When it comes to making an impact via philanthropy, a little bit has the potential to go a long way. Just ask Stephen Jones, the inspiration behind The Stephen Project—a brand-new fundraising campaign spearheaded by Liner Legal that will benefit an array of local causes.
For the next 18 months, Jones will donate $36 to a different charity each month (ranging from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank to May Dugan Center to Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland). This is no modest amount for Jones, whose total monthly income is $773 in disability benefits.
It’s all part of a unique payment arrangement between Jones and Liner Legal for legal services that helped 24-year-old Jones continue receiving disability benefits for epilepsy. Like many of Liner Legal’s clients, Jones would not have been able to afford legal representation on his own and relies on SSI (supplemental security income) to get by.
“Our mission is to use our law practice as a vehicle for change and a way to stay active in the community,” says Michael Liner, who founded the full-service disability law firm in 2013. “My hope is that if others can see [Jones] giving $36 per month, that they will follow his lead.”
Enter the crowdfunding component of the campaign, in which patrons can keep up with the featured organizations and make donations. The first recipient is the Glenville-based True Vine Missionary Baptist Church, which holds a special spot in Jones’ heart.
“I’ve developed a very close relationship with the pastor, who supported me when I was down and has also helped me with my music,” says Jones, a Christian rapper. “The church is a helping and supportive place, and now I can give back.”
Giving back is also a major part of Liner’s ethos at his Old Brooklyn-based practice, which is housed inside Recovery Resources. “They wanted to build a disability community in their building and asked if I would be interested in leasing space,” says Liner, whose firm has been based there for six years. “Since then, I’ve gone from having 1,200 square feet to occupying most of the first floor of the building.”
It’s not the first time Liner has sought to make a meaningful impact with Liner Legal. In 2018, Liner challenged Clevelanders to join his “Largest Loser” program geared at tackling obesity, which is a major cause of disability. “My goal was for 200 people to lose a collective 2,000 pounds, and we ended up having 600 people lose 3,000 pounds,” Liner says. “I’m hoping my expectations will be exceeded with The Stephen Project as well.”
Liner hopes his creative initiatives will inspire other legal professionals to think differently about how they approach their work. “Law can be very transactional,” says Liner. “I think of my law firm as a way to have a bigger platform—it’s not just about winning a case.”