NORTH LAWNDALE — One of the city’s only community-based legal aid clinics is getting federal funding to expand its free holistic legal services that give people support rebuilding their lives after being accused of crimes.
Lawndale Christian Legal Center, 1530 S. Hamlin Ave., received a $200,000 earmark in the federal budget. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and organization leaders announced the funding Monday.
The center has provided legal and social services for thousands of Chicago youths in the criminal justice system since its founding in 2010.
The organization provides free criminal defense, workforce development services and restorative justice opportunities to young people under 25 facing criminal charges. Approximately 20 percent of the organization’s $5 million budget goes to providing holistic legal representation; the rest goes to social services to help keep young people out of the criminal justice system, leaders say.
Durbin made the trip to Lawndale Monday to announce the funding, praising the organization’s work to break the long cycle of gun violence and incarceration in communities of color. He said that 89 percent of legal center participants were not rearrested, 73 percent of school-aged clients were back in the classroom and 69 percent of non-school-aged participants were working or in a vocational program.
“That’s why I brought this federal money back home here,” Durbin said. “I believe if we’re truly going to end violence in Chicago or in America, it has to go beyond the courtroom. It has to go into legal centers like this, where people sit down and work with people who’ve had a pretty miserable life until this point, to give them another outlook on life and give them another chance.”
Executive Director Cliff Nellis said the money was likely the first of its kind for the organization. The funding will go toward the center’s range of services from representing young people in court to helping them get back on their feet outside of it.
Nellis shared the story of Deshawn Nelson, a formerly incarcerated person whom the legal center helped connect with a mentor and a job after he got out of prison. Nelson now operates a moving business, owning two trucks and employing four people.
The legal center also has partnered with other organizations, including Breakthrough in Garfield Park, BUILD in Austin and New Life Centers in Little Village to expand services across the West Side, connecting clients with lawyers and counselors. The organization also plans to begin a partnership with Target Area Development Corporation in Englewood, which is slated to start next month.
“We’re very excited,” Nellis said. “I’m happy to say that partly due to the funding that Senator Dick Durbin has provided us this month, we are now going to be expanding on the South Side in Englewood.”
Despite the toll of gun violence in the city, Durbin said it’s easy to maintain hope that crisis intervention can help make communities safer. Asked why, he said to look no further than the room in which he was standing.
“Most of these young people are going to be out on the street again, even if they are arrested and convicted. And what’s next? We want what’s next to be a positive thing. And that’s what Lawndale Christian Legal Center is all about.”
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