Putting people on a pathway to financial stability and dignity

A shared sense of purpose connects two nonprofits, WorkingNation and Bet Tzedek

You might not see the obvious connection between WorkingNation and Bet Tzedek at first glance. But it is there, deeply embedded in the founding principles of each of these nonprofits. Both help, in their own ways, to put people on a pathway to financial stability, dignity, and purpose.

As a national journalism and media company, WorkingNation looks at the rapidly-shifting landscape of employment in this country, telling stories about where the good, family-sustaining jobs are and how to get them. Roadblocks to those jobs can come in many forms, some circumstantial, some intentional. We tell you how to navigate those roadblocks.

For five decades, Los-Angeles-based Bet Tzedek has been battling injustice by providing free legal advice and representation to workers, small business owners, renters, homeowners, and others experiencing discrimination, disparities, and exploitation. Bet Tzedek helps the most vulnerable Angelenos improve the quality of their lives and provide them with justice.

The end goal and outcome are the same: financial stability, dignity, and purpose.

A Good Job is More Than Just a Good Paycheck
WorkingNation logo

CEO Art Bilger founded WorkingNation almost eight years ago with the idea that technology, longevity, and globalization were rapidly changing how we work and there was a critical need to tell the stories that can help people successfully maneuver those changes to land a good job and career. 

Art Bilger, Founder & CEO, WorkingNation (Photo: WorkingNation)

Bilger says a good job remains critical to a person’s well-being on many levels, not just financially.

“Obviously, top of the list is the dollars and cents. We need to house the family, feed the family, educate the family. We need capital to pay the cost of that. Work is, for much of society, a critical piece to that equation of funding all those opportunities.

“Beyond dollars and cents, I think there’s a very important piece to the employment equation and that is purpose in life, others use the term dignity. The association with doing something productive, being part of a team, being part of a community is very much facilitated by employment.

“It is critical from a mental state of individuals in our society. I really believe that employment issues underlie a lot of other issues in this country because yes, dollars and cents are critical, but I also believe the purpose in life and dignity pieces of the equation are critical to a successful society.”

50 Years of Enabling People to Thrive in Our Communities
Bet Tzedek nonprofit's logo

Bet Tzedek means House of Justice in Hebrew. The nonprofit was founded 50 years ago as a small storefront law office in the Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles to offer free legal representation and advice to low-income seniors, including Holocaust survivors, who couldn’t afford to hire lawyers to help them fight evictions as the neighborhood gentrified.

The founding lawyers immediately saw the need to expand outside the neighborhood and beyond housing rights to ensure everyone who needs it has the opportunity .

Since its founding, Bet Tzedek has represented more than one million low-income residents across Los Angeles County, providing pro bono legal assistance around fair wages, unsafe working conditions, the rights of small business owners, elder abuse, and more.  

Diego Cartagena joined Bet Tzedek in 2012 and has served as president and CEO of the nonprofit since 2020.

Diego Cartagena, President & CEO, Bet Tzedek (Photo: Bet Tzedek)

“The work that we do at Bet Tzedek is not just about protecting individuals and protecting their rights, but really helping them thrive in our communities. So much of what we do is about their economic safety, security, and the ability to achieve economic success.

“For example, how is it that we think that people can rise up into the middle class if they’re not being paid the wages that they are owed? We also see study after study that shows that when families with children fall into homelessness, those children, their educational achievement levels drop precipitously. That prevents the next generation from moving up economically.

“At Bet Tzedek, we are also trying our best to ensure the economic stability of our communities through our small business work. That is all about helping entrepreneurs who have that dream about how they can provide for their family and help their family rise up economically by establishing their own small business.

“We are there side-by-side with them, helping ensure that there are no legal issues that would impede the growth of their business and their opportunity to thrive.”

Finding a Sense of Purpose in Your Work

Bilger has sat on the board at Bet Tzedek for 30 years and 25 years ago he and his wife Dahlia established the nonprofit’s Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award. They named the award in honor of Bilger’s grandmother who instilled in him the idea that finding purpose in work is a key piece of a person’s makeup. 

“I believe overwhelmingly when people are going to work, and doing the right job for them – doing it successfully, whatever it might be – it provides them with a sense of purpose. It is an important driving force and provides mental and emotional stability to a meaningful degree,” says Bilger.

He sees that sense of purpose in the 1,300 lawyers and legal aides who volunteered their time to Bet Tzedek last year alone, helping more than 100,000 people find their own pathways to financial, mental, and emotional stability.

“All these people who are doing the pro bono work for Bet Tzedek – putting aside the time they spend on the pro bono work – they’re working incredibly hard at whatever firm and whatever legal matters they’re focused on, they’re working very hard.

“These are people who are making time despite very complicated lives, making time to benefit those who are in difficult circumstances in society. There is a lot of purpose and dignity that comes with that pro bono work that they do for everyone involved.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of Bet Tzedek, WorkingNation has produced a short documentary on the founding of the nonprofit in 1974. We brought together the surviving founders, some reuniting for the first time in 30 years, to hear their story of the beginnings of Bet Tzedek and their reflections on 50 years of purpose-driven service to the community. Watch The Journey of Bet Tzedek here.

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