Located in San Francisco, the van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation's mission is to promote social justice in Northern California by means of legal services and advocacy. The foundation's president is Toni Rembe Rock, a pioneering attorney who was one of the first woman partners at a major law firm in California. The foundation's roots can be traced back to Oakland-born Ernst van Löben Sels and his wife Sarah Eleanor Slate, who were active in civic life in the Bay Area and beyond. Ernst's personal attorney laid the groundwork for the foundation.
The foundation awards grants almost exclusively to 501(c)(3) legal aid/public interest law organizations that provide direct legal services, legal assistance, and legal advocacy in Northern California.
What exactly does the foundation mean by organizations offering "direct legal services?" Well, these are organizations with attorneys on staff who provide legal aid to their clients. Examples of legal aid might include helping an individual or family with immigration problems, landlord/tenant issues, family law/domestic violence, and other work. The exceptions to this restriction include rural areas where access to legal services is limited. In these areas, the foundation will "consider funding programs that are legally related, even if neither legal representation nor attorneys are involved."
The foundation is laser-focused on Northern California, meaning Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Mono Counties and all counties north of these five counties. National and statewide organizations can also receive funds if they have an office and/or staff on the ground running a program or project in Northern California.
In 2014, the foundation awarded around $2.2 million in grants. Prior to the foundation's narrowed shift to legal aid, it gave out grants within several grantmaking categories. Here's a sampling of the foundation's 2015 grants:
- $25,000 to Advokids' Telephone Hotline and Comprehensive Legal Website. Advokids provides the "only free telephone hotline offering legal information to anyone concerned about a child in foster care in California."
- $30,000 in general operating support to AIDS Legal Referral Panel which provides free and low-cost legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- $40,500 to Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center which provides legal services for low-income workers throughout the Bay Area.
- $10,000 to UnCommon Law, a "a California non-profit law office whose mission is to help long-term prisoners understand and resolve the factors that contributed to their crimes so that they can safely be released."
- A total of $105,500 to Youth Law Center between 2015 and 2017.
Grantseekers working within this narrow interest area will also find the foundation accessible. The board meets four times a year to review grant requests. The final application deadline for 2015 was in September. Grantseekers can keep apprised of the 2016 deadlines via the website.