As One of Local Charity’s Founders, MacElree Harvey’s Michael Louis Has Helped the Working Poor for 30 Years
In the early 1990s, MacElree Harvey attorney Michael Louis helped create a local charity to aid single parents with dependent children. Now in its third decade, the nonprofit continues to steer families in Chester County away from homelessness and toward stability and financial independence.
Louis is Chair of the Banking and Finance Litigation Practice at MacElree Harvey, a full-service law firm based in West Chester with additional offices in Kennett Square, Centreville, Del., and Hockessin, Del. Since opening in 1880, the firm has developed trusted relationships with countless clients.
“I’ve been practicing for so long, I’ve done just about everything,” said Louis, who has been at the firm for 41 years.
His specialties include commercial, real estate, and construction litigation, along with landlord-tenant, debtor-creditor, and he used to even do personal injury work. And he is equally as proud of the work his charity, North Star of Chester County, has done to serve the less fortunate.
Formerly known as the Interfaith Housing Assistance Corporation of Chester County, North Star of Chester County is dedicated to helping an underserved portion of the population: the working poor. Participants in the program are hard-working, single mothers and fathers trying to raise their families in one of the most affluent counties in the country. The organization was founded by a committee of representatives, which included Louis, from the Religious Council of Greater West Chester to help neighbors, regardless of their religious affiliation.
“There were about 10-12 of us at that first meeting, and since I was a lawyer, I volunteered to get us the 501(c)(3), tax-exempt status to incorporate us,” he said. “By January 1993, we became incorporated, and by default, I became president.”
Louis held that position for 23 years, directing the organization to help participant families remain in clean, safe, affordable housing as they work to secure their future through a structured program of financial assistance, mentoring, and other support services.
“The thing I liked about it is that it was never just a handout; it was more like a helping hand,” said Louis. “They had to be working. That was something we insisted on from day one; it was the working poor we wanted to help.”
Working parents accepted into North Star benefit from a case manager’s expertise in all facets of homelessness prevention. They receive financial coaching, attend workshops, and have access to services of other agencies that specialize in job-skills training, free tax preparation, and savings programs.
Over the years, North Star’s funding came from the United Way, the Chester County Community Foundation, and the county and state. North Star’s staff soon learned what these benefactors required in return, and that eventually helped the organization become more efficient and effective in the services it offered.
“Every time we would get money from an organization, they would put strings on it, butthat made us a better entity,” said Louis. “When we interviewed with the United Way, for example, they wanted to see the return we would be getting on that money. They helped us develop forms to help track where our money was going and what our return was. Over the years, we continued to improve to what I consider to be one of the best nonprofits out there, in terms of how it’s run.”
North Star has seen its share of success stories, like the client who came up through the system to become a member of local government, and another who is on the North Star board, trying to give back.
Importantly, North Star realized that when someone is imminently homeless, the situation is not something that can be remedied in three to six months, which is the time many similar nonprofits spend servicing their clients. By contrast, North Star keeps clients in its program for three years, ensuring they can emerge with stability and the ability to provide for their families.
North Star is just one of the many charities MacElree Harvey supports, as the firm adopts North Star families each year and provides gifts for them from a holiday wish list.
In his 30 years with the nonprofit, Louis has seen it grow from an initial budget of $3,000 to its current one of $300,000.
“It has been great to be able to have helped a lot of nice people,” he said. “The thing that I always love seeing is how the kids would grow from being shy and fearful to more confident and outgoing and happy. It’s been fun to watch.”
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