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updated: 1/20/2014 3:59 PM

Administer Justice looks onward, upward with new leader

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  • Eric Nelson is the new executive director of Administer Justice in Elgin.

       Eric Nelson is the new executive director of Administer Justice in Elgin.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

 
 

Eric Nelson had such faith that he was meant to move back to Chicago that he did so with his wife and four children and no job.

Eight months later, he was the new executive director of the nonprofit Administer Justice in Elgin, and since September he's been tackling plans to expand its services and volunteer base.

Nelson lived in Maine for 30 years, practicing legal aid and mostly representing migrant farm workers and Native Americans.

He and his wife, Lisa, met while both attended North Park University.

"We moved not having a job but believing that God was going to open a job for me," he said. "It's been an exciting adventure."

Administer Justice's former executive director and founder, Bruce Strom, left to start Gospel Justice Initiative center, housed in the same building.

Administer Justice, a Christian-based organization, offers legal aid for low-income individuals, serving more than 6,000 people per year through a network of hundreds of volunteers, including about 250 lawyers.

It has four full-time employees, several part-timers and an annual budget of $500,000, mostly funded by individual donations, Nelson said.

"We're a volunteer-driven organization," he said. " We have a really solid foundation of individual support, and many connections through churches."

More than 600,000 people in Chicago's collar counties are estimated to live in poverty, a 76 percent growth from 2000 to 2010, Nelson said.

"With the increase in poverty that we're seeing, it's that much more likely that your neighbor, or my neighbor, is going to be in need."

Administer Justice's mission is to take a wholistic look at people's legal needs, he said.

For example, if someone is being evicted, the underlying issue could be that they have no clue how to budget their money, or maybe lost their job because of conflicts with co-workers or supervisors, he said.

That's when services like financial counseling or conflict resolution coaching come into play, he said.

"We really try to look at the legal issue and then the underlying issue," he said.

This year, a new client advocate will be in charge of following up with clients on a regular basis after they've met with attorneys, Nelson said.

"I've learned over the years that folks don't necessarily expect that kind of attention, that kind of love being shown to them," he said. "I think it's an important thing that shows people in need that this an organization that really cares for them."

He also wants grow the nonprofit's pro bono attorney program -- especially in the areas of labor and sex trafficking -- and its pool of Spanish interpreters and financial services volunteers.

Volunteers don't need to identify with the Christian faith, he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering or finding out more about the organization's services can call (847) 844-1100 or visit administerjustice.org.

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