Nonprofit of the Month: Lone Star Legal Aid
The Hello Woodlands Nonprofit of the Month is brought to you by Randy Lovelace of Paragon Independent Insurance Agencies and highlights a local nonprofit organization that serves the Montgomery County community.
The nonprofit of the month is Lone Star Legal Aid, an organization that protects and advances the civil legal rights of low-income Texans by providing advocacy, legal representation, and community education that ensures equal access to justice. Read our interview below with Deborah Concepcion, Managing Attorney of Lone Star Legal Aid.
Tell us about your organization. What is the organization’s story?
Throughout its existence, Lone Star Legal Aid has achieved victories that extend beyond individual cases, impacting entire communities, states, and the nation. The firm’s actions have led to systemic policy and procedural changes, such as desegregating public housing and improving access to healthcare for children.
With unwavering dedication to its mission, Lone Star Legal Aid continues to be a beacon of hope for those in need, ensuring that the principles of justice and equal access to the legal system are upheld for all, regardless of their financial circumstances. Its legacy serves as an inspiration for those fighting for a fair and equitable society.
Today, Lone Star Legal Aid is the third-largest legal aid organization of its kind in the United States. Its core values revolve around client-centered work, empowering individuals to stand up against injustice, and protecting the rights of the vulnerable.
How did the organization start?
Lone Star Legal Aid has a rich history that began with the establishment of the Houston Legal Aid Clinic, later known as the Houston Legal Foundation. It was founded by the Houston Bar Association and Texas Southern University, along with other contributors. Similarly, East Texas Legal Services came into fruition due to local interest from various parties, including client groups in Nacogdoches and Tyler, as well as members of the Nacogdoches County Bar Association and partially the Jefferson County Bar Association. Both organizations shared a common mission: providing equal access to justice for low-income individuals who lacked the means to hire an attorney to safeguard their rights and meet essential needs.
As the years passed, both legal aid firms expanded their services, covering an increasing number of counties in their respective areas. In response to the Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright during the 1960s, the Houston Legal Foundation offered criminal defense for a period and eventually transformed into the Gulf Coast Legal Foundation. On the other hand, East Texas Legal Services took steps to address Fair Housing Act violations by creating the East Texas Fair Housing Center in the 1980s. Throughout their natural evolution, both East Texas Legal Services and Gulf Coast Legal Foundation remained committed to their original purposes.
In 2002, a significant milestone occurred when the two organizations decided to merge to leverage their resources effectively. The merger brought together East Texas Legal Services, serving largely rural areas, and the primarily urban Gulf Coast Legal Foundation, along with a portion of Legal Aid of Central Texas. This amalgamation resulted in the birth of Lone Star Legal Aid, which stands as the third largest legal aid organization of its type in the United States.
Lone Star Legal Aid has earned a reputation for client-centered work and a proud tradition of successful advocacy. Over the years, the firm has achieved victories that extend beyond individual cases, impacting low-income communities, states, and the nation. Notable achievements include facilitating systemic policy and procedural changes, such as desegregating public housing and improving access to healthcare for children.
What is your mission and why?
Lone Star Legal Aid protects and advances the civil legal rights of low-income Texans by providing advocacy, legal representation, and community education that ensures equal access to justice.
Lone Star Legal Aid’s work plays a crucial role in promoting justice, protecting human rights, and ensuring equal access to the legal system.
- Legal aid helps ensure that individuals, regardless of their financial means, have access to legal representation and advice. Without legal aid, many people, especially those with limited resources, might be unable to afford legal services, leaving them at a significant disadvantage when facing legal issues.
- Legal aid enables individuals to defend their rights, seek redress, and challenge unfair practices. It empowers vulnerable populations, such as low-income individuals, minorities, and marginalized communities, to stand up against discrimination, exploitation, and injustice.
- Without access to legal advice, people may fall victim to exploitation by unscrupulous parties. Legal aid helps prevent abuse and ensures that individuals are aware of their rights and obligations in various legal situations.
- Legal aid strengthens the rule of law by ensuring that legal rights and obligations are respected and enforced. It promotes a fair and just legal system where all individuals can seek resolution through proper legal channels.
- Legal aid can have positive social and economic impacts. By helping individuals resolve legal issues, legal aid can prevent legal disputes from escalating and reduce the burden on courts, leading to more efficient legal processes.
- When individuals have access to legal aid, they are more likely to trust and have confidence in the legal system. This confidence is essential for a well-functioning and respected justice system.
- Legal aid addresses disparities in access to justice, reducing inequality and promoting a fairer society. It ensures that everyone has a chance to be heard and defend their rights, regardless of their financial situation.
Who and where do you serve?
Lone Star Legal Aid serves individual and families with low to moderate income, the disabled, Veterans, children, and more. Our largest grants allow us to serve those with incomes at 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, with other grants that allow us to go up to 300%.
Lone Star Legal Aid’s Conroe Branch Office serves those living in Montgomery, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity, Walker, and Waller Counties.
