New legal aid office hosts open house | Community News
QUINCY — A new legal service held an open house Thursday, bringing three organizations together to support those in need throughout the area.
“We’ve already had some really good outcomes in family cases, because of this partnership, that clearly would not have been possible if the survivors hadn’t had their own attorney,” said Megan Duesterhaus, executive director of Quanada. “We’re already seeing safer conditions for children, more stable housing, and these partnerships are giving everyone better opportunities to work for their own safety.”
Quanada has partnered with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid and Ascend Justice to open the new office in Quincy. The three organizations have different specialties, but the primary focus is to support survivors of domestic abuse and violence.
Clarissa Gaff, executive director of Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, said it’s the first time in around 30 years that the group has had a presence in Quincy.
“We would have been back as soon as humanly possible if we’d had the funding,” Gaff said. “We get a lot of calls from Adams County and the surrounding counties.”
Gaff said Lincoln Legal’s Alton offices receive hundreds of calls each year on their hotline number from Adams County and surrounding areas. Quanada alone has referred around 120 cases to the group in the past.
“Right now, this office is focused on sexual violence and gender-based violence cases,” Gaff said. “We’re hoping, with additional funding, to be able to help with other issues. We do some other work already, but it’s mostly advice through our hotline or help with attorneys from our Alton office.”
Margaret Duval is the executive director of Ascend Justice, the third partner in the new effort. Ascend focuses on other aspects of help that survivors may need.
“We’re able to offer help, for example, to survivors that are also working in the child welfare system, or immigration cases,” Duval said. “Those services will be provided primarily remotely. But we’re excited by this partnership.
Duval said Ascend has worked alongside Land of Lincoln Legal Aid for years, but the Quincy effort is the first formal partnership between the groups.
“When we learned about the distances survivors were traveling to get legal services, it was really compelling that we work to address that,” she said.
Gaff said the staff positions have been filled for the Quincy office, though the group is looking for one more full-time attorney to work in the office. Mark Taylor, the full-time attorney in the office, comes to Quincy after time in the Madison County state’s attorney’s office.
“Attorneys have a lot of advantages that the ordinary citizen doesn’t have,” Taylor said. “They work closely with police, with judges, and in rural communities like this, people don’t often have the tools to defend themselves.
“We’re not doing advocacy work, necessarily,” he added. “We’re just giving people the defense they can’t provide for themselves. It just evens the playing field and makes things fair. That’s our goal.”
Taylor said one thing he wants to do is change the perception of what constitutes abuse, something he feels is better understood in more urban environments over rural areas.
“Calling someone names over and over again, destroying their self-esteem and their self-worth is a form of abuse,” he said. “Those victims need protection, too. Once we get people on board with the idea of what abuse is, and that it hurts not just the one person, but their families, I think we’ll be a lot better off.”
“Get in touch with our office and ask for a legal advocate, explain what the situation is,” she said. “Part of our intake process now includes a holistic legal screening. When we do the intake, if we determine someone is eligible as a survivor of domestic violence and they get a direct referral.”
Duesterhaus also emphasized that anyone seeking help is not only protected by attorney-client privilege, but also by the confidentiality of statements made to rape crisis personnel provisions of Illinois state law.
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