West Side partnership to provide free legal aid and social services to youth and young adults

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Four West Side nonprofits have formed a coalition in hopes of strengthening public safety through free legal aid and comprehensive social services for children and young adults.

“For decades, we have spent billions of dollars to monitor, prosecute and incarcerate primarily black and Latin American communities in Chicago,” Cliff Nellis, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, said at a press conference Tuesday.

“This has led to … the massive number of permanent debilitating criminal records [and] long prison terms – and has exacerbated the cycle of poverty, the cycle of violence and racial inequality in our city.

This coalition, Justice Rising: Project 77 aims to break these cycles.

A member of the coalition, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, 1530 S. Hamlin Ave., will assign an on-site lawyer to each of the three other nonprofits in the coalition: Breakthrough, 3219 W. Carroll Ave. at East Garfield Park; BUILD, 5100 W. Harrison St. in Austin; and Chicagoland New Life Centers, 3908 W. Hirsch St. in Little Village.

These three attorneys will provide free legal assistance to potential clients who have cases pending in Cook County Juvenile and Adult Courts.

As the lawyer approaches clients’ legal issues, he or she can also direct them to social services that each group can help. This holistic approach can include trauma counseling, workforce development, access to housing, spiritual guidance, violence prevention, and health care. The initiative will serve young people and adults up to the age of 24.

“Justice Rising is a group of community leaders who believe we need to transform the criminal justice system for all youth under the age of 25. [years old] from scratch, ”Nellis said at the press conference. “This is a violence prevention, crime prevention and public safety initiative. “

Nellis said the partnership will also help lawyers understand the systemic issues facing some communities – issues at the root of the violence. As a result, it is hoped that these lawyers will be able to better meet the needs of their clients not only in the criminal justice system, but also by connecting them with services that can improve their quality of life.

Justice Rising: Project 77 hopes to bring similar partnerships to Chicago’s 77 community areas. It is not known when the initiative will be able to develop throughout the city.

For now, it will cost around $ 300,000 per site to cover lawyers, social workers and outreach workers. This figure does not include the cost of actual social services.

The coalition hopes to expand the program to four more neighborhoods by the end of the year.

Cliff Nellis, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, at a press conference Tuesday to announce a new coalition called Justice Rising: Project 77. Through this coalition, the center will provide lawyers to three nonprofit community groups in East Garfield Park, Little Village and Austin.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Breakthrough’s executive director Yolanda Fields said their organization has been very successful in providing services to families, but access to quality legal aid is lacking. Just because someone got into trouble with the law, she says, doesn’t mean you have to forget it.

“We believe that redemption is possible and that redemption does not absolve us, but it does create an opportunity for hope,” Fields said. “We don’t just help young people, but we help our community. We restore hope, we repair and we provide opportunities for the evil to be reconciled and healed. “

Matt DeMateo, executive director of New Life Centers in Chicagoland, said the past 18 months have been difficult but the partnership is encouraging.

“We are facing challenges. We have fought against COVID-19, we have fought against racism, we have fought against violence, ”said DeMateo. “For us, this initiative is about taking four groups that have worked together for many years and scaling up a strong legal and full service community asset.”

Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer said many young people need an opportunity, or just to know someone cares. This new partnership, he said, will do just that.

“Here in our city, here in our county, the only way to tackle violence in our communities is through projects like this one,” Deer said.

Fredrick Dennis (center), who received assistance from the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, speaks with Yolanda Fields (from left), Cliff Nellis and Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer after a press conference on Tuesday, September 7 2021 announcing a new partnership between the legal center and three West Side nonprofits.  Nellis is executive director of the legal center;  Fields is the executive director of Breakthrough, one of the partnership's social service organizations.

Fredrick Dennis (center), who has received assistance from the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, chats with Yolanda Fields (from left), Cliff Nellis and Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer after Tuesday’s press conference announcing a new partnership between the legal center and three non-profit organizations from West Side agencies. Nellis is executive director of the legal center; Fields is the executive director of Breakthrough, one of the partnership’s social service organizations.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times


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