Each year, more than one million Illinois residents qualify and apply for civil legal aid, and the sad truth is that far too many of these individuals are denied due to a simple lack of capacity at the organizations that are so tirelessly providing critical legal aid services. The Illinois Bar Foundation is committed to our vision to be a statewide leader in advancing access to justice for all, especially those of limited means, and we remain the only voluntarily funded statewide bar foundation distributing funding for these important access to justice causes for those who otherwise can’t afford it.
The idea of “access to justice” can seem nebulous, even to those well-acquainted with the legal profession. While a person accused of a crime in a criminal court is thankfully entitled to an attorney regardless of their ability to pay, there is no such provision for the civil courts. This leaves the legal aid system as a vital lifeline to low-income individuals struggling with domestic violence, housing discrimination and eviction, elder law, and disability rights, among numerous other concerns. Below, we are honored to share a few stories from our simply exceptional grantee organizations around Illinois that help shed some light on what “access to justice” really means to the people we serve.
GIVING A VOICE TO SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
IBF grantee Riverview Center serves the far western Illinois communities of Jo Daviess and Caroll Counties with compassionate care for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. When a domestic violence survivor showed up with their bags in active flight from an abusive situation, trained counselors and advocates worked as a team to meet her physical and legal needs. Riverview Center’s staff assisted this client by providing food and essentials, helping her find and receive transportation to a safe shelter, and arranging outside legal representation through funding from the IBF to address her legal needs including obtaining an order of protection, filing for divorce, and establishing child custody/visitation rights.
Thanks to the assistance received at Riverview, this client shared, “I feel so much stronger and more confident. I didn’t have a voice before because I couldn’t have a voice, and now I do.”
KEEPING FAMILIES TOGETHER THROUGH ADOPTION
Greenlight Family Services strives to preserve families, provide hope and protect lives through its adoption, guardianship, counseling, mediation and post-adoption support services. Greenlight operates throughout the state with offices on the north and south sides of Chicago and in Springfield.
One of Greenlight’s recent clients is a grandfather who is completely dedicated to the well-being of his grandson, having raised him since birth. With the child’s birth father deceased and the birth mother moving in and out of the child’s life, the grandfather has been able to provide much-needed support and stability to his grandson despite not being the child’s legal guardian. After years of their clients living with this uncertainty, Greenlight was thrilled to finalize this adoption using funds from the Illinois Bar Foundation. The child, now 12 years old, is trying out for his school’s basketball team and thriving with support from his grandfather as his primary caretaker.
ENSURING SECURE HOUSING DURING DIFFICULT TIMES
Through its community-based programs focusing on educational advocacy, criminal record relief, mental health, school-based legal clinics and more, the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy champions justice while providing a lifeline of innovative, holistic legal and social work programs to create a more equitable community in the Evanston area.
When a recent Moran Center client, “Mark”, injured his foot, he lost his job and fell behind on rent. He and his two daughters were facing eviction. Through the Moran Center’s School-Based Civil Legal Clinic (SBCLC) program, volunteer attorneys provided aid, first trying to help him get emergency rental assistance which was unsuccessful due to lack of cooperation by the landlord. Ultimately, through the attorneys’ efforts, “Mark” was able to get more than $20,000 waived in back rent and secure ample time for him and his family to move out. Perhaps most importantly for the family’s future wellbeing, the SBCLC attorneys were successful in sealing the eviction on his record, which can paint an unfair picture of a renter’s ability to pay rent, thus paving a clear path for Mark to secure housing in the future.
Through the generous contributions of our donors, the IBF’s programs impact the lives of over 52,000 individuals like the ones above each year. The diligent work of our grantee organizations and the funds that the Illinois Bar Foundation was able to provide made these stories, among countless others, a reality this year. With so many more individuals to help, this holiday season, we hope that you will join us and donate in support of our work to remove geographic, economic and social barriers to access to justice that harm our communities across the state.
On behalf of the Board of Directors and the many individuals we serve, thank you for giving back to our neighbors in need this holiday season.
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