By Jenna Kearns, Illinois JusticeCorps staff, Illinois Bar Foundation
Every March, AmeriCorps
programs around the country celebrate AmeriCorps Week; this year, AmeriCorps Week was March 13-19. AmeriCorps provides opportunities for more than 250,000 Americans to serve their country through service at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. AmeriCorps Week is a time to recognize the commitment of these millions of volunteers who chose to serve their country through national service.
Illinois JusticeCorps is an innovative AmeriCorps program administered through a partnership with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, the Chicago Bar Foundation, and the Illinois Bar Foundation. It places volunteers in courthouses in 11 counties around Illinois to help people without lawyers navigate the civil justice system. Volunteers are trained and supported to provide legal information and procedural guidance, as well as connect self-represented litigants with legal aid services and self-help resources. The program provides a unique opportunity to gain exposure to the court system, build professional skills, and give back to the community.
Locally, Illinois JusticeCorps volunteers from across the state celebrated by sharing their AmeriCorps stories to highlight the impact of their work and to inspire the next generation of AmeriCorps volunteers. For example, several Illinois JusticeCorps Fellows wrote letters to locally elected officials telling them about the barriers self-represented litigants (SRLs) can face in the legal system and about the memorable and life-changing moments they have had with people they help navigate through challenging circumstances. Our Kane County Fellow, Tiffany Montiel, wrote about a particularly gratifying experience she had helping a non-native English speaker with their divorce proceedings.
Illinois JusticeCorps also made a splash across social media by posting member stories, pictures, and a video featuring Champaign County Fellow, Tamara Durden, and volunteer Rick Hamer highlighting the services they offer SRLs in Champaign County. Check out all Illinois JusticeCorps AmeriCorps Week posts on Instagram and Facebook. You can also read about staff member and JusticeCorps alum, Mercedes Boykin. She served as the Winnebago County Fellow during 2017-2018 and, after graduating from Northern Illinois University College of Law, now manages the JusticeCorps sites in Cook County and Lake County. You can find Mercedes’s story on the Illinois Bar Foundation’s blog.
Throughout AmeriCorps Week, IL JusticeCorps encouraged its audiences to get involved themselves. The McLean County Board proclaimed March 13-19 as AmeriCorps Week thanking current and past volunteers and asking everyone in the county to find their own ways to give back to their communities. But it wasn’t all proclamations and calls to action. JusticeCorps didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk. Alicia Olejniczak, Knox County Fellow, partnered with Big Brother, Big Sister of Knox County to volunteer at the Critter Cove Wildlife Sanctuary to help staff with spring maintenance…and to cuddle up to some adorable animals (see picture). In McHenry County, Fellow McKenna Thome teamed up with Clean Up Woodstock to make neighborhoods cleaner by picking up trash and recycling. Overall, AmeriCorps Week 2022 was a great success, and Illinois JusticeCorps feels proud to have been able to lift up AmeriCorps’ central message for AmeriCorps Week 2022– “Together, we can help the country recover and come back stronger. Together, we persevere. Together, we are AmeriCorps.”