eNewsletter - July 2017

 
  
     LAF eNewsletter
July 2017     
EQUAL JUSTICE STARTS HERE.
In This Newsletter
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Meet Regina Hernandez
 
 
Whether it’s living on food stamps while paying off law school debt, or expanding LAF’s Woodlawn Legal Clinic on Chicago’s south side, Regina Hernandez doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
 
When she first joined LAF through AmeriCorps VISTA--the domestic service program that connects idealists and change makers from all walks of life to nonprofits working to fight poverty--Woodlawn saw an average of 12-15 clients per clinic. Now one year later, the two-hour monthly clinic sees an average of almost 40 clients, largely thanks to Regina’s ingenuity.
 
“At first, I was a little nervous to change things,” Regina says. But as she settled into her new role, she learned how to make it her own. “I stopped asking and started doing—and then asking, what do you think? How could it be improved? It just felt better to be proactive.”
 
And her enthusiasm paid off. For instance, one of LAF’s biggest struggles is its congested phone system, partly due to funding shortages that have cut the number of intake specialists by almost half. Help desks and clinics like Woodlawn help free up the phone lines, but the phone menu used language many clients didn't understand (something like, “If you’d like to hear about our community clinics, press 9”). Realizing many clients aren’t familiar with ‘clinics’ outside of a medical context, she worked to change the language to something more widely understood.
 
That small change led to an explosion of calls—from about 45 a month to more than 200. “Always be respectful, always work within the parameters you’re given, but at the same time, if you think something could be improved and you’re willing to take that on, go for it,” she says.
 
She also changed a question about domestic violence on the clinic’s intake form. “We’d get a lot of clients at Woodlawn who’d come in for help with some other issue like help with their utilities. They may not be ready or able to address the domestic violence, but might want to address it in the future,” Regina explains. She added the definition of domestic violence in italics next to the question, along with a domestic violence hotline they could call in case they wanted to address the issue at another time or in a different setting.
 
Along with managing the Woodlawn clinic, she oversaw the Juvenile Expungement Help Desk, which has also seen considerable growth in recent months thanks to expanded hours, increased staffing, as well as Regina’s outreach efforts.
 
As her year of service came to a close last month, she accepted a permanent position as Staff Attorney in LAF’s Volunteer Services Unit. Thanks to Regina for her dedicated service as a VISTA Attorney, and congratulations on her new position!
 

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A message
from LAF's
Interim Executive Director
Kate Shank
 
The impact of LAF’s cases can ripple outward for generations.  Most of LAF’s clients are adults, but as you’ll read in this eNewsletter, many children’s lives are changed by LAF.  You’ll read about Joe and Jack whose family is a little more secure thanks to public benefits, children with medical complications whose health is improved by LAF’s medical-legal partnerships, and how civil legal aid is crucial to fight violence in Chicago by breaking down barriers to employment. And you’ll read about one child, Dennericka Brooks, who grew up to become a legal aid attorney, whose impact continues to make ripples in other children’s lives into the future. 
 
As always, on behalf of LAF and all our clients, thank you for your continued support of our work. Your investment in LAF ensures that equal justice prevails for all people, across generations and into the future. 
 
Best,
 
 
Katherine W. Shank
LAF Director of Volunteer Services
and Interim Executive Director
 
 
"Our Children are Watching" 
Dennericka Brooks' Moving Luncheon Speech
 
 
Last month at our Annual Luncheon, LAF presented the Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award to Dennericka Brooks, a dedicated Supervisory Attorney in our Housing Practice Group. This award is given annually to one attorney on LAF’s staff whose work embodies the work of Jerold Solovy, an attorney whose life’s work was given meaning by helping to change the legal system and improve the lives of people living in poverty. Dennericka lives up to that mission as well as anyone at LAF, and her speech at the Luncheon reminded all of us about the lifelong impact our work can have. We’ve highlighted a selection of it here.
 
Every once in a while, I wonder what you see when you look at me. Do you see someone that DCFS threatened to remove from her family after an accident because we were poor? Do you see the little girl that in second grade was told by an adult that she couldn’t be a doctor and she should try something else? What about the middle school girl who went downtown with her teacher to a science fair and had someone ask her white male teacher if he was okay? Do you see someone who because of the poverty sometimes didn’t have heat or hot water? Who, because of gang infestation, looked down the barrel of a gun and was caught in gang crossfire more than once? Do you see someone that was exposed to domestic violence?
 
