The Telesca Center for Justice is a unique collaborative effort that was twenty years in the making. In 2005, 4 legal services organizations in Rochester relocated to a centralized building to better streamline their efforts to serve Rochester and its surrounding areas. These organizations are The Legal Aid Society of Rochester (LASROC), Empire Justice Center (EJC), Volunteer Legal Services Project (VLSP), Legal Assistance of Western NY (LawNY). These 4 agencies joined with the Monroe County Bar Association (MCBA) which was already located in the building.
The idea of co-location was one that was welcomed by the Directors as they knew that it would be beneficial to their clients. It was fortuitous that enough space became available in the building where the Monroe County Bar Association was located. MCBA was instrumental in bringing the agencies together. “It really takes a dedicated mindset from the Directors,” says Carla Palumbo, the CEO of The Legal Aid Society of Rochester, “You have to be willing to call each other and coordinate, even on work that might be the same across agencies.” The Directors of the organizations meet every month to discuss their work and how it can better complement each other. One example of a positive change is the centralized reception. While reception was always housed at the Legal Aid Society, each agency maintained their employee on the floor. In time the agencies decided to have one agency, LASROC, handle reception and pre-screening which makes service delivery more efficient for all the agencies. The spirit of collaboration also extends beyond the Telesca Center. Organizations that have collaborated with the Telesca Center include Coalition member organizations the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project in Buffalo, Worker Justice Center in Rochester, Hiscock Legal Aid Society in Syracuse, and the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York in Albany.
Having a well flowing collaborative process enables the organizations at the Telesca Center to respond more quickly to the needs of their clients. That has become especially crucial in today’s political climate. “When issues come up, we quickly adjust to be inclusive,” observes Wedade Abdallah, Immigration Unit Program Director at the Legal Aid Society,” We understand that there is nothing to be accomplished by trampling each other. We know we work better when working together. This is an overwhelming time, especially in the area of immigration law.” Abdallah and Vasanthi Pillai from VLSP began collaborating earlier this year when the executive orders on immigration began coming out. When the decision to rescind DACA was announced, VLSP and LASROC were able to quickly respond with two clinics at the University of Rochester and one at a local church to assist with the renewal of DACA applications. They quickly developed and conducted a CLE for volunteers to assist with the process. Legal Aid reached out with a successful online campaign for donations for client filing fees. VLSP organized rural clinics and Abdallah attended these clinics. The two agencies worked together to address these immediate and emerging immigration issues.
Organizations in the Telesca Center are now talking about collaborating on asylum applications. Working with the VLSP, attorneys from the Immigration Unit at LASROC will provide training and education in the area of asylum law and litigation. The goal is to train pro bono attorneys to represent clients on these applications before immigration, thereby filling a need in legal services representation. It is collaborations such as these that the Coalition hopes to facilitate. It is collaboration that strengthens our community.