After hearing Dr. Frank Kik’s inspirational sermon in 1992 at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, the six original founders of Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic first took time to do their research. They traveled to Chicago and visited the American Bar Association Office of Pro Bono, as well as other pro bono legal clinics. One of the original founders, long-time volunteer, and former Board President Lynn Tyler says that one of the clinics had two or three full-time employees. He recalls thinking, “Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome if we ever got that big?”
The founders knew from a study released in the early 1990s that there was a great need for free legal services for low-income families in the community. But the task was also daunting. The first Executive Director Abby Kuzma says, “I’d never represented individuals; I’d always worked for the government.” In spite of this, Abby and the others never yielded when they were met with various roadblocks. “I felt so called that I failed to consider if I was really qualified,” she says.
And so they opened their doors under the original name of Mapleton-Fall Creek Christian Legal Clinic on January 28, 1994. At first, they only conducted intake for new clients on Saturdays, and the stream of people seeking assistance was slow. “I don’t know how many people we helped that first year,” Lynn says, “but you probably wouldn’t have to take off your shoes to count them.”
Those early years were not easy and financial security was not always a given. But when the Clinic received its first grants from Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and Trinity Episcopal Church, it allowed for the start of rapid growth and the hiring of some staff. More people began to trust the Clinic and new intake locations were added to accommodate those in need. Today, the Clinic employs over 35 staff members and serves over 10,000 people through legal representation and education every year.
Abby and Lynn both look back at how far the Clinic has come with something like astonishment. “I’m honored to still be on the Board and in my heart it was a blessing for me to be a part of it,” says Abby. Lynn agrees, saying, “Apart from having my kids, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
If it had not been for the founders stepping out in faith through all of the difficult times, however, none of this would ever have existed. Abby says that she and the other founders were as unprepared as the disciples for the challenges that faced them, but it didn’t stop them from fulfilling their call to serve. “It was like a lightning strike,” Abby says. “I needed to do what the Lord was asking me to do.”