Project Rainbow: Aspiring To Meet The Highest Expectations Of The Profession

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Ms. Galante, would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Galante: I have been a lawyer since 1979. My entire legal career has been with Stradley Ronon. I have been a partner in the business group since 1987 and served as chair of the firm's real estate and banking group before it merged with other groups to form the business group.

Editor: How did you come to Stradley Ronon? What were the things that attracted you to the firm?

Galante: In my second year of law school, I was looking for a firm that did interesting work in Philadelphia. Most of the firms with which I interviewed were able to offer that, but Stradley Ronon had an extra dimension of high intellect and high integrity that I found very attractive. More than 25 years later I still feel that in the firm.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. How has it evolved over the course of your career?

Galante: I began my career as a corporate lawyer. Over time my corporate work evolved into a real estate practice. When the recession hit in the late 80s, I was hard pressed to remain busy in my real estate practice. Fortunately, I had some banking clients for whom I had handled real estate lending work, and, given the recession, they were in need of workout advice. I started counseling them in this area and took on some regulatory work as well. At the same time, I kept my real estate clients, and when the market came back I was able to increase my work for them.

During the period that my practice was shifting much of its focus from real estate and into banking, I began to work with a number of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals and health care organizations, schools and universities.

Editor: You have also had a kind of parallel career in the pro bono arena. For starters, what drew you to pro bono service?

Galante: One of the health care clients we represent is Holy Redeemer Hospital and Health System, which introduced me to the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer, who were starting Project Rainbow in North Philadelphia. We developed a nice relationship, and they asked me to sit on their governing board. In time, I became board chair. I served in that capacity until 2001 and remain a member of the board. It was, and is, a wonderful experience. When I first spoke to the Sister who had originated the project, she said that helping one person with this project is as important as helping the multitudes.

Editor: Please tell us about Project Rainbow.

Galante: The Sisters of the Holy Redeemer owned a building in Philadelphia which was vacant in the 1980s. It had been used as a community nursing home. The Sisters determined that there was a very important need to be met - helping the homeless and women in need - and that the building would constitute an excellent site for such a program. They converted it into a home for homeless women and children.

The program did not provide day care initially, which made it difficult for the women to go out and find jobs. In time, we managed to set up an excellent day care program, and that helped to get it off the ground.

Editor: What is the mission of Project Rainbow?

Galante: Project Rainbow is a transitional housing program that provides supportive services to homeless women and their children. The project's mission is to end the cycle of poverty and homelessness among this group. Success is measured by, first, getting these women and their children into the transitional housing and providing them with social services, followed by helping them to obtain paying jobs and to find affordable housing. This reinforces to their children that it is essential to rely on yourself to succeed. We hope that, in addition, this process conveys the importance of education and hard work.

Editor: Is the program making a difference?

Galante: I think it is. This is a very good model, and we take particular pride in the fact that our aftercare service continues to be there for these women after they move into permanent housing. Too often, I think, even a good program can come to too sudden an end, and the people it is trying to help are left in free fall. We are conscious of the need to continue to provide support as the women seek work that will support them and their children over the long term. Much of this aftercare service utilizes women who are veterans of the program and who have moved on as "graduates."

Editor: What are the services that Project Rainbow offers?

Galante: The first and most important is residential services. Many of these women have no home at all or, at best, an abusive home. The program gets them into residential premises at the site. We have 30 units, and each woman has a bedroom for herself and her children. Each floor has a common kitchen, where they work together in making meals. Teaching life skills like cooking is an important part of the program.

The child care center provides the children with a wonderful learning environment, which is both nurturing and safe. Teaching the children life skills is a part of this.

Project Rainbow makes sure that these families are counseled appropriately and that the services they need to be stabilized are obtained.

The project also features educational and employment services. We have access to a number of GED programs, and we also attempt to give the women some direction in getting, and then keeping, a job.

There is also a health clinic for both mothers and children.

Editor: How long does a stay last?

Galante: Most of our residents are with us for at least six months, and some stay for a year. The length of stay depends on what is needed and, of course, the availability of housing.

Editor: How have you involved Stradley Ronon in the activities of Project Rainbow?

Galante: Needless to say, Project Rainbow has to raise a considerable amount of money to sustain itself. I have involved the firm's attorneys in a number of events which generate substantial revenue for the program. We also have an advocacy initiative which has to do with accessing governmental funds. The funds are there, but it is important to know how to go about addressing the appropriate agencies and legislatures, and there is a great deal of competition for these funds. This is an ongoing initiative that attempts to educate the funding agencies as to who we are and what we are trying to accomplish and, at the same time, train our people to approach the agencies in an intelligent and responsive way.

Editor: Please tell us about Project Rainbow's Galante Career Development Center.

Galante: The organization started out as a residential services program. In time, we realized that it would never be more than a temporary stop for most of the women we were attempting to serve - a kind of stopgap measure that put a roof over their heads for a period of time - but which would not address the long-term issues they faced. Putting housing together with counseling on how to mobilize their skills and find employment, however, offered at least the possibility of attaining a degree of self-sufficiency. That is what the Galante Career Development Center is all about. Counseling on a whole range of educational and employment opportunities is conducted by professionals in a clean, safe and secure setting, and the results are very encouraging.

Editor: Your Project Rainbow work is rather far afield from your banking and real estate practice. How has this initiative impacted your practice?

Galante: It has served to make me a more intuitive and sensitive person, and it has made me a better lawyer. Some of the problems I have encountered in Project Rainbow have seemed utterly intractable at first blush - just as in my practice - but attention to detail, a careful sifting of the facts, an analysis of all of the options and provision for a little kindness goes a very long way. Just as in the practice of law, there are few situations which cannot be improved, if not entirely resolved, by the application of some hard work, logic and a little heart.

Editor: Obviously, you have enjoyed the support of Stradley Ronon in undertaking this work. What does this say about the image and the values that the firm seeks to promote?

Galante: Stradley has been more than supportive. In the 1990s, when there was a need at Project Rainbow for more of my time, I approached the firm and asked for a partial leave of absence. The firm was very understanding, and I think it speaks volumes when a firm permits one of its partners to take on a matter such as this, which at least for a time is going to cut down on the volume of professional work that person can handle. In my case, this was a two-year period. Most of us in private practice go through periods when we are compelled to be elsewhere, at least for part of the time, and I was both grateful for the accommodation I received from the firm to do what I knew was right and anxious to move forward with my practice when I returned on a full-time basis. For both the firm and for me, the benefits have been a two-way proposition.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts on the effect pro bono work has on firm morale?

Galante: Personally, this undertaking was a huge morale booster. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I could not have taken it on had I not been at Stradley. Speaking for the firm, I believe that the values that are expressed in this kind of work reflects the highest expectations of our profession. I am very grateful to be at a firm that aspires to meet such expectations.

Please email the interviewee at lgalante@stradley.com with questions about this interview.