Tuesday night, Legal Aid convened a group of eight former clients we served across a broad cross section of our practice areas to explore whether they would like to be a part of our organization’s first inaugural Community Advisory Council. We are thrilled and honored to report that by the end of the meeting, we received an enthusiastic “yes!” from each participant.
The idea to create a Community Advisory Council grew out of Legal Aid’s internal Racial Justice Working Group. Through conversations in that working group, we realized that Legal Aid did not have an organized way of receiving regular feedback from our client community on the services we provide and the policy positions we take. We also realized that while we have often engaged clients to participate in meetings and hearings at the DC Council on issues important to our clients, we did not have a go-to group of community members ready to join us so their voices could be heard. We also hoped that participating in the Community Advisory Council would be a positive experience for the community members, and a place where they could brainstorm and come up with action plans to organize their neighbors and push our government to better meet their needs.
We shared this vision with the attendees at the first Community Advisory Council meeting. We could not have hoped for a better response. The group spent nearly two hours talking about all they hoped the Community Advisory Council could accomplish. From policy advocacy around displacement and gentrification, to educational outreach and organizing in their communities, to improving Legal Aid’s ability to reach people who need, but don’t know about, our services. By the end of the meeting, it was clear to us that we have so much to learn from our clients, and we are honored that they have agreed to help us move forward. We have already started planning our second meeting.