Nearly 100 Chicago Greek families received legal help through Hel.LAS – Hellenic Legal Assistance Services. Celebrate their 1st anniversary!
Hel.LAS – Hellenic Legal Assistance Services
Nearly one year ago, Hel.LAS – Hellenic Legal Assistance Services opened their doors to assist member of Chicago’s Greek community in need. This first “Greek” legal clinic was born through a partnership between the Hellenic Bar Association (HBA)and Hellenic Foundation (HF), in cooperation with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS).
Since 1853, Hellenic Foundation has provided many important resources and programs to seniors and youth of the Chicago Greek community. They’d received countless inquiries regarding immigration and legal assistance, and rom community members with limited financial resources. HF’s Executive Director Peter Valessares,, realized the problems for these families grew, because they couldn’t get the assistance they needed. He reached out to HBA Chairman. Eleni Kouimelis, to discuss the possibilities. They decided to join forces to create a resource for these families.
Research revealed legal clinics operating in other ethnic communities. A Greek legal clinic was long overdue. They contacted HBA member Eleni Katsoulis, who is also a member of the Junior Board of CVLS. This not-for-profit group boasts a network of 3000 volunteer attorneys that offer free legal services to low-income Chicagoans. The idea quickly caught fire, and soon a collaboration with CVLS began. CVLS shares resources with Hel.LAs and provides guidenace, as well as support, through access to seminars and a vast array of training and support materials.
Hel.LAS, promoted and served by 40 volunteer attorneys from the HBA, opened its doors on May 14, 2016, at the offices of Hellenic Foundation in Chicago. Now a recognized not-for-profit, since its inception the legal clinic has served nearly 100 families in need.
How Hel.LAS works
Hel.LAS opens every month on the second Saturday. They provide Chicago area Greek families with “access to legal information, referrals, and potential representation in a linguistically and culturally sensitive environment.” Appointments are preferred, to facilitate the presence of an attorney in the field of need, however, walk-ins are accepted. Eleni Katsoulis explained the process.
“When a potential client calls to make an appointment, our administrative coordinator goes through our volunteer directory to match the potential client with a volunteer that can meet their needs. For example, we try to match a client who is looking for help with a will to an attorney that practices Estate Planning. For clients seeking help with immigration, the process is slightly different. There are very few Greek immigration attorneys in Chicagoland, so we provide resources and tools for our attorneys without an immigration background to learn about that area of law.”
Celebrating 1 year of service
To date, Hel.LAS has offered advice, counsel and representation in various areas, including family law, estate planning (Powers of Attorney, wills), bankruptcy/foreclosure, landlord-tenant, and disputes, plus and immigration — which makes up 48% of the caseload.
Hel.LAS continues to grow, and word is spreading. Each month, the clinic boasts a full schedule of apppointments. Additionally, Eleni Katsoulis stated that the referral rate is high.
“This is a huge compliment, and speaks volumes to the quality of our services”.
Soon, they’ll launch a new website. Eleni Katsoulis said it will include invaluable resources for both volunteer attorneys and prospective clients. The new site will allow new volunteer attorneys to sign up, and clients may obtain basic legal information. There will also be a place for people to donate to support the efforts of the clinic, as it’s currently only supported by a grant from the Hellenic Foundation.
Eleni Koumelis reflected on the accomplishments of the past year.
“The first year of Hel.LAS’ operation has been remarkable for our community. We are pleased that Hel.LAS was able to provide legal services to those in our community who need our help. Special thanks and acknowledgements to our fellow Board member, Eleni Katsoulis, who has devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to ensure Hel.LAS success in its first year of operation.”
Hel.LAS will celebrate one year of service to the Chicago Greek Community, on May 13, 2017 at Hellenic Foundation in Chicago. Join the celebration and support this important community resource.