering and funding that demonstrates “a true partnership in [its] fight for health justice.”

Legal Aid at Work presented San Francisco partner Jack Londen with its Distinguished Service Award for his support of justice and equity for all. Legal Aid at Work is a nonprofit legal services organization that has been assisting low-income, working families for more than 100 years.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) selected the firm as one of its 2020 Beacon of Justice Award recipients. NLADA noted the firm’s work challenging conditions at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s short-term detention facilities in Arizona, describing it as “indicative of your firm’s thoughtful and strategic approach to pro bono work in this space.”

LawWorks, a charity committed to enabling access to justice in England and Wales, presented Morrison Foerster’s London office with its “Best Pro Bono Contribution” award (for firms with medium-sized UK offices). The award recognized the firm’s work with Z2K (Zacchaeus Trust 2000), a nonprofit dedicated to helping clients seeking disability benefits navigate the challenging social security and welfare system in the UK. Since February 2018, Morrison Foerster has taken approximately 30 disability benefits appeals with an over 90 percent success rate, securing more than £500,000 in additional benefits for our clients.

Swords to Plowshares recognized the firm as its Pro Bono Partner of the Year. San Francisco litigation partner Stacey Sprenkel accepted the award on behalf of the firm. Morrison Foerster has supported Swords to Plowshares for almost 20 years with leadership on its Board of Directors, providing legal counseling at legal clinics, taking on full representation of veterans’ cases, and most notably working on impact litigation lawsuits, including a class action lawsuit on behalf of veterans who had been subjected to chemical and biological testing while they were in service. The award recognized the MoFo team’s success in requiring the U.S. Army to provide health information to veterans regarding their participation in the secret testing program and medical care for conditions caused by this participation.

California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) honored the firm and The Morrison Foerster Foundation with its 2019 Ambassador for Justice Award. The firm’s wide-ranging pro bono matters with CRLA have included winning years of overtime pay for a dairy worker, fighting the criminalization of homelessness in Manteca, overcoming barriers to low-income housing construction in Colusa County, and responding to the legal needs of California wildfire survivors. The Foundation supports an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Curtis Davis, who empowers low-income students and their families to prevent the disproportionate placement of children of color in alternative school settings in Imperial County public schools.

The California Lawyers Association gave its Bernard E. Witkin Medal to James Brosnahan, Senior Counsel for his significant contributions to the quality of justice and legal scholarship in California.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area gave the firm its Martin Luther King Award for its civil rights advocacy in helping individuals and families who are detained in deplorable conditions at the U.S. Border Patrol Detention Centers. Attorneys Colette Reiner Mayer, Louise Stoupe, Elizabeth Balassone and Pieter de Ganon along with senior paralegals Anne Le Pore and Gary Stenger were recognized for their pro bono efforts and human rights advocacy.

The American Bar Association presented San Francisco litigation partner Arturo González with its Pro Bono Publico Award, the highest honor given by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. The award recognizes González for his work on more than 100 pro bono cases during his career, which have secured favorable outcomes for clients in key areas of the law. These include ensuring the right to an education for low-income children, protecting the constitutional rights of communities of color, and curbing abusive tactics and procedures used by law enforcement agencies.

The American Bar Association selected Senior Trial Counsel James J. Brosnahan to receive its 2019 John H. Pickering Achievement Award. The Pickering Award honors an individual for brilliant legal work, advocacy of pro bono service, dedication to equal justice for all, and promotion of the highest standards of ethics and professionalism in law. The ABA recognized Brosnahan as a “lion of the law” and “one of the most recognized and respected trial lawyers in the United States,” who has tried more than 140 cases to their conclusion. Brosnahan was also credited for founding the Justice and Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco and for being an outspoken supporter of the “Civil Gideon” movement, seeking to establish a right to counsel in civil cases when basic human needs are at stake.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs gave the firm its Outstanding Achievement Award for its precedent-setting triumph in the Belmont Crossing case strengthening Washington, D.C.’s prohibition against housing discrimination based on source of income.

The Colorado Lawyers Committee (CLC) recognized Denver-based MoFo litigation partner Scott Llewellyn and his fellow members of the Jail Wait Litigation Team with the CLC Team of the Year award at the CLC's annual Awards Luncheon for volunteer lawyers on May 2, 2019. The multi-firm Jail Wait Litigation Team has advocated for people with mental illnesses for 11 years and recently negotiated a landmark settlement that will significantly reduce the criminalization of the mentally ill in Colorado.

In recognition of the firm’s success in a number of cases, including representing Georgia voters in a federal lawsuit filed against state officials on a groundbreaking claim: that maintaining an unsecured, all-electronic voting system with no paper back-up violates the right to vote.

