Six neighborhood organizations raised $22,500 for Baltimore’s Community Law Center on Giving Tuesday 2015.

By Stephen Neukam
Nonprofit Sector News
August 8, 2020

As social justice movements burgeon around the country and awareness of the importance of community rises, a challenge of longevity and effectiveness threatens the optimism and potential of grassroots movements. Nationally and locally, people concerned with all facets of social justice — racial justice, fair housing, gun violence — end up confronting how to translate their energy into a resource for their communities.

An avenue that some choose is to form a nonprofit organization, looking to fortify and expand their operation mission. The road to creating such an organization can be difficult though and many people face that battle with little guidance and understanding of the process. Even if they were to get the direction they needed, it would come with a cost.

Community Law Center, a nonprofit in Baltimore, Maryland, is helping to bridge this gap in the city, strengthening communities by providing free legal services and representation for other nonprofits and community organizations.

It’s a model that has helped support and promote grassroots causes toward many of the problems that hamper Baltimore and many cities like it. By working directly with community leaders and giving them the legal resources they need, the organization has been able to help hundreds of groups build capacity.

Kristine Dunkerton, the organization’s executive director and president, said that nonprofits and those looking to start one are always dealing with a scarcity of resources. “A lot of groups, particularly small nonprofits, are just winging it, because where do you learn this stuff?” said Dunkerton. “The more access that they have to legal services, to accounting services, the stronger they are going to be and the more capacity they will have to achieve their missions.”

Community Law Center has over 600 volunteer attorneys on deck. The organization focuses heavily on neighborhoods that have been historically oppressed and disinvested in. While community leaders attempt to aid in some of the most notable issues, such as gun violence and food security, there are problems just as important but less discussed that these groups are targeting, such as reliable transportation.

Fayette Street Outreach Organization, a community group in southeast Baltimore that is committed to reaching the economic needs of its area and build a better future for its youth, has partnered with Community Law Center and been a resource for its community for decades. The organization is currently organizing for US Census responses and celebrating new business openings.

The coordination between the organizations lends a hand to communities badly in need of the efforts. Dunkerton cited the city’s food insecurity issue as another challenge that her organization is working toward. In a city mired by these issues, especially crime, with the highest murder rate in the country in 2019, the capacity building in communities offers an opportunity for improvement that seems to come all-too-slowly for many neighborhoods. Dunkerton understands the importance of that goal.

“We’re here to be a meaningful partner,” said Dunkerton. “We hope that our lasting effect is to help them build their capacity and be able to use us effectively as a legal tool. We want to share our knowledge with them so that they can make big decisions that are right for their
organizations and missions.”

By nsn2020

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