Posted by Hannah Nersasian
The 2014 Simone Lottor Exceptional Service Award recipient is Mark Bronstein, for his outstanding commitment to and support of JF&CS clients in need of legal services. The Simone Lottor Exceptional Service Award was created in 2001 by Sandy Lottor and his family in memory of Simone Lottor, who for many years was a dedicated volunteer for JF&CS. The award is presented annually to a JF&CS volunteer who exemplifies the values of hessed (loving kindness) and service to the community and whose efforts have made a significant contribution towards tikkun olam (repairing our world).
Mark first became involved with JF&CS in an informal capacity many years ago, as a member of the Bet Tzedek Legal Services, providing advice to staff on complex disability cases. Over the years, Mark became increasingly involved with the agency, eventually being called in by staff to help review the agency's various programs and how they interacted with clients' entitlement to SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and other need based public benefits.
In 2011 Mark successfully assisted Bet Tzedek and JF&CS Family Table, the agency's kosher food pantry, as we sought to certify Family Table as a qualifying program under SSI rules. This was a complicated and lengthy process, but Mark's persistent efforts resulted in JF&CS being certified and ensured Family Table clients who receive SSI did not face reductions in their monthly benefit because of the support they receive from the Family Table program.
Over the last several years, Mark has spent hundreds of hours advocating on behalf of Russian immigrant clients of New American Services who have had their SSI benefits reduced or terminated because of Social Security's belief that they receive pensions from Russia. "The group of clients that JF&CS represents is a particularly vulnerable population and so it's frustrating to see them not get what they're clearly entitled to" Mark says. "For each JFC&S client whose benefit termination we are able to reverse, I worry that there are many others who are unrepresented and who will lose their SSI, which is their only source of income, because they are not aware that the termination of their benefits are unlawful or do not have the language, skills, or health to challenge them."
It's the broad impact of this issue that particularly appeals to Mark: "In my private law practice I represent disabled people get the benefits they need to survive, which in itself is very gratifying. But working with JFC&S on these Russian pension cases provides an opportunity to achieve a greater impact at the policy level by getting Social Security to treat the entire community fairly and not just an individual client who happens to have knowledgeable advocate.
He also notes that this can have a ripple effect. "What's great about working on an issue like this at the policy level is that that our success will benefit not just our Russian immigrant clients but people from different immigrant communities. For example, we have already begun to share our experience with legal aid advocates representing Chinese immigrants who are beginning to encounter similar problems with their SSI benefits."
Rachel Pemstein, Director of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, explained that "for the last several years we have had Mark on speed dial… I sometimes worry that he may screen our millionth call [but] not only does he always picks up the phone, he is patient, kind, and extremely generous with his time. He understands our frustrations as well as the harsh reality that our clients face, especially in light of the life circumstances that leave them so vulnerable and afraid. With Mark's help, we are chipping away at this issue and our clients could not be in better hands." Irina Rutman, Program Coordinator for New American Services, added that Mark "generously shares his knowledge and he always listens carefully… I find these two traits amazing in times when very few people listen and fewer people share."
It's clear that Mark's contribution to JF&CS cannot be underestimated and it's for this reason we were thrilled to award the Simone Lottor Exception Service Award to Mark.
Mark lives in Newton with his wife Ellen. For the past 30 years he has been an attorney in practice advising representing individuals in disability benefit claims and related insurance and employment matters.
Hannah Nersasian is the JF&CS Manager of Volunteer Services. She joined JF&CS in February 2014. Prior to that, Hannah worked at Horizons for Homeless Children as the Director of the Greater Boston Playspace Program, a volunteer based program. Hannah is originally from Somerset, England and moved to Boston in 2010. In England, Hannah worked for a national volunteering organization called TimeBank, where she coordinated employee volunteering programs for Sony UK and T-Mobile.