SWIRC and the COVID-19 Pandemic, one year in

by Adam Delezenne

Since March of last year, when our world changed so dramatically, we have worked hard to balance the health of our clients, volunteers, and staff with the need to continue working for our clients. This crisis has disrupted so much of how all of us are accustomed to getting business done, and our work is no different. Just before the Governor issued a stay-at-home order, we had seen our largest volume of clients ever. In one week at our clients, we served approximately 75 people seeking legal help by marshaling a large team of talented volunteers, meeting with people face to face, and doing real legal work— all at no cost to our clients.

Now, a year into the pandemic, we have again hit a record of serving 50 clients through a combination of in-person appointments and online consultations. Unlike before, our weekly workload is now carried mainly by staff: Kevin Piecuh, Executive Director, Adam Delezenne, Director of Operations and Outreach, and Veronica Beltran, our new Legal Director. A small but mighty team of volunteers still help us at the Southwest and Pontiac Legal Clinics and translate on remote consultations. We are very much looking forward to the day we can have more volunteers safely in the legal clinic!

Adding Veronica to our staff has meant an instant increase in our capacity to serve and represent clients. Not only is Veronica a talented attorney, but she understands the forces affecting our clients and believes in our mission. We work differently than other legal service providers. When clients come to us, we ask how we can help, not how much they can pay. We have a community of supporters around us who believe in our mission and make it possible, through volunteer time and financial gifts, for us to serve most of our clients at no cost.

This past year, we had moved through emergency response mode, where we saw clients through remote means only, to recovery mode, when we added limited in-person appointments. We tested balancing appointments with remote consultations to reestablish a new pattern of providing services. Our new pattern means a mix of all of the above as well as working in walk-in clients when possible. We believe appointments are here to stay. Making appointments allows us to be better prepared and our clients to better understand what time they need off work or to secure childcare. In the future, we expect to be allowed to have more people present in the clinic at any one time, allowing us to bring in more volunteers and more clients.

This could not have been possible without our community of supporters; volunteers, donors, and foundational funders who believe in our work. Thank you for your help and ongoing commitment to make Southeast Michigan a welcoming place for immigrants, even in a pandemic!

The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center provides free and low-cost legal services to those who need them most in the Detroit area, with a focus on recent immigrants and refugees.

We were founded in 2014 by Kevin Piecuch, our Executive Director and principal attorney, to help meet the great need for quality legal services in underserved communities. We believe that everyone deserves justice regardless of your country of origin, the color of your skin, or your ability to afford an attorney.

Donate to support justice for everyone
Volunteer to help serve our client communities
Visit one of our clinics if you need legal help

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

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