603 Legal Aid Executive Director Sonya Bellafant resigns
Departure comes after two years with the organization, Attorney Steven Scudder to become interim exec. dir.
On March 2, 2023, Sonya Bellafant departed her role as executive director of 603 Legal Aid. Bellafant says she plans to take some time for self-care and re-centering.
“It has been an incredible opportunity here, but it’s also been a very heavy lift,” Bellafant says. “It’s taken more of a toll on me physically and mentally than I had expected. So, I think it’s time for me to recenter and refocus before I feel like I am capable of being a leader somewhere else.”
Bellafant joined 603 Legal Aid (603LA) in May 2021, as its first executive director, when the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program and Legal Advice and Referral Center merged, and she was later admitted to practice law in New Hampshire in November that same year.
Prior to 603LA, Bellafant was the project manager for the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee in Nashville, Tenn. There, she directed a statewide project to help seniors identify and resolve core legal issues.
Under Bellafant’s leadership, 603LA has grown exponentially.
“One of the things I think I’m most proud of is increasing the visibility of 603 Legal Aid and the amazing work that the team here does,” Bellafant says. “We’ve done a really good job of letting people know exactly what 603 Legal Aid does and how successful they are at doing it.”
During her time at 603LA, Bellafant secured a new phone system that allows the call center to be more effective and help more low-income Granite Staters, applied for and gained more local and federal grants, created resources to allow attorneys to do Supreme Court cases, and hired a pro bono manager and other senior management which created a foundation for growth, to name a few things.
“The most rewarding part for me has been the ability to grow in my role as the executive director,” Bellafant remarks. “I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from community partners – both within the legal realm and outside – and from funders, and the message has been that based on the work we have done here collectively and based on my leadership, they felt more comfortable providing funding and reaching out to support 603 Legal Aid. That has been incredibly rewarding.”
Bellafant continues: “Many of the individuals here, for all too long, have gone almost unnoticed. The work that’s done by everyone here – it’s too vast and too incredible to articulate it fully – but I can tell you that they do it to the exclusion of all else, often selflessly, and that’s both motivational and inspiring.”
603LA Board co-chair Melinda Gehris praised Bellafant’s efforts during her tenure, as well as her “thoughtful and inspired leadership.”
“We will forever be grateful for her commitment, vision, diligence, and tenacity,” Gehris says. “And we wish her the very best as she opens her next chapter.”
Bellafant says she is grateful for all of the support she had throughout her time at 603LA.
“Many of the justices with the New Hampshire Judicial Branch are very clear about the unique Bar here in the state and I couldn’t agree more,” Bellafant says. “It’s not only been welcoming, but also been incredibly supportive and that gave me the opportunity to realize my own professional growth in this setting. Executive Director is a tough job but having the support of people such as Chief Justice MacDonald, Mark Rouvalis, Justice Hicks, Justice Donovan, Justice Hantz Marconi, Judge Carbon, George Moore – I could go on and on – has meant the world to me.”
The Board of 603 Legal Aid has confirmed that Attorney Steven Scudder has been named as the interim executive director. For more than 20 years, Scudder served as Counsel for the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service for the American Bar Association. Prior to that, he was the deputy executive director for Legal Services at the NHBA for nearly 10 years.
“Steve is not only recognized nationally as a leading expert on the delivery of civil legal services to those who cannot afford a lawyer but is also uniquely knowledgeable about the legal services community and clients in New Hampshire,” 603LA Board co-chair Deborah Kane Rein said in a recent press release. “603 Legal Aid is fortunate that Steve has agreed to lead 603 during this interim period.”
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