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April 1st, 2024 – First Anniversary of the Merger of Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Servicesand The Neighbourhood Group Community Services

 

On April 1, 2023, Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services (KBCLS) merged with The Neighbourhood Group Community Services (TNGCS) after more than 40 years as an independent community legal clinic. April 1st, 2024 marks our first anniversary!

What Has Changed?

KBCLS continues its long tradition of casework, community development, and law reform activities, and, thanks to the merger with TNGCS, the Clinic is now part of a larger pool of resources committed to serving the community in more ways. What this means is that in addition to providing legal services, we are able to connect clients with a much wider array of supports and programs provided by TNGCS. It also means that TNGCS programs have access to KBCLS’ programs and services, and by extension, those of other community legal clinics. Ultimately, the merger assures our community of more wraparound services, in line with TNGCS’ “no wrong door” policy. The Clinic’s merger with TNG has created key partnerships with all TNG programs. As we are still in the transition phase of the merger, this sets the stage for a wide variety of opportunities for growth in the services TNGCS and KBCLS provide to clients and participants. Our focus in Year 2 will continue along this path.

 

Highlights of Year 1

 

  • KBCLS hired its first Director of Legal Services, Elsie Dickson, in May 2023.KBCLS hired its first Director of Legal Services, Elsie Dickson, in May 2023.KBCLS hired its first Director of Legal Services, Elsie Dickson, in May 2023.
  • The Legal Advisory Committee (LAC) was formed. It is made up of individuals who live or work in the Kensington-Bellwoods community and TNGCS board members, in line with our identity and commitment to be a community-based and led legal clinic. Its role is to provide governance and strategic oversight of the Clinic’s work.
  • We established a Legal Information and Referral Service at The Corner Drop-In at TNG’s Augusta Centre in September 2023. We are using this as a pilot to develop similar initiatives with other community partners.
  • TNGCS’ Conflict Resolution and Training Program is now housed in KBCLS’ office. The program offers free community mediation services across the City of Toronto and conflict management and mediation training to organizations.
  • Our first Annual Open House was held in September 2023. It was attended by staff of TNGCS, Community Legal Clinics, Legal Aid Ontario, as well as other non-profits, and community agencies.
  • Continued partnerships with schools and educational institutions
    • Pro Bono Students Canada: We hosted 26 students from Toronto Metropolitan University and University of Toronto. The students worked on different projects including Tenant Applications, Intake, Access to Justice and Joint-Tenancy Research Projects.
    • Seneca College: We hosted two paralegal students for their placements
    • Toronto District School Board: We hosted two high school co-op students
    • Law Practice Program – We hosted one LPP candidate
  • Community Development Initiatives and Campaigns We participated in a number of initiatives and campaigns including:
    • Justice for Workers campaign to increase the minimum wage
    • Migrant Workers fight for “Status for All”
    • City of Toronto Newcomer Day at City Hall
    • Ontario Health Coalition’s efforts to protect public hospitals and healthcare.
  • TNGCS Events – We participated in many agency events, including:
    • National Truth and Reconciliation Day
    • Heritage Month Events
  • Two of our staff members, Rosa Tavares and Mindy Lopez, are recipients of TNG Long Service Awards. Each of them has worked in KBCLS for 35 years! Congratulations!

What’s Next?

KBCLS’s governing principle is “to work towards the elimination of poverty in our society, and to ensure equality before the law. We are committed to continue providing quality legal services to individuals in our catchment and to working with other individuals and groups who share that goal.  We are dedicated to community organizing to bring about changes in the law that improve the legal and economic status of low-income people in Ontario. TNGCS’ mission and 5-Year Strategic Plan is an intentional commitment to poverty reduction. The Strategic Plan includes the goal of “going where we are most needed’. Kensington-Bellwoods is a named critical piece of the strategic plan, with the goal of creating paths to access to justice for our community and we look forward to growing with TNGCS.

How You Can Help?

Collaborations:            We welcome new opportunities to collaborate with other organizations to undertake law reform and community development initiatives.

Volunteer:                    For more information, please see

https://tngcommunityto.org/Get-Involved/Volunteer

PLE/Training:               KBCLS is committed to Public Legal Education (PLE) as a pathway to access to justice and we are available to speak to groups of people about the areas of law we practice, as well as co-ordinate, in partnership with other community legal clinics, session on other areas of law. To request a PLE, please use the following link:  https://www.kbcls.org/services/request-a-public-legal-education-session/

Donate:                        Please use the following link: https://tngcommunityto.akaraisin.com/ui/tngcsdonations/donations/start?it=1&amt=35

 

*For more information on TNGCS’ 5-year strategic plan, please see:

 https://tngcommunityto.org/News/Articles/Rising-Up-TNG-s-Strategic-Plan-2023-2028

From L to R: Back Row – Bill Sinclair (President/CEO); Tim Maxwell (Community Legal Worker – Community Initiatives and Communications); Lee Tenenhouse (Staff Lawyer); Front Row – Kim Patel (VP – Employment and Training Services); Rosa Tavares (Office Administrator); Monica Morán-Venegas (Staff Lawyer); Mindy Lopes (Community Legal Worker); Elsie Dickson (Director of Legal Services).