2017 Recipient

You are here

Where presented : 
NLADA Annual Conference
Recipient(s) name: 
Dennis Groenenboom
Recipient title: 
Executive Director
Recipient organization: 
Iowa Legal Aid
Recipient organization city: 
Des Moines
Recipient organization state: 
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

Dennis Groenenboom serves as the executive director of Iowa Legal Aid. A 1978 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law, Dennis has spent his entire professional career with Iowa Legal Aid. He has worked as a staff attorney, senior staff attorney, managing attorney, deputy director, and as the executive director since 1992. Before assuming administrative responsibilities, Dennis’ substantive areas of expertise were in representing individuals with disabilities. He also developed expertise in the area of public benefits and rights of older Iowans.

Dennis understood that the future viability of legal aid programs would be dependent on the development of a broad and diversified funding base. In 1980, federal funding represented more than 90 percent of Iowa Legal Aid’s budget. Largely through Dennis’s efforts and leadership in developing new approaches to fundraising, Iowa Legal Aid’s ratio of federal funding to total funding has dropped to just over 30 percent. He has taught staff and board members the important lesson that to get support from the community you must have a compelling message and not be afraid to make the ask – whether it be for support of a legislator for additional state funding or to a donor for financial support.

Early on Dennis recognized the critical nature of partnerships in building a broader understanding of the importance of civil legal services. Developing collaborative partnerships in order to better address issues faced by low-income Iowans has become an essential element of Iowa Legal Aid’s work. These partnerships have been a basis for numerous initiatives, including Iowa Legal Aid’s Health and Law Project, Foreclosure Project, Parent Representation Project, and Disaster Project. In addition, Iowa Legal Aid partners with 16 United Way agencies to address issues of income, education, and health across the state.

As part of Iowa Legal Aid’s “Justice in the Balance: Low-Income Iowans and the Courts” initiative, Dennis worked with other access to justice partners to get an emeritus practice rule adopted by the Iowa Supreme Court, thereby increasing the volunteer attorney services available to low-income Iowans. Dennis is also a regular speaker at the swearing-in ceremonies for lawyers who are being admitted to the Iowa Bar, emphasizing the importance of pro bono work and encouraging them to participate in Iowa’s Volunteer Lawyers Projects.

The program’s Strategic Plan, unified statewide intake system, and Language Access Policy for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Individuals have all been recognized as models for other programs.

Another example of Dennis’s leadership is the establishment of the Iowa Legal Aid Foundation. The Foundation’s volunteer Board of Directors has worked closely with Dennis and staff to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through philanthropic giving and is building an endowment to help secure Iowa Legal Aid’s future.

Dennis has served on the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s (NLADA) Civil Policy Group and Board of Directors and participated as a fellow in the Where Health Meets Justice Fellowship convened by the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership. He has been an active member of the Iowa State Bar Association and has served on the boards of several community and faith-based organizations.