In recognition of the firm’s work on Housing Works v. County of Los Angeles, a case brought to increase access to much needed benefits for indigent Californians with mental and developmental disabilities.

In recognition of MoFo’s pro bono work in challenging inhumane conditions for immigrants housed in short-term immigration detention centers run by U.S. Customs and Border Control in Arizona

In recognition of the firm’s longstanding contribution of pro bono legal services and its financial support through The Morrison & Foerster Foundation.

In recognition for the firm’s success in securing medical care for veterans who suffered lasting effects after undergoing secret tests of toxins and psychological agents during their military service decades ago

In recognition of pro bono legal services that strengthen the global social entrepreneurship movement and improve the lives of the world’s poor and disenfranchised

Presented to the firm and its lawyers who worked on the Hart v. Berryhill class action, which is bringing relief to thousands of Bay Area residents who were unjustly denied disability benefits

Honoring the commitment of MoFo Berlin lawyers serving as guardians for unaccompanied refugee children and the firm’s extensive legal assistance to nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to supporting the refugee community

Housing Works California presented Morrison Foerster with its Tom McGuiness Community Leadership Award for its work in Housing Works v. County of Los Angeles. The firm, together with several legal services groups, is representing people with mental disabilities to secure better access to public benefits in Los Angeles County. The clients include County residents who were unable to secure and maintain General Relief Benefits due to their mental disabilities and organizations that provide aid to these residents.

Adam Hunt received the New York State Bar Association President’s Pro Bono Service Award for his outstanding pro bono contributions to vulnerable New Yorkers. The award recognizes Adam’s role in several pro bono matters, including impact litigation to reform solitary confinement; rein in unwarranted surveillance of religious and political groups; and increase payments to meet the needs of children in foster care. Adding to the honor, Adam won the award for the First Judicial District (Manhattan), location of the single largest concentration of lawyers in the country.

Presented to the firm for litigation advocacy on behalf of special education students in the Mt. Vernon, New York school system

In recognition of the firm’s June 2016 Supreme Court victory in the most important abortion rights case of a generation, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt

Recognized as a top ten law firm contributor to the Legal Services NYC pro bono program

Recognizing the firm for co-counseling a legal challenge to court delays that deny the right to a speedy trial to Bronx defendants who are accused of misdemeanors

Los Angeles Litigation Senior Counsel Timothy Ryan received the First District Appellate Project Volunteer of the Year Award. FDAP--a nonprofit law office that ensures quality representation of indigent appellants in criminal, delinquency, dependency and mental health appeals in California’s First District Court of Appeal--recognized Timothy in appreciation for providing outstanding pro bono employment law advice to FDAP.

Honoring MoFo’s Tokyo office for its research on the subject of “Coercion and Consent in Sex” for pro bono client Amnesty International

For the firm’s contributions to the immigrants’ rights movement, in particular, for co-counseling with the Center and others against the U.S. Border Patrol for inhumane conditions at its detention facilities in Arizona

Law 360 named Morrison Foerster to its Pro Bono Firms of the Year list for the seventh time. The list recognizes the top pro bono firms in the country, based on a record of pro bono victories, a willingness to tackle tough pro bono cases, and an overall outstanding commitment to pro bono work. MoFo is one of only two firms in the country that has appeared on this list every year since it began.

The State Bar of California conferred its 2016 Jack Berman Award of Achievement on Morrison Foerster associate Elizabeth Balassone in a ceremony held during its annual meeting. The award recognizes exemplary pro bono service provided by lawyers in their first five years of practice.

Recognizing the firm’s dedication to the Project’s mission of seeking justice for the wrongfully convicted

For the firm’s associates and paralegals who dedicated time to cases referred by the Program, ranging from guardianships and tax advice to the trial of a custody case

Recognizing the firm for a California effort that led to the modernization of the state's voter registration system and North Carolina litigation focused on voter registration by the state’s motor vehicles department and public assistance agency

Recognizing MoFo New York lawyers for representing former students of unscrupulous trade schools in seeking to be discharged from heavy burdens of student loan debt that yielded no educational benefit

Derek Foran, Christopher Robinson and Linda Shostak received the Christopher Tietze Humanitarian Award from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which honors significant, lifetime contributions in the field of abortion service delivery and/or policy. NAF recognized the MoFo pro bono litigation team for representing the organization in a lawsuit to protect against the disclosure of secretly recorded videos of abortion providers taken by anti-abortion activists who used subterfuge and fraud to attend NAF's annual meetings.

Honoring 16 MoFo lawyers and staff members for their contributions to public service and volunteer efforts with the JDC