Many of Southeastern’s programs begin in this manner, with a member of the congregation championing a cause they care about. Preaching Minister Greg York says of this philosophy, “So much of that stuff is better if you let it grow organically than if you try to impose it from above.” He loves when parishioners become excited about a new project. “If someone has recognized a need and is willing to lay themselves down to be part of the solution, then I want to support that,” Greg says. “And Russell clearly had a passion when he came to us.”
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.
Happy New Year! Above is a look back at the Clinic’s photo highlights from 2016–an abundant year filled with abundant life! In partnership with Outreach, Inc., we launched our Homeless Youth Justice Program this year, which allows us to provide free legal services to one of Indianapolis’ most vulnerable, and often-underserved populations. We also expanded our Victim Justice Program thanks to a VOCA grant through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, helping us to better meet the great need in our community.
Upon serving as an intake attorney at John Knox Presbyterian Church back in 2006, Matthew first became aware of the need for free legal services. “I thought I was aware of it, but I really wasn’t,” he says. “Until you sit down with people who need the help, who explain their situation, who have never really been able to talk to someone who they believe can help them, and suddenly you’re sitting down in a room with them one-on-one… That’s when you realize the need that exists and the good that can come from just giving a little bit of time.”
Although this sometimes made the case a bit more difficult, Director of the Ft. Wayne office Desiree Koger-Gustafson says, “[The parents] wanted to make it legal and be able to decide for themselves when they want to tell [their children] about their biological father.” Both Samantha and Carl hoped to complete the adoption as quickly as possible before the boys got any older. “They had not ever been around their biological dad since they were babies and they were getting to the age where they might find out in an unpleasant manner,” Desiree says.
Lacy Panyard knew from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to be an attorney. But it was a study abroad trip to Mexico with her school at the age of 17 that helped determine her specialty. She says, “While I was down there, I saw people who were wealthy and who have everything they need. They’re living better than us. And then I saw the people who are 5-year-olds, out on the street, selling gum and homemade goods because they don’t have food on the table.”
For many of us, Christmas is a wonderful reminder of all of the gifts we already have. Family, stability, support, and vocation. We can rejoice in these things and feel the well of strength rising within us. For many of the Clinic’s clients, many of these blessings may be in jeopardy or simply absent. For isolated ex-offenders, beleaguered immigrants, domestic violence survivors, and homeless teens, it is difficult to even conceptualize joy. But, many do. Many focus on those things that they do have: family, children, their relationship with Jesus, whatever modicum of stability they do have. They hold on to these things and it gives them strength to carry on.
November was busy for all, but despite everything going on, the Clinic staff had multiple opportunities to stop and give thanks for our many, many blessings! This month, we celebrated our amazing volunteers with two different Volunteer Appreciation Luncheons, catered by Panera, and with a fun photo booth for lasting memories! And we highlighted one of our most committed volunteers and Board Member Fatima Johnson in a recent post.
But to Fatima, the Clinic isn’t just an excellent employer; she believes the work the Clinic does is absolutely pivotal to the community. “I think there’s a gap in the justice system. If you get in trouble and it’s a criminal issue, you’re entitled to a public defender,” she says. “If it’s a civil matter, you basically have no protection… It puts people in a vulnerable situation when they don’t have access to an attorney.” She stresses that these already-vulnerable situations are often compounded for people by their lack of specialized knowledge about issues like immigration law, paperwork, and unknown deadlines. She believes part of her purpose in life is to help walk people through this kind of information.