By next week, lawyer Damon Elmore will have biked across all 159 of Georgia counties.
Elmore, president of the Georgia Legal Services Program’s board of directors, began his trek last year to raise money for civil legal services. On Thursday, he told lawyers gathered at the State Bar of Georgia’s annual meeting at Stone Mountain that he will bike the last two counties—Union and Towns in north Georgia—on Monday.
As a warm-up, he’s leading a seven-mile ride through Stone Mountain Park on Friday morning.
He’s also hoping to bridge the roughly $2,000 gap toward reaching his goal of $15,900.
The Daily Report caught up with Elmore at the bar meeting to ask what he’s learned on his journey.
How did this idea come about? Why are you biking 159 counties?
It’s just a marriage of two different things that I love: legal services for the poor and cycling. And the cycling gives me the real opportunity to see and sort of feel what the communities that we help and the people that we help look like and sort of be a part of it more directly.
I saw real tangible images of poverty: a lot of businesses out of business, dilapidated houses, long lines outside medical clinics.
What is the financial need right now for legal services?
“Critical” seems cliché but appropriate. And that’s because traditional sources are tighter, and the needs are larger and greater. For legal services, we give help with the private attorneys who work with the clients on cases, but there are so many other things that the money can go toward.
We have lawyers in our satellite offices who are helping six, eight, 10 different counties, having to drive to all of those counties.
What have you learned about the need for legal services as you’ve seen different parts of the state?
Legal services are part of the essential, basic, critical needs of men and women. Legal services help with benefits. They help keep families together. They help ensure students receive fair treatment in schools so they don’t turn into statistics, getting in the pipeline to prison.
Legal services are so connected to a better state overall. I really didn’t put that together at first.
What did you learn about yourself on your tour?
I did a ride two weeks ago in Dade County that sort of summarized what I’ve learned about me. The ride started in Trenton, which is in the Lookout Mountain valley, and the route I planned took me up Cloudland Canyon and up Lookout Mountain. So in the first eight miles, I went up 2,300 feet. And three times, I thought about turning around, because it would have been a descent. But I didn’t.
So, I think the two things that were made manifest for me on that day were: the [Nelson] Mandela quote that it only seems impossible until it is done, and it was the first time in this initiative that I’ve really been proud of what I’ve done.
We haven’t raised $1 million or eradicated poverty, but we’ve had a lot of buzz. And we’ve brought legal services back into the conversation without it being threatening or sounding like the same story line.