Kirsten F. Dunham says she desires to construct on the legacy of predecessor Susan Lutton as government director of Mid-Missouri Authorized Companies.
Dunham took on the function July 1 following Lutton’s retirement from the group.
Lutton served as director for the previous 15 years.
“(Lutton) is leaving (MMLS) in a really sturdy place, and we very a lot respect all of her laborious work to construct and develop its apply areas,” Dunham stated. “I am in search of extra methods to be community-based in our method, whether or not that’s extra clinics or collaborating in additional neighborhood occasions in our rural counties.”
A latest strategic planning course of goals for additional service expansions, Dunham stated.
Extra: How Mid-Missouri Authorized Companies plans to make use of price range increase to help extra low-income households
MMLS supplies free authorized help to low-income and susceptible people inside an 11-county service area, together with Boone County.
Dunham joined MMLS in 2017 to craft its client regulation venture for neighborhood redevelopment and foreclosures prevention. She was promoted to program growth director in late 2021 and now government director.
The neighborhood redevelopment and foreclosures prevention venture “was geared toward eradicating authorized obstacles to employment, which does contain loads of client instances,” Dunham stated, including the venture went after predatory lenders whose practices result in wage garnishment or automobile repossession.
The main target was on stabilizing communities by stopping foreclosures and aiding with mortgage modifications.
“We wished to cowl a full vary of authorized help recommendation and assist folks preserve their houses,” Dunham stated.
Dunham desires to increase the group’s connections with the College of Missouri College of Regulation and have college students help its housing and uncontested divorce clinics.
A latest $10 million state appropriation will assist with MMLS’ enlargement.
“We’ll have the funds to succeed in and serve extra folks and never curtail providers sooner or later. We might catch up authorized providers again to the place it was within the ’90s,” Dunham stated.
Lutton is planning a transfer out of state. She’s going to preserve her hand in authorized help by volunteering for authorized clinics, she wrote in an electronic mail to the Tribune. She additionally plans to volunteer at an area state park after her transfer, utilizing her abilities as a grasp naturalist.
From coverage adviser to a authorized profession
Dunham is a graduate of the MU College of Regulation and has bachelor’s and grasp’s levels in social work from Washington College in St. Louis.
“I began realizing the inequalities in our society, the disadvantages and obstacles to financial alternatives,” Dunham stated of her expertise in her undergraduate and graduate applications at Washington College. “I grew to become keen on social work to influence these areas.”
Her focus was much less in direct apply and extra on neighborhood growth and coverage. Dunham participated in a program that allowed her to get her bachelor’s and grasp’s levels virtually concurrently. She graduated in 5 years, and her first post-graduate job was with Paraquad, a incapacity advocacy group primarily based in St. Louis.
She was there for 16 years as a coverage analyst, affiliate coverage director and eventual director of coverage and advocacy.
The work she did there had statewide impacts on incapacity and well being care coverage, reminiscent of an enlargement of consumer-directed private attendant applications.
“Paraquad was not about doing issues for folks with disabilities. It was about organizing folks with disabilities to have alternatives to stay independently and direct their very own lives,” Dunham stated.
Despite the fact that Dunham was in a position to get lawmakers to vary coverage, she began to understand that in some instances, these adjustments both weren’t enforced correctly or folks didn’t know they know had sure rights due to coverage updates.
“I began excited about going again to regulation faculty as a nontraditional pupil,” she stated.
Dunham graduated from the MU College of Regulation in 2015. She then served as a regulation clerk within the Missouri Supreme Court docket and as an assistant lawyer normal within the labor division of the Missouri Legal professional Basic’s Workplace earlier than becoming a member of MMLS.
Eradicating authorized entry obstacles
Dunham is targeted on eradicating authorized entry obstacles, reminiscent of by know-how.
The group works with people and households it doesn’t matter what their entry image seems like, together with conventional communication strategies, she stated.
“To be able to enhance entry to providers, we’d like sources, attorneys and consumption employees to assist that work,” Dunham stated. “An enormous objective of mine is to rent and retain a various, certified and proficient employees.”
Dunham desires to shut the access-to-justice hole. The Authorized Service Corp., she famous, issued its access-to-justice report in April, which discovered “low-income Individuals (did) not get any or sufficient authorized assist for 92% of their substantial civil authorized issues.”
The report additionally discovered that individuals don’t at all times acknowledge what may very well be a authorized subject, Dunham added. There are some apparent examples like a will, however there are also client and well being care points for which people can search authorized help.
“Method fewer folks sought assist for client and well being points,” she stated, regardless of this being an space extra folks have been going through points. “They don’t seem to be simply acknowledged as a authorized subject they usually have some client rights. A hope of mine is to work with neighborhood companions and key messengers to assist folks acknowledge once they might need a authorized subject (with which) Mid-Missouri Authorized Companies might help.”
Charles Dunlap covers native authorities, neighborhood points and different normal topics for the Tribune. You possibly can attain him at [email protected] or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Please think about subscribing to assist important native journalism.