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Seton Hall Law at Work: Father Bob Meyer ’00 and Elizabeth Caraballo ’07 and the New Waterfront Project

Elizabeth_Caraballo_and_Father_Robert_Meyer_Waterfront_ProjectMonsignor Robert Meyer ’00, affectionately known as “Father Bob,” Pastor at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Hoboken, reflects on the impetus for founding The Waterfront Project, a new legal clinic serving residents of Hudson County: “Parishioners learned I was an attorney and they would ask me things. I began to wonder how many people don’t have the wherewithal to come forward and ask. And I thought, maybe we should be more proactive about this.”

Thanks to Father Bob and a committee of parishioners – including Al Cooley ’10 – the Church officially opened The Waterfront Project in March. The clinic will provide legal information, advice and legal advocacy to vulnerable individuals and families. Elizabeth Caraballo ’07 has joined Father Bob in spearheading the effort as its first director.

This flourishing Hoboken parish offers an ideal environment for launching and sustaining such an ambitious endeavor as a legal clinic. Since Father Bob was installed as pastor in 2010, weekly collections have almost tripled, reflecting the rapidly increasing volume of members. Father Bob elaborates: “Every month we have 20 or 30 families signing up to join the church. We hold Mass seven times every Sunday. Even with 280 seats in the Church, some Masses are standing room only. Young parents bring their children and we’ll have 20 or 30 strollers parked out front.”

Father Bob also believes his parishioners have an uncommon, deep-seated dedication to give back. “The population that we have, including Seton Hall Law alumni, was ‘programmed’ to think about others less fortunate,” he explains. “Pope Francis, the newly elected Pope, has put some focus on it, but many of our parishioners did mission trips when they were younger, and the attorneys served in the social justice clinics. We send volunteer groups to Jamaica and Nicaragua every year. We are the largest community supporter of the Hoboken Homeless Shelter, and we also support St. Lucy’s homeless shelter in Jersey City.”

Elizabeth Caraballo was in private practice when she found the listing for an attorney for The Waterfront Project through Seton Hall Law’s employment tool, Symplicity. After she talked it over with Maria Capra of the Office of Career Services, she decided to apply. She explains, “I was a clinical student when I was in law school and a volunteer for Volunteer Lawyers for Justice. I always wanted to use my law degree, and any other assets I have, to help the community. I interviewed with Father Bob, he asked me to join, and it was quite seamless.”

The Waterfront Project is still in its nascent stages, but it’s clear the need is great – the only other clinic serving Hudson County also serves Bergen County. Father Bob and Elizabeth are currently forming an advisory board, and they recently met with Dean Hobbs, Professor Lori Nessel, Director of the Center for Social Justice, and Dean Claudette St. Romain, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, for advice on building the most effective service model. They are also beginning to define the services they plan to offer. Elizabeth lists the areas under consideration: “Knowing the Hudson County population, we expect to address family law issues, landlord/tenant issues and expungements, and most likely, victims of Hurricane Sandy. We also expect to address immigration issues – and if reform passes, that will affect a lot of people in Hudson County.”

As the clinic model evolves, Father Bob and Elizabeth plan to recruit students to provide support. “With the New York bar requiring 50 hours of pro bono service, in time we hope the clinic will give students and recent graduates an opportunity to fulfill their New York bar requirements while helping our clients.”

Father Bob and Elizabeth welcome the support of the Seton Hall Law community. As Father Bob says, “When I look out at the congregation at just about any Mass, I can identify at least five attorneys, many of them Seton Hall Law graduates. We invite them to ‘give back’ to the clinic any way they can. We say that our ideal volunteer offers ‘time, talent and treasure.’ They can take on cases, they can lend time for outreach, or they can provide financial support. We want The Waterfront Project to advocate for those in need, and we also want to provide a rewarding and exciting experience for the attorneys who support us.”

To learn more about The Waterfront Project, please contact Elizabeth Caraballo at director@thewaterfrontproject.org or call 201-659-2276.