Lisa Gasbarre Black – Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland
Being evicted, unemployed, or left hungry are what some Ohio residents faced in the wake of COVID-19.
Here to combat the plight of the downtrodden, however, is Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland. Founded in 1912, the nonprofit charitable organization in recent times delivered more than 150 services at 60 locations to more than 400,000 individuals of every race and religion throughout eight counties, says General Counsel Lisa Black.
Supporting the organization for the past 21 years is the life’s work of Black, who grew up in a household living by the tenants of faith and helping others. The mission has always been serving the community, but the need is especially strong during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The economy was shut down and people who didn’t have needs before sought assistance from us,” says Black. “The way to get beyond this challenge is by fulfilling our mission and working together with community partners.”
All hands on deck
The faith-based organization with 15,612 volunteers delivers a spectrum of services ranging from crisis management and elderly assistance to after-school programming, counseling, substance use disorder assistance and early learning programs.
“We’re the hub of community interaction and a resource for families and individuals,” Black says, with many clients immigrants and refugees. “It’s a big job, as we are one of the largest comprehensive health and human services organization serving the region. The need is only growing.”
Finding that “many hands make light work,” Black connected with other agencies to help during the pandemic, including the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association where she’s currently co-chair of the In-House Counsel Section and served as past Chair of the Justice for All Committee. Attorneys through these outlets, and the Lawyers Guild of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, offer pro bono assistance to homeless individuals and others served by Catholic Charities.
“We all come together because we care … and people need our help,” she says. “I found early on it is necessary to dialogue, build bridges and work together to fill in the gaps.”
Charity starts at home
Black says her mission orientation began when she was a child growing up in a Catholic household in Rochester, New York. Her late parents Dominic, a sales rep at National Gypsum, and Mary Jean, an artist, set the tone.
The cities of western New York and the Great Lakes region were hit hard by industrial and economic decline, eventually dubbed the “Rust Belt.” With an affinity for the area and respect for the hardworking people there, her family sought to make life better for their neighbors.
“We supported the mission of the church by volunteering. It was a way of life for us,” says Black.
Well-educated in a Jesuit tradition, Black received her degree in Communications at John Carroll University. Her father, a big believer in the advancement of women through education, suggested Black to get an advanced degree. She chose law and earned her JD at Cleveland State University – Cleveland Marshall College of Law.
With a supportive legal network in Cleveland, Black stayed in the Midwest and became an associate at Climaco, Wilcox, Peca & Garofoli practicing transactions and litigations and doing pro bono work at Catholic Charities. That led to her job there as general counsel in 2000.
“It was a wonderful opportunity,” she says. “What I do for a living gives me a sense of satisfaction and purpose. I’m here for a reason.”
At Catholic Charities she’s focused on leading the organization’s legal structure, supporting compliance efforts and balancing the ethical obligations of her position. She’s encouraged use of cloud-based software and artificial intelligence to enhance organizational goals such as paperless documents and electronic contract management. She recently implemented a legal operations model to drive efficiency.
During COVID-19, she also helped roll out a telehealth format for behavioral health programs to ensure continuation of mental health programming.
“The basis of my practice is daily learning, taking the time to read, refine and hone my skills,” says Black. “Changing technology affect how I provide legal services. I strive to lead a value-add department. People here all share in the journey. It works because we all feel a responsibility to help our fellow man.”
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