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A Legacy of Dignity

Featured Photo from A Legacy of Dignity

To honor the life of its biggest advocate, IDignity Seminole redoubles its efforts to help the disadvantaged get the essential identification they need

When was the last time you showed your ID? What would have happened if you had nothing to show? 
IDignity is a local nonprofit organization that helps those in need obtain the basic forms of identification. It sounds simple, right? Holding a driver’s license or state ID card may be second nature for most of us, but it can be an incredible challenge for the homeless or those escaping an abusive family or spouse. And no ID means no job, no social services, no bank account, no healthcare, no schooling or rehab centers, and no proper housing. 

That’s where IDignity comes in. Founded in 2008 by Michael Dippy, who partnered with attorney Jackie Dowd, the organization helps anyone in need of ID, all at no cost. Clients might include homeless veterans, teens who have been kicked out of the family home, those who may have lost everything in a natural disaster, and, often, people who have fled abusive situations and were forced to leave their personal belongings behind.

“We help them navigate the system,” explains Janine Armstrong, one of about 75 volunteers at IDignity Seminole.
She says that if you don’t already possess a photo ID, you can’t obtain your birth certificate in many states without an attorney. If you were born in New York, for example, the home state won’t release paperwork without a court order.

“These people can’t get a job,” Janine says. “They’re not too lazy to work – they can’t work, and I had no concept of how hard it is to obtain ID.”

The Seminole County chapter of IDignity began helping locals in 2014. Since then, they have obtained IDs for nearly 2,600 people. All members of the IDignity Seminole staff are volunteers, and the organization relies completely on community support and donations – it receives no government funding.

Janine organizes IDignity Seminole’s client-service events, which are held quarterly. Those seeking ID services can attend the events and visit various stations. They meet with representatives from the IDignity legal team to determine a course of action and often seek advice from HMIS (the Homeless Management Information System), among other government partners.

Janine also visits the local jail to work with those who need out-of-state birth certificates so that, upon their release, they have the background documentation they need to get their ID. Oftentimes, inmates released on parole are only given 30 days to secure a job or enter a rehab facility, which they cannot do without proof of identity.

In Memory, In Tribute
This past November, IDignity’s tireless leader, Jackie Dowd, passed away at the age of 67. Jackie spent her early career in corporate law and served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Florida. There she found her passion advocating for the less-fortunate.

A fierce litigator, Jackie saw a need in our area and spent the last decade as the lead attorney for IDignity.

“She worked tirelessly,” says Janine. “No problem was too big for her, and everybody was the same to her.”

Clad often in colorful Hawaiian-style shirts, Jackie was down-to-earth, and while she never had children, many of those she helped called her Mom.

Jackie was a beacon of hope to those who needed direction, and she encouraged those around her to be better by doing for others.

IDignity Seminole will hold its next client-service event on February 4 at the Salvation Army in Sanford. Doors open at          9:00 a.m. to continue the critical work that Jackie helped begin. 

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