Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Legal Life Skills: Needed Now More Than Ever

In 2016, when Street Law undertook an effort to reinvigorate several of our older programs and curricula designed for vulnerable populations, little did we know where it would lead.

A mere two years later, the revised, redesigned and renamed program and curriculum—now called Legal Life Skills—is commanding the interest of social service agency staff, activists, and community foot-soldiers serving at-risk groups.

On November 2, 17 of these hardy souls gathered at the first Legal Life Skills (LLS) conference, entitled “Equipping Individuals with the Legal Knowledge to Create Change.” Participants came from nonprofit community-based organizations, government agencies, and child welfare organizations—all with limited resources but a common goal: serving vulnerable individuals. Street Law’s main objective was to bring together like-minded individuals working in the field and create a shared learning experience designed to increase their collective impact.

Among the highlights:

Francis Mendez, a senior project manager at ICF, member of the Street Law board of directors, and an expert in juvenile justice and youth development, led a session on supporting vulnerable populations with law-related education. He stressed that law-related education can serve as a protective factor because it:

  • promotes the feeling of being connected to others,
  • provides the opportunity to participate in pro-social activities and receive recognition; and
  • teaches skills on handling controversial issues with different viewpoints.

Three invited panelists spoke about their experiences implementing Legal Life Skills:

  • Darrin Landis is program manager of the Bench Mark Program in Lancaster, PA. Bench Mark—which serves at-risk youth through a combination of fitness training, academic training, and career coaching—has been implementing the LLS program for about a year. Darrin spoke about a key element of the LLS program: bringing in community resource people to help deliver relevant content to participants. He commented, “With some of the topics like banking or credit, having someone who works in that field, can talk about it directly with the students, and has real-life examples [is beneficial]. As the administrators of the [program], we can read the text and do a perfectly adequate job, but we don’t have any of those stories from everyday life to give to the students. So having someone who works in banking or is a loan officer say, ‘I saw someone who looks like you and this is how we worked through [their problem]’ is very powerful.”
  • Panelist Marita Luby, retired FBI analyst and LLS Program volunteer, discussed how the program encourages its instructors to research and provide information on resources that participants can turn to when needed. She said, “For the volunteers, the materials are great in that it has you look up community resources as well. Not just bringing someone in, but [also] what websites [participants] could go to. What phone numbers would they call if they’re having a problem with their lease. So you’re actually giving them additional information when they come in, and that’s very helpful.”
  • Shakira Hansley, case supervisor for CASA Youth Advocates in Media, PA, spoke about leading a LLS Program for students at Roosevelt High School in Washington, DC, through the University of the District of Columbia’s Black Law Student Association. At the conclusion of the program, the law students ran a Jeopardy-style game with the high school students to test their learning in a fun way. Shakira reported, “Two individuals who had been so disengaged [throughout the program] and actually got into a fight during one session answered the most questions [during the game]. So in my head I knew: You understood, you got it, we helped you.”

Conference participants spent workshop breaks networking and finding ways to collaborate. For example, the assistant regional director of the Montgomery County Department of Juvenile Justice fully recognized that his office may not be able to implement the LLS program on their own. A representative of Lead for Life—a Rockville, MD-based organization that provides gender-specific programming for youth involved in the juvenile justice system—was also present. Lead for Life has been implementing the LLS Program for over two years. By speaking together, the leads from the two agencies realized they could collaborate, thus increasing their collective impact.

Since the Legal Life Skills Program can be adapted to meet the needs of multiple audiences and agencies, we look forward to the spread of this resource among organizations that assist vulnerable populations.

For more information on the Legal Life Skills Program, contact Yolanda Johnson.

Image Caption: Participants in the Nov. 2 Legal Life Skills Conference along with facilitator Yolanda Johnson (in yellow)