If you don’t look at me and see those things, I want you to start. I want you to see them because despite those things, I am here now. I want you to see the child of former LAF clients that was provided a safety net and given a little more stability because of legal aid. Our clients face obstacles like mine every day. It is also the humanity and kindness of others, including the attorneys at LAF, that children see when they step in and help. It’s important to know and believe that through our work, we also lift families out of poverty. Our children are watching. I was watching. It is the humanity of others that made me always want to help others. So I’d ask that everyone in this room be a Jerold Solovy: considerate, generous, humble. Accept the privilege that we have, acknowledge the responsibility given us because of our positions, and hold each other accountable as stewards of justice with the ability to remove barriers and break the cycle of poverty for impoverished families.
 
We affect the lives of not only the adults that we help, but also of the children. Our children see us, they see our intervention and our work propels our children to seek better, to do better, to help others. When you look out at our clients, see me. See what is possible if we keep working together to provide equal access to justice.”
 
 
The Cost of Jobs 
WBEZ Profile on Gangs, Guns,
and Making our City Safer
 
 
“The best anti-crime program is a job,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said last fall in a heavily hyped speech about the city’s violence. “It’s that simple.”
 
As part of their "Every Other Hour" Series about gun violence in Chicago, Chicago Public Media and WBEZ did some math to determine the cost of creating and filling those jobs. And their answer is clear: to reduce violence in Chicago by creating jobs, more than half the battle is legal aid services like juvenile records expungements. LAF is vital to making our city safer.  
 
 
 
LAF to the Rescue! 
A Story of Public Benefits that Make the Difference
 
Carla is a single mother to her sons Joe and Jack. Their only steady income was a small social security stipend for Joe, but they were managing with it. Then their apartment burned down. They moved in with Carla’s sister and her family until they could get enough money together for another apartment. Carla went to the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services Office in her neighborhood, where she was referred to LAF Paralegal Shirley Wilkins, who helped her apply for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits.  TANF is a program that provides short-term financial grants to families with children living in poverty, to help pay for food, shelter, utilities, and other expenses. Carla was granted $1300, enough to move into and furnish a new apartment.  She is also getting $300 each month until she and her children get back on their feet. 
 
This may seem like a small victory, but for Carla, Joe, and Jack, it means the difference between having a home together and living on the streets. Because of LAF and Shirley, Carla and her family have a new home and another shot at life. 
 
 
Let's Do Lunch 
Brownbag Roundtable Series takes on
Medical-Legal Partnerships
 
 
 
A lawyer can’t provide medical treatment for a senior living with cystic fibrosis, but she can fight to ensure his utilities stay on so he can keep his medications refrigerated. Likewise, a child in public housing may be able to get treatment for her asthma, but her doctor can’t force her landlord to remove the black mold that’s causing it. For people in poverty, legal issues can exacerbate health problems, and health issues can trigger legal problems.
 
To improve health outcomes and legal outcomes, both sides need to connect health care with patients’ broader social needs. To that end, health care providers and social service providers are teaming up to address the social determinants of health and poverty – such as income, housing, education, and employment, with Medical-legal partnerships. MLPs — the topic of LAF’s latest Brownbag Roundtable—are a prime example. In addition to helping patients and communities become healthier, MLPs reduce healthcare spending for high-need, high-use patients and improve reimbursement rates for clinical services, meaning that medical providers have more resources to help more people.
 
“As lawyers, we’re often frustrated that despite the best legal outcomes we can accomplish, our clients are still trapped in poverty because of chronic illness. Physicians and other medical providers we’ve talked to share that same frustration—that despite their best efforts, their patients are trapped in poor health because of factors beyond their control,” Trey Daly, Director of LAF’s Public Benefits Practice Group, explained at the Brownbag Roundtable last week. “MLPs bring together those two important roles in the lives of low-income Chicagoans, to find creative solutions that deal with both their legal and medical problems.”
 
Read more about it on LAF's blog here.
 
 
New Online Portal Empowers Crime Victims with Comprehensive Legal Help 
LAF, ILAO, and Metropolitan Family Services
Team Up for Victims of Crime
 
Crime victims now have access to a free, 24/7 online resource designed to empower them with information that helps them address their legal needs. Illinois Legal Aid Online, in partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services, have launched the “Victims of Crime” online portal, VOC.IllinoisLegalAid.org. The portal provides a reliable resource for people to access a wide range of legal information and services.
 
Several LAF staff members were instrumental in ensuring that the survivor stories included were accurate and reflective of the real life experiences of survivors, and we are proud of their work. Click through the Portal to read stories of victims of crime, learn about the resources available to them, and see what LAF and its partners are doing to help.  
 
 
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!
 
 
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LAF
EQUAL JUSTICE STARTS HERE.

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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