eNewsletter - February 2017

   LAF eNewsletter
February 2017   
In This Newsletter
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Meet Melissa Lopez

Melissa Lopez, LAF Client Screening Unit Intake Administrator
Melissa Lopez has worked at LAF for more of her life than she hasn't worked here.  Coming to LAF straight out of high school at age 17, she has been helping clients access civil legal aid since 2000.  Today, 17 years later, she is LAF’s Intake Administrator, and runs the day-to-day operations of the Client Screening Unit (CSU). 
A typical day in CSU starts at 8am, when the phone lines open to clients.  Hundreds of people living in poverty call LAF every day, hoping for help.  Those that get through get through receive a phone call back from an intake specialist, who asks them questions about their legal needs and eligibility for LAF’s services.  These intake staff are really the front lines of LAF’s services.  They speak to clients in crisis, who need help and don’t know where to turn.  The intake specialists provide advice or referrals to other agencies who can help.  If cases are more complex, the intake specialists make appointments for the callers with one of LAF’s Practice Groups.  In addition to the phone queue, other clients are referred to LAF from other partner organizations in the community, and, recently, more and more are coming to LAF by way of an online intake platform through Illinois Legal Aid Online.  Melissa is behind the scenes of all of this, managing the phone queue and referrals, distributing calls among the intake staff, overseeing calendars, running reports on big data, reviewing rejected cases, improving procedure manuals, and, sometimes, even doing intake phone calls herself when the call volume is especially high. 
Sometimes, CSU can be just as significant as attorneys’ months or years in the courtroom.  Take Maggie’s story.  Maggie has lived in the same apartment for almost two decades.  She’s kept impeccable records and never been a problem for her landlords.  Recently, new management promised to clean up lead paint and broken floor tiles in all the older apartments in the complex. For some reason she could never discern, Maggie’s apartment never got cleaned, though her neighbors’ did.  CSU took her call, and intake staff member Gerald Polanco drafted a letter to the management company.  They responded immediately with a list of repairs they agreed to make in Maggie’s apartment this month, which include replacing the kitchen and bathroom floors, replacing the bathroom sink and toilet, replacing the kitchen stove and front door knob, adding pulls for the kitchen cabinets and replacing the blinds, and, most importantly, scraping and painting all areas with peeling or chipped paint, following the newest safe lead paint practices. 
“Knowledge is power,” Melissa explains.  “Even if we can’t help everyone, giving them a number to call or the self-help forms on ILAO’s site goes a long way.  Any little thing can help.  A simple effort, a phone call or a letter, can make a huge difference.” 
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A special message
from LAF
Executive Director
Diana C. White
The winds of political change have swept over the country, and word of massive change in programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and the Affordable Care Act is in the air.  Immigrant families are terrified of being caught up in mass deportations.  Funding for even the Legal Service Corporation itself is at risk – which would slash LAF’s budget nearly in half. 
No one can predict the outcome of the political debate, but it certainly looks as if, in the words of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, “a hard rain’s gonna fall” on people who have very little shelter from the storm.
That's why we are so grateful for your ongoing support, and urge you to step up once again.  A recurring monthly gift in any amount will have a significant impact on our ability to help the members of our community who need it most.  Your contributions, your volunteer hours, and your support of LAF remain our most steadfast and reliable source of income.  
Diana C. White
LAF Executive Director
Tickets available for Justice is Served 2017 
Silent Auction Promises Big Winnings!
Join us on Friday, March 31st at The Tortoise Club for an evening of premium open bar, buffet, passed hors d'oeuvres, and an even more impressive silent auction, with items including international vacations, liquor packages, sports tickets, and more.  Tickets cost $150 each, and sponsorships begin at $750. Tickets and sponsorships are available now -- get them here
A Right to Education for Isaiah 
LAF's Education Law Team takes Isaiah from Being Institutionalized to the Being on the Honor Roll
LAF’s Education Law team is dedicated to championing the rights of children.  It works every day to demand that children in Chicago’s public schools – including charter schools – receive the quality education they deserve.  Members of the Ed Law team recently shared the story of Isaiah, a student for whom LAF’s services allwed him to succeed in a supportive school environment.
