May 29, 2024

SPRINGFIELD — For some individuals who need to find basic legal information about bankruptcy or child support or who want to attend a hearing held on videoconferencing software before a judge, access to reliable technology can be a barrier to accessing the legal system.

The Center for Social Justice at Western New England School of Law wants to change that.

Now, there’s a kiosk to help. Eleven of them, in fact, placed around the city with the help of funding from the Mass Mutual Foundation.

The Center for Social Justice debuted its effort on Monday, demonstrating one of the kiosks intended to help residents address civil law matters.

The kiosks enable residents to access information about legal issues such as domestic violence, eviction and homelessness, discover the nearest providers of free legal services and print out forms and papers they may need. In some locations, individuals may also join online meetings and participate in virtual court sessions.

For the past several years, the Center for Social Justice has worked to provide free legal assistance at Springfield District Court, said Ariel Clemmer, director of the center.

“These kiosks are an attempt to work upstream of that and to intercede in any legal issues before it gets into the court system,” said Clemmer. “The next phase is going to be the justice bus project, which will help take these kiosks and bring them out to community events.”

The construction and distribution of the $1,000 kiosks is part of the center’s Consumer Debt Initiative, which was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MassMutual Foundation was awarded $400,000 to assist the law school in completing the aims of the program from 2020 to 2022 and recently awarded the school another $400,000 for 2022 to 2023.

To date, the MassMutual Foundation has been awarded over $1 million of funding to Western New England University’s Center of Social Justice.

The first step of the effort, Clemmer said, sought to help citizens facing consumer debt situations and to provide legal counsel on the spot.

Over the course of nearly two years, some 513 individuals received legal advice, according to the law school. Volunteers, including law students and area attorneys, logged 749 hours of service and rendered an estimated $170,000 worth of legal services.

Free Legal Kiosk

Western New England University’s School of Law’s free legal kiosk, costing $1000 each, will provide the residents of Springfield without access to technology the chance to view free legal sources. (Jonah Snowden / The Republican)

The Center for Social Justice will monitor the kiosks for six months to ensure they are fully functioning for the community and meet the needs of the individuals using them.

Clemmer said they hope to assist at least 200 residents, and the center will expand the initiative outside Springfield if it proves successful.

The launch event was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, where one of the kiosks will be placed.

Western New England president Robert E. Johnson said he is committed to expanding the university’s presence in the city. “In terms of providing access, it’s going to take us where we’ve never gone before in this community,” Johnson said.

During his remarks, Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno proclaimed Monday as Legal Kiosk Day.

Free Legal Kiosks

Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno (left) proclaims Monday, Oct. 17, as Free Legal Kiosk Day. Ariel Clemmer, director of the WNE School of Law Center for Social Justice, WNEU President Robert E. Johnson and Dory Welch, the community outreach and engagement coordinator for the Center of Social Justice. (Jonah Snowden / The Republican)

“You’re going to help individuals that need information that can solve a situation and find a better path of a situation they are dealing with,” Sarno said. “This is going to give them power to people of all colors and backgrounds.”

Terry S. Maxey, director of Open Pantry Community Services, where one of the kiosks will be located, expressed gratitude.

“I love the fact that we’re going to be dealing with our population that is constantly looking for help with immigration, housing, and other legal matters,” Maxey said. “We have a room set up for them to come in and have their privacy with the kiosk.”

The kiosks will be installed at the following locations:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services Inc., 3 Rutland St.
  • Springfield City Library – Brightwood Branch, 359 Plainfield St.
  • Springfield City Library – Forest Park Branch, 380 Belmont Ave.
  • Springfield City Library – Indian Orchard Branch, 44 Oak St.
  • Springfield City Library – Library Express at Pine Point, 204 Boston Rd.
  • Springfield City Library – Mason Square Branch, 765 State St.
  • Western New England University School of Law Library, 1215 Wilbraham Rd.
  • New North Citizens’ Council, Inc., 2455 Main St.
  • Arise for Social Justice, 38 School St.
  • United Way of Pioneer Valley, 1441 Main St. Suite 147
  • Open Pantry Community Services, Inc., 287 State St.

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