From an early age, LAF’s IT Supervisor Eric Fong knew he wanted to work with computers. “I like being able to teach people new ways of doing things that will save them time,” he says. “I try to be a force multiplier—so that people are able to do their jobs more efficiently.”
He first became familiar with civil justice issues during college, when we worked on a project for Illinois Legal Aid Online. “I knew I wanted to work at a place where I’d be excited to contribute, and LAF’s mission really spoke to me,” he reflects. “And even though I’m not a lawyer, I can put my skills to use helping lawyers. And I think that’s important.”
In Eric’s more than ten years at LAF, he’s worked hard to ensure everything runs smoothly and efficiently so LAF can increase its capacity to serve people in need. He describes the staff’s sincerity and dedication as what keeps him excited to come to work each day. “I see people when they’re at their most frustrated. But no matter how much they’ve been worn down by a difficult case or whatever it is they’re dealing with, I know it’s all because they care so much about the work. And that means I never have a bad day here.”
Like Eric, your support keeps LAF up and running—so that more people can get the legal assistance they need to protect their homes, families, and livelihood. Make your tax-deductible donation for 2016 today at www.lafchicago.org.
On top of physical and emotional trauma, victims of violent crimes are often burdened with overwhelming financial costs. Through the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Program, victims and their families can apply to be reimbursed for expenses accrued as a result of a violent crime, such as medical costs and loss of earnings. However, many victims aren’t aware that such a program exists, forcing them to bear the full financial burden themselves as they try to heal physical and emotional wounds. “Information on the Compensation Program is in a small box on the back of the police report. Without advocacy and community outreach, a lot of victims don’t even know the program exists,” says Denise Davis, Crime Victim Advocate at LAF.
In her nearly 25 years at LAF, Denise has provided support to countless victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes. From writing letters to creditors on behalf of her clients so they’ll put collection efforts on hold, to reaching out to doctors and dentists to see if they’d be willing to provide their services, Denise goes above and beyond to make sure her clients get what they need to be able to rebound from their victimization. “It’s about doing what we can to help them be whole again.”
Individual contributions enable Denise to continue supporting crime victims as they fight to get their lives back on track. Help LAF start the new year strong by making your tax-deductible donation for 2016 today at www.lafchicago.org.
Shortly after graduating college, Ian Jackson and his roommates ran into an issue with their landlord. Frustrated and unsure how to proceed, they reached out to student legal services for guidance. After meeting with a legal assistant, they took the issue to small claims court and won their case. “That experience inspired me to go to law school,” Ian says. “That feeling of empowerment was something I wanted to be able to offer to other people—more agency in their own lives, facing their own challenges.”
As a Fellowship Attorney in LAF’s Housing Practice Group, Ian now works directly with people in poverty to ensure they have a safe, affordable place to live. “Having a decent, stable place to live is one of the basic foundations of life,” he says. And with a stable foundation, individuals and families can build better, healthier lives. “It’s often a stepping stone for people to move in a different direction with their lives or recover from a setback, or take steps to move forward with various goals for themselves and their families.”
Your support helps LAF move forward, so that attorneys like Ian can empower more people to build better lives for themselves and their families. Make your tax-deductible contribution for 2016 at www.lafchicago.org.
While advances in treatment for HIV allow those affected to live longer and reduce their risk of transmission, stigma and discrimination can deter people from getting the help they need. “People definitely face discrimination based on their status, and it manifests itself in different ways,” says Kenya Burnett, Senior Attorney in LAF’s Public Benefits Practice Group.
Prior to joining LAF in 2009, Kenya worked as a case manager for people living with HIV. She now heads up LAF’s HIV/AIDS Task Force, which works internally to ensure LAF is addressing issues germane to clients living with HIV. Thanks to Kenya and members of the Task Force, LAF runs two legal clinics for people living with HIV—one at the Howard Brown Health Center in partnership with Legal Council for Health Justice, and one at Provident Hospital of Cook County. “The HIV community is pretty tight-knit, so it’s important for organizations serving that population to maintain strong relationships with each other and within that community. We all rely on each other, and we’re all working together for a common goal,” Kenya says.
From representing clients whose HIV status has been illegally disclosed, to helping people living with HIV navigate the civil justice system to obtain the public benefits they’re entitled to, Kenya continues to serve the HIV community through advocacy and outreach. “Service is the price we pay for the space we occupy,” she says. “Because I’m here on this earth, breathing the same air, I have an obligation to serve others. And we all have that same obligation to each other.”
“Working with clients is all about teamwork—like it’s you and your client against the world,” says Jonathan DeLozano, Northwestern Fellow and Attorney in LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group. “It’s like they’re the king and I’m a knight, and we’re going out there together to face whatever forces of evil are at play.”
Jonathan specializes in employment law, defending clients in cases of wrongful termination and wage theft, but also working with them to get unemployment benefits or back pay. “I consider myself to be like Virgil, guiding my clients through the nine circles of bureaucratic hell,” he jokes. Most of his clients are low wage workers, so they don’t have much money saved up. For them, unemployment benefits can be the difference between having a home and sleeping at a shelter.
He recalls a former client—a senior who was fired and then denied unemployment benefits because his employer claimed he had lunged at him. “Prior to the hearing, we had only spoken on the phone. But when he showed up for the hearing, it was clear he had medical problems affecting his mobility.” His client had bad knees, confirmed by his doctor who he had been seeing about the problem. Since his employers’ claim about him lunging at him were clearly false, they ended up winning the case.
In cases involving an employer, Jonathan’s clients often start out behind, lacking the resources to fight back. “Unfortunately, when you don’t have money, you don’t have power. And when you don’t have power you don’t have a voice,” he says. “But if I’m able to represent them, we can work together to identify the wrongs and try to make them right.”
Help dedicated attorneys like Jonathan reach more people who need someone on their side. Team up with LAF by making your tax-deductible donation for 2016 at www.lafchicago.org.
Before attending law school, Kate Gladson, now a Staff Attorney in LAF’s Children and Families Practice Group, worked as a middle school teacher in Kansas City. During the summer after her first year of teaching, her school district closed nearly half of its 61 schools. “Seeing how that impacted my students—especially those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans—that was a huge source of inspiration for me to pursue a career in education law,” Kate says.
School closings are a familiar topic among Chicagoans. In 2013, Chicago Public Schools closed 50 schools—the largest one-time school closure in US history—despite extensive backlash. Kate joined LAF as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in 2014, shortly after the mass closings, to focus on protecting the educational rights of the thousands of low-income students who were impacted. “When a school is closed, a large number of students’ educational experience is disrupted,” she says. That disruption can have lasting consequences—particularly for students with special needs. “Records can go missing, there can be delays in implementing IEPs, and sometimes students are assigned to a school that doesn’t have the resources to meet their needs.”
That’s where LAF comes in. Whether it’s advocating for changes to a student’s IEP if their needs aren’t being fully addressed or representing children in foster care, LAF attorneys like Kate are committed to fighting for appropriate educational programming for all children in Cook County. “We are trying to ensure that students make educational progress and eventually become self-sustaining adults. It is one of the best, most proactive ways to improve life outcomes for young people.”