After his kindergarten year, Isaiah’s neighborhood public school was closed by the district.  His mother enrolled him in a charter school for the next year, and requested an evaluation for special education services to help with some emerging behavioral issues related to his diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  She received no response.  In a new environment and with no support, six-year-old Isaiah’s behavior only got more disruptive and dangerous.  The school held multiple conferences with his mother, but never began an evaluation for special education services for the first grader.  The charter school ignored every warning sign that Isaiah had a disability and needed special education help.  Instead, the school repeatedly called emergency mental health support services from the State, which ended up sending him to three different psychiatric hospitals in four months.  After the third hospitalization, the school refused to let Isaiah return.
That’s when Isaiah’s family came to LAF for help.  LAF’s attorneys filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which sided with Isaiah on every count: the charter school had failed to identify Isaiah’s need for special education services, and failed to provide the special education services that Isaiah had every right to receive due to his disability.  OCR ordered a full independent evaluation that resulted in a robust individualized education program (IEP) for Isaiah and required that he attend a specialized school focused on emotional disabilities.  OCR also required the staff at his old charter school to be educated on the laws surrounding special education.
Two years later, Isaiah is in third grade at his new school.  A few weeks ago, Isaiah’s mom called LAF to tell us that Isaiah was on the honor roll.  He is doing well in school, his behavioral issues are under control, and he is thriving.  He may be able to transition to a neighborhood school soon.  LAF is proud of the progress Isaiah has made in the new supportive environment he is entitled to have.  We are committed to standing up for the rights of all students with disabilities in our education system, and to ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to succeed in school.
Let's Do Lunch 
LAF's Brownbag Roundtable Series Continues with a Conversation about Human Trafficking
Earlier this month, LAF hosted its first Brownbag Roundtable of 2017, featuring Staff Attorney Amy Martin and Supervisory Attorney Lisa Palumbo from LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group. With sixty minutes and an attentive crowd, they shed light on the global issue of human trafficking — a form of modern slavery that can include sexual exploitation, forced labor, or both.
Amy described one trafficking named James, a talented athlete who was recruited in Nigeria at the age of 14 to play basketball in the United States. Upon James’ arrival, his trafficker forced him to sleep on the floor of his garage, withheld food and water as a means to control him, and refused to let him tell his family about what was really going on. Unbeknownst to James, his trafficker was meanwhile accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from athletic recruiters on his behalf. When James found LAF, we were able to help him obtain a T visa—a type of visa reserved for victims of trafficking—empowering him to reclaim his autonomy and get his life back on track.
You can read more about it on our blog.  Thanks to all who were able to join us for this illuminating discussion.
"This is Grassroots" 
A Snapshot of the Woodlawn Legal Clinic
and the Community that Made it Happen
Working in civil legal aid, you become accustomed to limited resources and occasional setbacks.  With only 15 minutes before the Woodlawn Legal Clinic opens for clients, the internet vanishes and the staff is hard-pressed to find it. While Haleigh Haffner, an AmeriCorps VISTA in LAF’s Children and Families Practice Group, makes calls for technical assistance, Regina Hernandez, a VISTA Attorney at LAF and the key figure behind the clinic, begins pondering Plans B and C out loud. No internet means squinting at the small screen of Regina’s cell phone and, once the clinic finishes, potential overtime creating client profiles in LAF’s case database. When Haleigh hangs up without good news, Regina plugs in a small desk fan (“it gets hot in here”), and settles in at one of the tables in a secluded area that she calls the “war room.” With piles of advice on everything from eviction to domestic violence, a box of sandwiches, and plenty of chairs for attorneys to sit and strategize on behalf of their clients, it looks like the first line of defense on what will become a legal battlefield. “We can’t let this [setback] affect the people out there who need our help,” Regina says of those lining up in the waiting room. “The important thing is that the people here are seen and served. We’ll make it work.”
Check out LAF on Social Media!
Follow us on Twitter at @ChicagoLAF, like our Facebook page, catch up with us on Instagram, and read our blog at lafchicago.wordpress.com to keep up with all our work!
Sign up for Monthly Giving!
Pledge your ongoing support to LAF and
make your recurring gift today!

For more than 50 years, LAF has provided free legal services in non-criminal matters to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community, ensuring they have the same access to legal services as those who can afford it.  By resolving critical legal problems that systemically trap people in poverty, such as domestic violence, consumer fraud, and unfair evictions, LAF has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals get their lives back on track and given them hope for a brighter future.  
We rely on the generosity of individuals and companies to provide the private support we need to fulfill our mission.  
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