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Nicole Mandarano ’91 helps low-income citizens gain access to legal services

As development director for Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, Nicole Mandarano ’91 manages over 20 different funding streams and an operating budget of approximately $12 million. But her job goes way beyond the numbers.

“Sometimes while reporting, I just look at numbers – how many served, how many cases, and other statistics,” she says. “That may satisfy the grant requirements, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Recounting success stories with the attorneys – seeing how our anti-predatory lending attorney saved a family from losing their home, watching our consumer unit prevent further credit fraud, or learning how our family representation attorney reunited a mom with her kids – that is the reward. I tell our funders and community how crucial this support is for people who can’t afford a private attorney for a civil law problem.”

Most of Mandarano’s time is devoted to grant compliance and reporting to funders on the agency’s services. She also researches new leads, collaborates with the agency’s different units on proposals, promotes legal services work in the community, and establishes partnerships.

While much of her work is administrative, Mandarano never forgets the people the agency serves. She recalls pursuing a federal grant to establish a low-income tax clinic in her region that she thought might be out of reach.

“I felt it was a long shot, competing nationally,” she says. “I believe this clinic can help the many working-poor families in our service area access expert legal advice and representation with tax issues. The IRS recently awarded us the grant, and now our tax attorney has launched the clinic, already seeing many clients and [reaching out] to the community. This grant also allows us to further educate non-English speaking taxpayers about their rights and responsibilities.”

A French and history graduate, Mandarano has unexpectedly found herself using her French speaking skills to aid clients.

“Occasionally, I interpret for French-speaking clients for the attorneys,” she says. “In one particular case, I helped a victim of domestic violence with her request to the court for a final restraining order and for child support.”

Mandarano’s undergraduate research experience was part of a strong foundation, particularly in writing, that she says allowed her to succeed in graduate and law school and as a grant writer. She earned master’s degrees from Middlebury College and New York University and her J.D. from City College of New York.

“Most importantly, I learned how to write persuasively,” she says. “During my junior and senior years, I worked on a thesis – research on World War II I started while studying abroad in Paris – which forced me to learn how to organize and prepare lots of information, distill the main theories, and effectively establish my own viewpoint. This practice helped me navigate the work during graduate and law school and, ultimately, those years at Lafayette greatly trained me as a future proposal writer and researcher.”

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