When Stan was only 19-years-old, a group of guys he hung out with one night got picked up for breaking into a building. These men—who already had cases pending and who were in search of lighter sentences—claimed that Stan was with them during the break-in. Scared, but lacking the financial resources to effectively defend against the charges, Stan took the first deal that was offered to him.
As a young girl, Jordan Huttenlocker dreamed of being a veterinarian. Over the years, however, her ambitions shifted, and she eventually became a lawyer, practicing medical malpractice defense. For a time, this was the perfect marriage of her interests. But after eight years of working as a full-time attorney at a large firm in Chicago, Jordan and her husband decided to move back to Ft. Wayne. Jordan took a step back from her career to focus on raising their two small children. Soon, however, she sought part-time employment again. “I realized I really did miss practicing law,” she says.
The words, “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way!” are stenciled on the far office wall of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic’s Expungement Help Desk. These words also comprise a message we try to convey to those who step through our doors in the basement of the City County Building. Our visitors are ready to leave their past behind in search of a second chance. Perhaps they are unable to find a good job or a nice apartment to call home. Or perhaps they are prevented from seeking educational opportunities for career and life advancement.
In case you missed it, this April, we highlighted our amazing team of volunteers, sharing stories of their most meaningful client interactions, exploring their reasons for giving back, and learning how volunteering nourishes them in turn. We kicked off the month with a special message from Volunteer Coordinator Kathleen Bloxsome.
Volunteer Attorney Fatima Skimin understands the experiences of the immigrants she serves through the Clinic. Born in Casablanca, Morocco, as a girl, she received a French education, and later attended Law School in Montpellier, France. In the mid 1990s, however, Fatima chose to come to the U.S. as an international student.
After studying in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries for several years, Katie Bailey returned to Indiana knowing one thing: She wanted to meet and support her immigrant neighbors living in the Indianapolis community. With prior experience translating and interpreting for legal issues through an internship, Katie sought out an organization to utilize her many skills. Soon, she began to volunteer for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.
Waiting with the others in court that morning, Phil was fascinated by the eclectic mix of people and their reasons for being there. Everyone had a story. There were those who were divorced, wanting to rid themselves of the name they had taken on as a newlywed. There were children who were being adopted, now bestowed with new names to match their new family. Phil marveled at the ceremony and power as the judge declared for each person, “You will forever be known as—” before christening them anew. “It felt like a religious moment,” Phil says to me now.
Every Wednesday morning at our main office, new potential clients have an opportunity to speak to an attorney about a pressing immigration or tax issue. While they sit in the waiting room, if they choose, they can fill out a prayer request card, which is then given to our volunteer prayer team. This team is currently comprised of two people: April Ervin and Grant Sellers.
In 1992, Dr. Frank Kik, Senior Pastor at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, challenged the congregation to be “a force for Christ in the heart of the city.” In response to this challenge, a handful of volunteers established the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. This small but mighty team of passionate volunteers committed to use their time, talents, and treasures to provide those living in the neighborhood with access to quality legal services.
In case you missed it, this March, we shared stories about the work done by our Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC), information on the biggest scams that threaten our clients, and helpful tips and resources for those who are facing tax-related issues.
One of the services we provide through our Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) is to represent people in the U.S. Tax Court. If you are selected for an IRS examination or audit, the IRS will take a closer look at your tax return to determine if there are any discrepancies or errors. At the end of this process, taxpayers are told if they still owe money. If they do not agree with the results of the IRS exam, they have 90 days to file in Tax Court.
Jim Foltz’s father owned a bakery where Jim mopped floors and washed dishes after school when he was just a boy. Down the road lived a prominent, local attorney who was friends with his father and grandfather. Over the years, Jim observed this man’s work, and he dreamed of one day becoming an attorney as well. “I thought that I could mediate and help people reach a fair and agreeable solution when they had difficulties,” he says. “That was my main motivation for becoming an attorney.”
In case you missed it, this February, we shared stories about the work done by our Housing Department, information on the biggest threats to safe housing faced by our clients, and helpful advice regarding housing-related topics. We kicked off the month with a message from Staff Attorney Chase Haller on “The Hidden Housing Crisis.”