What programs and services do you offer?
- Civil Matters in Criminal Justice Project (CMCJ) – The CMCJ provides civil legal representation to people with criminal convictions to help them challenge and navigate barriers to their successful reentry to society.
- Consumer – The consumer advocates work to protect consumer’s rights from unfair selling practices, and in civil lawsuits or disputes to ensure that businesses are adhering to regulations.
- Crime Victims Unit – The Crime Victim Unit assists survivors of crime with civil legal issues they are facing because of the crime committed against them.
- Disaster Relief – The Disaster Relief team provides free legal help to low-income disaster survivors. The team has extensive experience helping families in our service area and to those who have relocated to our service area in an evacuation during or following a major disaster.
- Education – The education advocates represent parents and their children in cases involving students’ access to public school education, rights of special needs students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), discrimination in education, and more.
- Employment – The employment advocates can help provide clarity and understanding by educating you on complex employment laws.
- Environmental Justice – The Environmental Justice team focuses on the right to fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, and the right to equal protection from environmental hazards. We engage in community outreach, education, relationship building, collaborative partnerships, legal support and transactional work for community organizations, advice and legal counsel to support self-advocacy, direct legal representation, and law student internships with Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
- Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic – The Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic provides services to taxpayers who are low-income or speak English as a second language (ESL).
- Medical Legal Partnership – Through a partnership with UT Physicians and Lone Star Circle of Care, Lone Star Legal Aid can help resolve adverse legal and administrative problems for the benefit of our clients and their families.
- Legal Assistance to Survivors of Sexual Assault Project (LASSA) – The LASSA team assists survivors of sexual assault with civil legal issues they are facing because of the crime committed against them.
- Eviction Right to Counsel – We provide free civil legal assistance to tenants facing eviction. Our Eviction Right to Counsel (ER2C), part of the larger Eviction Defense Coalition, is like a public defender’s office.
- Fair Housing – The Fair Housing team concentrates on the right to stay in decent and affordable housing within the community, and the freedom to choose where to live via housing mobility.
- Financial Assistance & Public Benefits – Our financial assistance and public benefits advocates help low-income families access nutritional, medical, and income-support benefits.
- Military & Veterans Unit – The Military & Veterans Unit (MVU) provides free civil legal services to low-income United States military veterans, their dependents, and surviving spouses.
- Family Law – The family advocates help in family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and support issues. By resolving these disputes fairly, legal aid helps maintain family and community stability, which is crucial for the well-being of individuals and society as a whole.
- Foreclosure Prevention Project – The Project helps Texas homeowners with most threats to their homes, like property taxes, property owner association disputes, title clearing problems, and issues with mortgage companies.
- Justice for Older Adults Project – The project is aimed at assisting older adults legal matters like protection orders; divorces; securing, challenging, limiting, or terminating guardianships; instituting and revoking powers of attorney; recovering assets; restoration of public benefits; creating trusts; evicting an abusive caregiver, modifying and voiding legal instruments, removal of social security representative payees for funds mismanagement and abuse of fiduciary duties; identity theft and debt collection; unlawful nursing home discharges; and deceptive and unfair business practices.
What makes this organization unique?
Lone Star Legal Aid is unique in its scope and size. Its extensive reach covers a vast area, including urban and rural communities, ensuring that a diverse range of individuals can access its services. The merger that formed Lone Star Legal Aid brought together legal aid organizations serving both urban and rural areas. This unique combination allows Lone Star Legal Aid to address a diverse set of legal challenges and better understand the specific needs of different communities. Lone Star Legal Aid offers a wide array of legal services, addressing various legal issues that low-income individuals may face. From housing and family law matters to consumer protection and public benefits, Lone Star Legal Aid provides comprehensive assistance to meet the needs of its clients.
The organization prioritizes the needs and well-being of its clients. Its client-centered approach ensures that individuals receive personalized and empathetic representation, empowering them to actively participate in their legal matters. Lone Star Legal Aid is deeply committed to promoting social justice and advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. It fights against discrimination, exploitation, and injustice, striving to create a fairer and more equitable society. Lone Star Legal Aid’s core mission is to ensure equal access to justice for all, regardless of financial means. Its unwavering commitment to this principle makes it an invaluable advocate for those in need.
How can the community get involved, volunteer, and support this organization?
Visit Lone Star Legal Aid’s Ways to Give page to join their mission to protect and advance the civil legal rights of low-income Texans at www.LoneStarLegal.org/Ways-To-Give. They accept charitable donations in the form via credit/debit card as well as cryptocurrency. Regardless of financial means, generosity is a part of human nature that we can use to make a difference in countless ways. Donating your time, kindness, skills, and voice are all things you can give in lieu of charitable donations.
Where can the community learn more?
About Randy Lovelace
To learn more about Randy Lovelace, his “Referral for a Cause” program to help local nonprofit organizations, and Paragon Independent Insurance Agencies, please call (281) 298-0440, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.paragoninsagencies.com/woodlands.