Last Thursday, the promised national call on Justice Corps took place. Eleven states were there, interested in leveraging California’s brilliant idea and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s vision of students working for service and change into a national access network. It was a great call, and I am very encouraged, as well as grateful for the help and information provided by the California Courts, the DOJ Access Initiative, and the Corporation.
The core of the call, introduced by Karen Lash of the DOJ’s Access Initiative, was presentations by Martha Wright of the California AOC, about how Justice Corps works in California, by Danielle Hirsch, on the Illinois Initiative, and by Martha Tierney of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which funds AmeriCorps.
Danielle and Martha Wright described the ways that student volunteers actually work in the courts, and the process by which they have put their applications together. The point was also made that the program is transformative in terms of changing the lives of the students and indeed the courts, by refocusing them on the mission to provide equal access to justice. Justice Corps projects give the volunteers experience making a huge difference in peoples’ lives, by providing them information and assistance in navigating life crises in the courts. California Justice Corps, an AmeriCorps program, includes both “minimum time” (300 hours of service) undergraduate students as AmeriCorps members who get a $1200 “Education Award” as their incentive, and also full time AmeriCorps members who are post undergrad “fellows.” These post graduate fellow members receive stipends and are eligible for education award following their service.
The California JusticeCorps model has students serving in court based self help centers providing only information, not advice, as supported by court staff attorneys and in some cases court-contracted legal aid attorneys. In Illinois, student volunteers do not yet receive any compensation and are supervised by legal aid partners, who maintain court-based advice desks, because a robust JusticeCorps program has not yet launched. The kind of work that student volunteers provide is probably even more important for courts now that Turner v. Rogers has highlighted the due process rights of the self-represented.
Martha Tierney described the various funding options, including applying through the state commissions, or putting together a national multi-state application. She also summarized the priorities in grant-making, and the match requirements (see page 8 of the Notice).
While organization can apply through their state commission as one pathway to AmeriCorps funding, state pools (most states have a National Service Commission that oversees their AmeriCorps grants), my own hope would be the possibility of a multi-state application.
The national multi state applications are due January 18, and this year the focus areas are: Disaster Services, Economic Opportunity, Education, Environmental Stewardship, Healthy Futures, and Veterans and Military Families. Typically, access to justice projects will fall in the “Economic Opportunity,” focus area. Furthermore, projects that include a veterans focus or services that are directed toward housing stability will be given priority consideration. In these specific areas, at least 51% of the volunteers’ time needs to be on the focus area for the project to qualify, so the services don’t have to be purely exclusive to these areas.
It might well be that JusticeCorps might naturally fit in the economic opportunity area, by serving people without lawyers in the housing, family integrity etc areas.
Here is the language from the Notice of Federal Funding Opportunity on the economic opportunity area:
Grants will provide support and/or facilitate access to services and resources that contribute to the improved economic well-being and security of economically disadvantaged people. Grant activities will help economically disadvantaged people to: have improved access to services and benefits aimed at contributing to their enhanced financial literacy, transition into or remain in safe, healthy, affordable housing, and have improved employability leading to increased success in becoming employed.
Non-mandatory letters of intent for national applications are due December 15.
I think it would be wonderful if as many states as possible participated in a multi-state application. Justice Corps has the possibility of becoming a national movement that can be an incubator and conveyor best for all kinds of access to justice innovations. It is very encouraging that there were 11 states represented on the call.
Thanks again to the presenters. A number of states are interested in exploring a multi-state application, and anyone interested should contact Karen Lash at Karen.Lash@usdoj.gov, Martha Wright at Martha.Wright@jud.ca.gov or Danielle Hirsch at firstname.lastname@example.org. If organizations have questions about AmeriCorps specifically, they can email AmeriCorpsGrants@cns.gov.
Update: Kate Bladow points out this interesting Maryland program: Law Links Summer Internships.