A team of Columbia Business School students taking a course designed to provide them with practical experience in philanthropy have awarded a $25,000 grant to the New York Legal Assistance Group. The funding will enable NYLAG to better respond to the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied immigrant children entering the United States to escape violence in Central America. The grant is underwritten by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation.

Columbia Business School’s Effective Philanthropy course is designed to provide students with an opportunity to learn about philanthropy early in their careers. The course has the usual lectures and required readings, but it also takes a hands-on approach to teaching the art and science of philanthropy.

Five teams of students are each able to award a $25,000 grant to a deserving nonprofit based in New York City. They must create a “foundation” complete with vision, mission and grantmaking guidelines. Each team identifies a small group of nonprofits to potentially support, and recommends grants based on their research and analysis.

NYLAG, among other legal services agencies, was contacted by Elizabeth Miller, a Columbia Business School MBA candidate (Class of 2015), on behalf her student team. Several students subsequently conducted a site visit at NYLAG and were impressed with the competence, dedication, and proven track record of the agency’s immigration attorneys.

“Of all the legal services nonprofits that our team considered, we had the greatest confidence in NYLAG’s ability to get the most bang for the buck with our donation. We were also impressed by NYLAG’s thorough understanding of the current political climate surrounding immigration, and the degree to which the organization has been able to provide a prompt and considered response,” said Miller. “Ultimately, we believe that NYLAG is uniquely positioned to bring the necessary scale, resources, and expertise to this complex and challenging area, and make an appreciable difference in the lives of many immigrant families in New York City.”

The Effective Philanthropy grants are highly competitive. The professors who teach the class, Doug Bauer, Executive Director of the Clark Foundation, and Melissa Berman, President and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, review and approve final recommendations, as do the Foundation trustees. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors administers the grants on behalf of Columbia and the donors.

“Columbia Business School recognizes that philanthropy plays a growing role in the world. It’s a remarkable opportunity that the students have to recommend grants to wonderful NYC nonprofits, and the process they use is rigorous and thoughtful,” said Berman.

NYLAG’s Justice for Unaccompanied Minors Project

The need for legal assistance for large numbers of young immigrants has moved from pressing to desperate. New York City has witnessed a staggering influx of unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who are fleeing violence in their home countries. These three countries were among the world’s five most dangerous in 2013. A recent Department of Homeland Security study confirms that most children from these countries are coming here to escape regional violence.

Over 5,000 children apprehended at the border have thus far been relocated to New York. Advocates have found that up to 80% of these children are eligible for some form of immigration relief. Sadly, there are few culturally competent, free legal service providers working in this complex area of law, and those that exist are operating at maximum capacity. This means that not only are immigrants not getting the assistance they need, they are also vulnerable to unscrupulous service providers who are not qualified and can put undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.

NYLAG has responded to this humanitarian crisis with swift action at the community level, where staff and pro bono attorneys conduct large-scale clinics held at schools, churches and other safe spaces. The last three clinics have screened over 500 unaccompanied children and their family members.

Unfortunately, despite the large number of NYLAG and pro bono attorneys staffing the clinics, the need for direct representation still outstrips available resources. The Effective Philanthropy grant, combined with additional funding from AmeriCorps, and a successful, and ongoing, crowdfunding campaign has allowed NYLAG to hire two new full-time legal fellows – attorney Crystal Moncada and paralegal Arielle James – who will bolster NYLAG’s ability to take on more children’s cases for full representation in 2015.

“We are proud and excited to have been selected by this group of committed students to receive this grant, said Irina Matiychenko, Director of NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit. “Thanks to their hard work and the support of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation and Columbia Business School, we will continue this vital work to ensure that vulnerable young immigrants receive the access to justice they deserve.”