SNA Member Mary Alice Jackson Tapped for Theresa Award: Advocacy “Above and Beyond”

SNA Board Member Mary Alice Jackson is the 2015 recipient of the prestigious NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys) Theresa Award, which recognizes NAELA members who go “above and beyond in helping and advocating for those with special needs.” This honor is bestowed annually by the Theresa Foundation, which supports arts and recreation programs for children with disabilities. “I’m thrilled to have been chosen,” says Jackson. “Art, dance and music are powerful means of expression, especially for kids who have difficulty with language. When they have creative outlets, it builds their self-esteem-and their parents’ pride is palpable. I encourage everyone to consider making a donation to this wonderful organization.”

Jackson practices special needs and elder law in Texas and Florida. “Having lost a son to leukemia, I have personal knowledge of the challenges facing parents who are advocating for their child’s very real needs,” she observes.

Giving back is central to her professional philosophy. “My dad was a lawyer and he set a strong example concerning the importance of pro bono work. I believe that it’s integral to being an attorney, and I’ve devoted time to it since 1993, when I began working with Legal Aid.” The Florida Bar has recognized her with its Pro Bono Service Award.

Public policy has been a major interest since undergraduate days, and for more than 20 years, she has worked at both the state and national levels to make public benefits more accessible to those in need. The Disabled Military Child Protection Act and Special Needs Trust Fairness Act are just two pieces of legislation that she’s recently supported.

Other forms of community activism run in her family, as well. “My father was instrumental in establishing a school for children with disabilities, as well as a mental health treatment center,” she explains. She herself has served as president of Florida’s Area Agency on Aging and on the boards of Tidewell Hospice and The Pines of Sarasota, a long-term care facility. She regularly educates long-term care staff members about health care proxies, powers of attorney and other legal documents affecting the lives of the people they care for. “I enjoy visiting the residents and helping to establish policies that improve their quality of life,” she says. “They’re often anxious about the future, so if you can offer some answers-take them from fear to empowerment-then you’ve done your job.” The NAELA Powley Award for public service is but one example of the recognition she’s received for her volunteer work.

Jackson is also an adjunct professor with the Stetson University College of Law, where she instructs students on long-term care planning. “I teach them about special needs trusts and how to identify as many public benefits as possible for their future clients. At a time when funding for so many programs is being cut, it’s important for families to know that there are options besides the government when arranging for a loved one’s security.”