Illinois JusticeCorps Fellow, Dasha Pates, receives inaugural Illinois John Lewis Youth Leadership Award from the Illinois Secretary of State

March 11. 2024

We are so proud and honored to share that Dasha Pates, Illinois JusticeCorps Fellow for Kane County, was awarded the inaugural Illinois John Lewis Youth Leadership Award from Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias. This honor is awarded in collaboration with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) to honor late Representative John Lewis’ legacy of civic leadership in the community.

“Pates, an alumna of Aurora University, was selected from a pool of 30 candidates for her work improving access to legal services at the Kane County Judicial Center. As a JusticeCorps Fellow, Dasha helps disenfranchised members of Kane County, including the unhoused, people with mental health concerns, people living in poverty, and students.” – Illinois Secretary of State’s Office.

As an AmeriCorps member, Dasha tirelessly serves people without lawyers visiting the Kane County Law Library & Self Help Legal Center by providing them with legal information and procedural guidance. Dasha brings compassion, empathy, and a drive to serve her community to her work and we are thrilled she has been recognized by this well-deserved prestigious award.

Upon accepting the award, Dasha had the following remarks about volunteerism and the Illinois JusticeCorps program:

“I am so grateful to continue Representative John Lewis’ legacy of civic engagement as a youth leader in my community by serving as an Illinois JusticeCorps Fellow. The Illinois JusticeCorps program operates under AmeriCorps and the Illinois Bar Foundation, and places fellows in courthouses around the state to bridge the gap in legal aid.

If you’ve heard of Miranda Rights, you know that those involved in criminal cases are entitled to legal representation, but those in civil cases – divorce, child custody, eviction, restraining orders, for example – are often left without any legal aid. JusticeCorps fellows help self-represented litigants by walking them through the logistical proceedings of a civil legal case, such as guiding them through filing legal documents, giving instructions of how to attend remote court hearings, and providing legal information that the general public is unaware of.

The work that we do affects so many lives – missing one court hearing could mean someone loses their home, or not submitting court forms properly could mean someone loses the right to see their child. In the face of a complicated legal system, JusticeCorps members are often the only people that the general public can go to for legal help.

I’m happy to win this award because so much more light needs to be shed on this phenomenal program – JusticeCorps has a range of volunteer programs, from an as-need basis to full-time fellows like me, but all members, regardless of the program, make such a difference in the courthouses they work in. I think many my age disregard the impact they can make in their community – I’ve heard people say: “What good is one day of volunteering?” When I was the only Spanish-speaker in the law library, missing one day meant an entire demographic of people would struggle to receive any legal aid at all. Other times, for me, I’m only clicking a few buttons to log someone onto a Zoom call. For an illiterate, Spanish-speaking patron, it would have been an impossible task to figure out how to attend that remote court hearing, and missing it sometimes means a judgment is entered against them in their case – a judgment they can’t even read, one that isn’t even in their own language. Young people, but really, everyone, needs to remember that a small action on their end can be so meaningful in others’ lives. It’s so important to get out, get involved, and never underestimate the difference that you can make in your community.”

Congratulations Dasha! Thanks to AmeriCorps, the Serve Illinois Commission, AmeriCorps, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, and the Dunham Foundation for making Illinois JusticeCorps and Dasha’s work possible.

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