Amy describes their Advocacy Program as the backbone of their work. “We assist individuals who believe they may have been a victim of housing discrimination to determine if there is in fact evidence of a violation of law or not,” she says. “If we find evidence of an unlawful practice, we then become an advocate for that victim and assist them in getting justice.”
Oftentimes, the Clinic is able to help a client navigate the situation with a lender to get a modification or some other kind of workout to lower their mortgage payment. Additionally, depending on the hardships they have experienced, homeowners may be eligible for a reinstatement program called the Indiana Hardest Hit Fund. For Michael, discovering the best kind of workout for his clients is rewarding. “I enjoy collaborating with homeowners to bring about a lasting and sustainable change in what is often the single largest expense of a household,” he says.
By the time Barbara Turner* contacted our Housing Department for assistance, she was over $10,000 behind on her mortgage payments. For the past year, she had endured many hardships that made her unable to afford her home, including domestic violence at the hands of her spouse. A stay-at-home mom to her three children, Barbara was determined to keep her family safe. And so she divorced her abusive husband and began to seek full-time employment. Paralegal Molly Howes Jefford says of this, “The loss of income from her divorce is in part why she struggled with maintaining her mortgage payments.”
Would it surprise you to learn that Indianapolis experiences 11,082 evictions every year, second only to New York City, a city of 8.5 million people? Every day in this city, 31.7 families are faced with the severe economic and emotional hardship that comes with an eviction.
In case you missed it, this January, we kicked off our 25th anniversary year with a close look at the Clinic’s Biblical Roots. Executive Director Chris Purnell shared a four-part blog series that explores the matter of justice and its role in the work we do. Read the whole series now: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4.
At Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, our faith in Jesus is the foundation of all the work that we do. Inspired by a powerful sermon to create the Clinic, Abby Kuzma and the other founders relied heavily on their faith to make this dream become a reality. Abby recalls being especially encouraged by Ephesians 2:10 in the early days: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Justice is ultimately made perfect or complete in the doing of things. Jesus talked about this when he said that the one who heard what he said and then actually put it into practice is like a wise person who built his house on solid ground.
In 1992, the vision for the Legal Clinic was first expressed in a Palm Sunday sermon by Dr. Frank Kik at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. The church was located in the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood and the sermon noted the incredible need for pro bono legal services in the area. Six Christian attorneys who were in attendance that day answered the call and founded what eventually became Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.
God is what he does, and he does what he is. For us mortals, this is tough—we do things that don’t corroborate who we are all the time. We are divided, desiring to do the good that God has put in front of us, but choosing the bad because, well, you know, things and reasons.
At the Clinic, we say we “promote justice” through the work that God has called us to do. And as we celebrate our 25th year of service to the community this January, I’ve been contemplating what this actually means. Superheroes continue to clean up at the box office and issues of social justice fill our newsfeed—but true justice is so much fuller than our humanly conception. So what, then, is the biblical core of justice?
Sherry explains the mission of Raphael: “Our mission is to serve everyone with the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, regardless of their race, ethnicity, language, ability to pay. We care for anyone.” And because Indiana has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the country, they are particularly passionate about providing care and support to new mothers and infants. “We really focus on the things we can do to keep mom and baby safe through that first year,” she says. “If we can get them through that first year, our chances of setting them up for a healthier and safer life are much higher.”
After suffering from a nearly fatal bout of malaria while he was in India many years ago, Raio began to understand the connection between compassion and justice. “I wanted to build a place that incorporated those values into everything we did,” he says. Over the course of his career, he often saw an imbalance of justice that disproportionately affected survivors in a negative way—and he wanted CVHR to fight against that.
There are times when I want the whole world to stop for just one second so that I can get my bearings. But change is ever-present, and the needs of the moment continue to batter my psyche. Whether I have relational stress because of getting together with family for the holidays, or financial stress because I’ve overextended myself, or environmental stress from living in a world that badgers me about the things I should care about during the holidays—our lives are made harder by media and people beckoning us to the shoals of dark distraction.
This November, we celebrated our amazing volunteers with a Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon at the Indianapolis Bar Association! On the blog, we introduced you to one of those faithful volunteers, Peggy Mindrebo, and the unique way she gives of her time to the Clinic.
What I love most about my work here at the Clinic are the sweet and precious moments—God moments—that I get to experience with my clients during the journey of a tax case. Just last week, I had two of these experiences.