Lawndale Christian Legal Center (LCLC)‘s vision is to raise up justly treated youth who are embraced by their families and community, restored from trauma, empowered to lead, and free from the criminal justice system.  Their organization, an offshoot of the North Lawndale mainstay Lawndale Christian Community Church, provides legal services based on a holistic and restorative justice model to youth under the age of 24 in North Lawndale.  Currently, GIC supports integrated mentoring services and legal representation for 30 youth.

We caught up with LCLC’s Deputy Director Danae Kovac to learn more about North Lawndale and her work.

GIC: How did you end up working at LCLC?
As an undergrad, I studied at Wheaton College, and I was familiar with the Lawndale Christian Community Church ministries.  After graduating, I ended up working at a variety of non-profits and the Women’s Business Development Center for five years. When the job at LCLC opened up, I jumped at the chance.  I was definitely attracted by LCLC’s holistic approach.  If kids are just looking for an attorney, this isn’t the program for them.  Our approach is not limited to the courtroom, and we strive to give youth resources and support.  The fact that we offer co-located services, with case managers, mentors, and lawyers all in one place, makes a huge difference.

GIC: Cliff Nellis, the current Executive Director and Lead Attorney for LCLC, is also the founder.  Do you know why he chose to work in North Lawndale?
Cliff has quite  a story about that!  After he finished his federal clerkship in Denver, he set out on a bike trip to Miami.  Along the way, he had a conversion experience and was called to do youth ministry – so he completely changed directions and enrolled in the seminary here in Chicago.  Here, he found himself inspired by places like Cabrini Green Legal Aid and Lawndale Christian Health Center, where people use their professions as service.  Lawndale Community Church had wanted to add a legal component for many years – it was something the community wanted.  In 2010, they and Cliff came together to start LCLC.

GIC: What do you like about North Lawndale?
I love working with the kids here – they are all so resilient, creative, and imaginative.  But beyond them, I also love the sense of community.  This is the kind of place where people talk to each other about street sweepers schedules and what’s happening in the neighborhood.  People also care about the community here.  We recently started a grassroots Restorative Justice Hub, and more than 28 different organizations showed up to be involved.

lclc photo

GIC: What resources can LCLC offer, to both the North Lawndale community and the greater community of Chicago?
Organizations working with North Lawndale youth under the age of 24 who have been involved in the criminal justice system are always welcome referrals for our intake process.  Beyond thought, we welcome members to the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Hub.  We are also looking to eventually offer our training, Legal Tools for Community-Based Youth Advocates, to more communities and organizations.  These trainings give non-attorneys background about the juvenile justice system and tools to advocate for youth.

GIC: How can other organizations help LCLC?
Right now, we are really trying to build up workforce development opportunities for our kids.  They all come in saying they need a lawyer and a job, so our expertise gets them 50% of the way there.  We would love to have more employment partners – whether in North Lawndale and surrounding neighborhoods or even downtown.





Lou Malnati’s North Lawndale

Didn’t think you could find authentic deep dish in North Lawndale? Think again!  Lou Malnati’s North Lawndale location serves up more than pizza though – talk to staff about hosting community events in their space.



Green Tomato Cafe

green tomatoBreakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Coffee, Smoothies, Fro-Yo, and even house-smoked whole chickens – Green Tomato Cafe is a hidden gem in North Lawndale!  If you don’t trust us, trust their 4.5 star rating on Yelp.