Members of the same church, Nick and Chris began to meet regularly for Bible study and coffee back in 2009. Through that close relationship, Nick’s eyes were opened to the great need in our city. “I never really was aware of the legal inequities that our society heaps on the poor, and how difficult it is for many people to navigate a complex legal system that should be protecting them,” he says. “Through getting to know Chris, praying with him, and seeing his passion for serving this community, it began to resonate with me.”
The newest addition to the Victim Justice Program (VJP) came to the Legal Clinic by way of the Prosecutor’s Office. For the past several years, Annie Anderson prosecuted major felonies and worked some jury trials, with cases involving crimes like kidnapping, confinement, and armed robberies. While she enjoyed seeking justice for victims in the courtroom, she found herself wanting to work more directly with those in need.
From the age of 11, Sha’na knew she wanted to be an attorney. “I watched a movie called Separate but Equal with Thurgood Marshall and documenting the whole Brown vs. Board of Education decision,” she says. “That was the first time I realized how much influence and power attorneys had to make change, and so I knew I wanted to be a part of that.” For years, Sha’na worked towards that goal, graduating from college and then Law School—ultimately passing the bar examination earlier this year.
On August 20, the Clinic held a 1-day event known as Naturalization Day. Hosted by Washington Township at Northview Middle School, volunteers and Clinic staff served 62 individual clients on the path to citizenship. According to Immigrant Justice Program Manager Brandon Fitzsimmons, tackling such a process in a single day is beneficial to everyone involved, with a higher volume of clients served in a much shorter timeframe. “We’re looking at 2 possibly 3 months of meetings, revisions, signings—everything truncated,” he says. “[Naturalization Day] is a benefit to the client and it also allows us to be more efficient with our own production.”
One regular donor, Malcolm Gately, first became acquainted with the work of the Clinic through his membership at Grace Church. As a Christian, he was particularly drawn to its mission. He says, “I think the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic exemplifies living out those [Christian] values about as well as any organization I’ve ever seen, as well as practically serving the most vulnerable and challenged people in our area.”
When someone faces an issue with the IRS, Dee Dee says, “The first thing we have to do is get them in filing compliance so they can access some of the programs that the IRS has to deal with what you owe.” Ultimately, the cost of not resolving these issues can be very high. “Sometimes we’ve found out when someone owed and then didn’t file for years, it was actually erroneous and by not filing they didn’t get refunds that they could have gotten.”
Ultimately, Lisa was surprised by how much she learned, although originally she was hesitant to participate in the Building Wealth program. She says, “I felt like I had a lot of advantages that I had squandered and here I am in this situation.” She admits to feeling ashamed of needing help in the first place, but acknowledges her delays in seeking assistance only made her financial recovery that much harder. “The sooner you realize you are about to go off that cliff, you should pick up the phone and call. If you think it’s hard now, it does get worse,” she says. “If you can head it off at the pass, it makes it easier.”
A pivotal element of HYJP is the Program Manager, Ben Hayes. Unlike the two attorneys who work cases for Outreach’s youth, Ben’s position is more nebulous. His job is to build relationships and to create a bridge between their kids and our attorneys. Most of the youth that go through Outreach know what it’s like to be burned by someone they were supposed to be able to trust—in fact, that is usually an inciting incident to them becoming homeless in the first place. “Every one of them is going to have a different story,” Ben says. The one thing they all have in common though? Trauma. According to a series of internal surveys conducted by Outreach in 2014, 71% of their young woman said they were sexually abused before the age of 18 and 88% of their young men saw their mother beaten before the age of 18.
A recent shift in donors has been especially encouraging to the Engagement Team. Maggie says, “2014 was the first year that we really had a surge in first-time donors who used to be clients … Now that they’re not clients anymore, they want to give back to people who are in their positions, which has been incredibly moving for us. We have clients sending in one dollar or five dollars—just whatever they can spare.”
Brandon Fitzsimmons, who serves as the Program Manager for IJP, acknowledges the hardships faced by immigrants who come to this country. He says, “There is a sacrifice taking place on the side of the client, because they are leaving their homeland, the place where they were born and have their earliest memories and deepest cultural sensibilities.” Considering the hardships faced by immigrants helps to spur on their work, day by day. Rachel adds, “I like to remind people of how hard working immigrants are—that they are not taking advantage of our system. They’re not criminals; they’re not rapists; they’re not horrible people. They’re just trying to make a better life for themselves.”