By Dave Fidlin
From a young age, Michigan native Lance Jones aspired to be a judge. While he has yet to preside over cases while wearing that signature robe, Lance has pursued a career in law that has taken him in a number of different directions since he obtained his juris doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School in 1989.
“My career goal in becoming a lawyer is what set my feet on the path to law school,” Lance says.
Along the way, he has melded his fascination of law with child advocacy – a cause he says is near and dear to his heart. Throughout his career, Lance has gained extensive background in child welfare and poverty law – expertise that has been beneficial to his role as the program manager at Kids Matter Inc.’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) initiative. Lance has served in the position since 2005.
Founded in 2000, Kids Matter is a grassroots organization comprised of numerous professionals and lay people. Each person’s expertise is different, but the overarching goal of fighting for the interests of some of the Milwaukee area’s neediest children is at the forefront. Kids Matter was established in an effort to provide viable, restorative opportunities for abused and neglected youth.
In his role with the organization, Lance says he works with a dedicated group of volunteers who share his passion in bringing restoration to the lives of children who desperately need it. Lance uses his skills to negotiate for the best interest of the children being served by the organization.
“I’m constantly amazed by the volunteers I work with,” Lance says. “Watching them at work keeps me going. They make such a difference in the lives of the children they are working with.”
As program manager of the CASA initiative, Lance brings experience that includes roles as a staff attorney and interim executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Grand Rapids, as well as staff attorney with the Child and Family Law Center of Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services in Detroit. Additionally, Lance previously served as executive director of Community Legal Resources, a pro-bono legal assistance program for nonprofit community development organizations in the Detroit area.
“We use whatever tools of justice are at our disposal,” Lance says of Kids Matter and CASA. “But the end game is always restoration for these children. I’m motivated by the pursuit of justice, but I find satisfaction in pursuing restoration.”
For older children about to enter adulthood, Lance says he remains committed to helping each person attain the necessary coping skills to make it in the real world. He fights against startling statistics for abused and neglected children – particularly those who are not in a sustainable environment within the realm of foster and kinship care.
“My number one goal is to make sure children are in permanent, loving homes as quickly as possible,” Lance says.
While most of Lance’s professional work has been in the law arena, he came to Milwaukee seven years ago for a different reason – to pursue a pastoral internship, which he was afforded the opportunity to do at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park area. Lance recently obtained his master of divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
Although his professional pursuits remain around law, Lance has continued to stay plugged into Trinity Presbyterian Church. He volunteers in a number of different capacities as a congregant and readily admits his faith has shaped his beliefs and passion for the legal work he undertakes, day in and out.
As a relative newcomer to Milwaukee, Lance says he is inspired by the many people who roll up their sleeves and work to make the city a better place.
“I’ve found that Milwaukee is a very giving community,” he says. “People give of their time, talent and monetary gifts toward charitable organizations.”
Lance’s commitment to meeting the needs of children from adverse circumstances is the reason he has been named a special honoree and is receiving the Milwaukee Times Black Excellence Award as a child and youth advocate.