August 26, 2020

Goodman Takes Reins at LALDEF, Leads Immigrant Rights Organization

By Donald Gilpin

In less than two months at the helm of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF), Lorraine Goodman, interim executive director of the nonprofit organization founded in 2004 to defend the rights of Latin Americans in Mercer County and facilitate their access to health care and education, has found LALDEF’s challenges multiplied by the pandemic.

Pointing out that the Hispanic population has been among the hardest hit by COVID-19, she cited statistics showing that there have been 61 COVID-related deaths per 10,000 people among whites in Mercer County and more than twice as many, 142 COVID-related deaths per 10,000, among Mercer County Hispanics — just one indicator of the alarming inequities.

“If you think about [the rate of deaths from COVID], it’s not surprising,” she said. “The immigrant community — they’re the ones working at the grocery stores. They’re the ones doing home deliveries. They often live with many people in a single dwelling, and yet they’re the ones out there interacting with many people.”

She continued, “They don’t have the option of social distancing or the option of calling in sick. They often don’t have health insurance. They probably did not get government stimulus checks, and they’re not eligible for increased unemployment. These are people who are out there helping everybody else, providing essential services, and we’re treating them horribly. They are our neighbors. We need to do better, to be kinder, more compassionate. We need to pay them and reward them for the work they do to help us.”

Goodman discussed some of the obstacles and additional challenges that LALDEF has had to face in sustaining its education, health, and legal services programs through the pandemic. 

The Futuro Program, preparing students for college, moved mostly to an online environment. Mentors and tutors studied virtually for the SATs with their students. “We also had to do college tours virtually, and for the most part it worked,” Goodman said. Many students needed computers, and web access was another problem. Working in conjunction with the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s All Kids Thrive initiative, LALDEF helped with the delivery of chrome books that had been donated to the schools. 

Goodman stated that LALDEF is still recruiting for the Princeton Futuro Program cohort of rising juniors with a few spots available at Princeton High School and one or two positions in Trenton.

LALDEF’s ESL classes had similar problems in being forced to go remote, and some of those problems will remain unsurmountable until in-person lessons again become possible. “When you’re learning a language,” Goodman said, “it can be much more difficult if the speaker is not in person in the same room. You need to see the teacher’s mouth.”  There was a decrease in ESL class enrollment, Goodman said, but LALDEF is hoping to start up some in-person sessions in the fall.

Legal services consultations and work with clients at LALDEF has continued by telephone, with many new clients calling for help with food, jobs, evictions, wage theft, and other concerns. LALDEF has instituted a live chat, like a clinic, on their website ( two or three times each week.

ID cards, which could not be processed virtually, are now being managed by appointment only, with applicants asked to email to set up an appointment.

During the pandemic, LALDEF has received two grants, for $48,000 and $68,000, which they have used to distribute debit cards of $500 and $1,000 to low-income immigrant families for use in buying food and other necessities.

Goodman, a Princeton University graduate, devoted a number of years to a career in the arts, including an acting career with several Broadway performances. She then earned a master’s degree in nonprofit administration at NYU, and went on to work mostly with performing arts organizations. She was invited back to Princeton University to serve as Princeton AlumniCorps’ Development Officer. Goodman has a wide variety of volunteer and fundraising experience.

She first learned about LALDEF while attending a day-long seminar on immigration at the Ford Foundation in New York, where she met LALDEF Finance Chair John Heilner, who later asked her to join LALDEF’s Board of Trustees. 

“That introduced me to the many issues affecting Mercer County’s local immigrant community – a population that I frankly knew little about at the time,” she said. “But it touched me. I am the granddaughter of immigrants.” 

Looking beyond the challenges of the current pandemic, Goodman reflected on the longer-term future of the organization. “LALDEF is more than 15 years old now,” she said. “We’re adolescents and we need to move into the next stage of our institutional growth. That includes better financial stability, expanding the individual donor base, and governance.”

She noted that there is a new governance committee on the board with young new members and new policies in place. “Moving into the next phase, I would like to expand our staff in order to be better prepared to serve and work with the people in our community,” she said.  She added that her background in marketing and development would be helpful to LALDEF in working to expand recognition of what LALDEF does and how it can help people in Mercer County.

“We are fortunate to have Lorraine at the helm of LALDEF,” wrote LALDEF Board Chair and Princeton University Sociology Professor Patricia Fernandez-Kelly in an email. “In a short period she has greatly improved internal organization and our capacity to connect with patrons and donors. She has a proven record of success. Perhaps more important, she brings to LALDEF empathy, generosity, and a fierce commitment to justice.”