Claudia Valenzuela

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Project

Jarrett met the needs of elder abuse victims by providing direct legal representation to elderly victims of abuse (age 60 or above) who were seeking Orders of Protection against their abuser.

The Project

I will work with the Center for Conflict Resolution and Cook County Courts to help implement the new foreclosure mediation program by mediating cases, training volunteers, and evaluating the program. As the foreclosure crisis impacts Chicago families, an increasing number of individuals represent themselves in foreclosures and face difficulties negotiating with lenders in court. I anticipate the fellowship will alleviate this, increasing the amount of settlements in foreclosure cases and helping preserve homeownership.

The Inspiration

The Project

My project involves outreach, advocacy and direct representation to immigrant victims of crime under the U visa. I work with community-based organizations, law enforcement agencies, and regional and national networks of immigration and domestic violence advocates. I also provide direct representation to those eligible for the U visa.

Media

The Inspiration

The Project

Caroline expanded access to legal services for low-income seniors by establishing and maintaining legal clinics at convenient locations in suburban Cook County and isolated Chicago neighborhoods.

Low-income seniors face myriad legal issues, such as probate, advanced directives, simple estate planning, guardianships, housing, and public benefits. Also, seniors are more likely to be consumer and financial fraud victims who need legal help to recover assets. For seniors living in suburban Cook County and isolated Chicago neighborhoods limited mobility, transportation expenses, and other factors create barriers to seeking free civil legal services in downtown Chicago, where most legal aid organizations are located. Economic challenges for the past several years have forced legal aid providers to close satellite offices. Holding legal clinics at senior centers and other places that seniors frequent near their homes allows them to access free civil legal services that help secure their independence and legal rights.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Caroline:

  • Launched ten legal clinics at senior centers and other community service buildings in suburban Cook County and isolated Chicago neighborhoods
  • Recruited and trained 40 volunteer lawyers, law students, and others who logged more than 400 pro bono hours staffing the clinics
  • Created a volunteer manual
  • Trained social workers at clinic sites to identify clients for legal services referral
  • Provided brief services and referrals to nearly 150 clients
  • Provided full representation to nearly 200 clients, assisting seniors with power of attorney documents, simple wills, collections defense, and landlord/tenant issues

Next Steps

Caroline is a Staff Attorney at her host organization, Center for Disability & Elder Law. She supervises the Senior Legal Assistance Clinics.

Media

40 Under Forty: Illinois Attorneys to Watch

The Project

Lee provided representation and outreach to low-income elementary school-age children with mental health needs in Illinois to ensure appropriate educational and behavioral services for life-long success.

Up to 20% of Illinois students face emotional or behavioral issues that impact school success. In low-income areas that number climbs to 50%. As many as two-thirds of children are exposed to trauma, violence, abuse, or chronic stress, putting them at higher risk for developing mental health issues. Many of these Illinois children with mental health needs do not receive critical supports and services to succeed in school. Even though mental health issues may be addressed through special education services, many families face challenges in accessing these supports. Children with mental health needs are often treated as behavior problems and subject to school discipline rather than provided the supports that they need. This results in a range of tragic consequences including increased learning difficulties, school failure, and court involvement. Even where a mental health issue is not preventable, children who receive early intervention and support can lead lives less impacted by these issues. This project provided focused advocacy to ensure children received these vitally important educational and behavioral services.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Lee has:

  • Provided legal assistance to over 200 families of children with mental health needs in Illinois by providing direct representation at school-based meetings, due process and school disciplinary proceedings, and in federal court
  • Provided training to over 800 parents, service providers, and advocates serving children with mental health needs
  • Spearheaded the creation of a pipeline of 30 pro bono volunteers to provide assistance to the project

Next Steps

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Lee plans to:

  • Continue to advocate for appropriate special education services for children in need of these supports
  • Serve as a Guardian Ad Litem Education Staff Attorney at Children’s Law Center in Washington, DC