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2024 Theresa Award

2024 NAELA Theresa Award Honoree: Lee Holmes

The following blog post was originally presented at the 2024 NAELA Conference in Boston on Saturday, May 4th, 2024.

I’m Vincent Russo, and I am honored to have served as the fifth president of NAELA and co-founder of the Theresa Foundation. Alongside my co-chair, Laury Adsit Gelardi—our first executive director of NAELA and a dedicated board member of the Theresa Foundation—I am privileged to present the 29th Annual Theresa Award. This award recognizes a NAELA member for their outstanding support and advocacy for individuals with special needs.

This morning, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on your journey. What led you to attend NAELA’s Annual Conference? What motivated you to practice Elder Law and Special Needs law? Who inspired you to pursue the path that has shaped who you are today?

For me, the journey began in 1986 when I met a small group of attorneys discussing how we could better serve seniors and people with disabilities. This pivotal meeting took place at the California Bar Association, thanks to a suggestion by Nancy Coleman from the ABA Commission on Law and Aging. Coincidentally, this meeting happened around the same time my daughter Theresa was born on May 5th—a day that forever changed my life.

Theresa, our third child, was a divine gift who taught me more about life than anyone else. Her birth set me on a mission to assist seniors and people with disabilities. Though we were blessed with her presence for only five and a half years, her impact was profound and lasting. It was through these twists of fate that my passion for elder law and special needs advocacy was ignited.

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

In response to this newfound purpose, we established the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and created a new legal practice area. Recognizing the need for an executive director, we initially planned to interview Tom Goodard. However, due to his unavailability at the Joint Conference on Law and Aging, he sent Laury Adsit in his stead. From the moment we met Laury, we knew she understood our mission deeply. We hired her instead of Tom, recognizing her integral role in shaping our organization—a twist of fate that proved to be immensely fortuitous.

Reflecting further back to 1985, on the day of that influential meeting in California, an attorney named Lee Holmes was en route to the ABA conference. By chance, he sat next to Cindy Barrett on the bus. Cindy was headed to the same meeting and, fueled by her enthusiasm, shared her excitement with Lee. Initially attending for tax matters, Lee was so moved by Cindy’s passion that he decided to join her instead. This serendipitous encounter exemplifies yet another simple twist of fate that has brought us all together in this shared mission.

Honoring Lee Holmes

Lee Holmes
Lee Holmes

Today, we honor a remarkable individual, Lee Holmes. Lee’s unwavering commitment to helping people is truly contagious. As a founding member of NAELA, he has dedicated his life not only to assisting vulnerable individuals but also to mentoring attorneys in the practice of elder law and special needs law. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting next to Lee, you would quickly find that his interest in you is genuine and profound. He doesn’t just ask about who you are; he seeks to understand how he can help you.

Many know Lee as the “$100 man.” He is renowned for pulling out a $100 bill and explaining how one can provide high-quality legal services while achieving personal success. For Lee, success transcends monetary gain; it’s about making a meaningful difference in the lives of those we serve.

Aspiring Attitudes

Aspiring Attitudes
Wheelchair Ballet class performed their “Say I Won’t” routine during the preshow at Classical Ballet School’s production of Snow White and Rose Red.

The connection between Lee and the Theresa Foundation is a testament to his character. The Theresa Foundation supports music, dance, art, and recreation programs for children with special needs. One such program, Aspiring Attitudes, is run by Shannon Wrights—a dance initiative for both able-bodied and challenged children. Shannon, who is legally blind, manages this program on a shoestring budget. It was through a simple twist of fate that Lee became involved.

In 2019, my wife Susan and I visited the summer program and were heartbroken to learn that the children were dancing on a cement floor due to a lack of funds for a proper dance floor. The cost of a suitable floor was estimated at $20,000, but the program had no available funds. That evening, we attended a dinner with Shannon, a few board members, and Lee Holmes. When I asked Lee if he could help the children, his immediate response was a resounding “Yes.” True to his word, Lee secured the support of a local foundation. Today, thanks to his efforts, the children are dancing on a proper dance floor, and Aspiring Attitudes received a grant of $30,000.

It is with the greatest honor that we present the Theresa Award to Lee Holmes. The Theresa Foundation is proud to donate $5,000 in Lee’s name to Aspiring Attitudes.

Russo Law Group, P.C.
100 Quentin Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 102
Garden City, NY 11530

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