Through a pilot program, individuals and families will have access to assistance before or after court proceedings at the Monroe County Hall of Justice.
A Community Connections Desk—a new collaboration between Goodwill of the Finger Lakes and the 7th Judicial District—will make this assistance available. The initiative is funded by a $74,000 grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation and Goodwill retail stores.
“Often, individuals working within the justice system are experiencing some form of crisis or trauma. Being just outside the courtrooms allows our CCD staff to immediately connect these folks to the appropriate community agencies or services based on what they need at that moment,” says Jennifer Lake, CEO of Goodwill of the Finger Lakes.
Located on the first floor of the Hall of Justice, the help desk is staffed by Roxanne Henry, a Goodwill employee and a community navigator, and occasionally a volunteer from other human service organizations.
The idea took root when Simeon Banister, RACF president and CEO, observed the proceedings before a lunch meeting.
“I was watching and eavesdropping a little and hearing what some of the people were saying, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Shouldn’t services and resources be available right here in the courthouse when people actually needed them?” Banister says.
He approached Craig Doran, then administrative judge for the region spanning the 7th Judicial District.
“I’ve always thought that if you want to do justice for a person, you have to do more than handle the case,” says Doran, a state Supreme Court justice. “You have to try to address some of the other factors that might be contributing to why that person is in the courthouse … or at least have a little understanding about what’s going to happen after they leave our courtrooms.”
Doran, who is known for his work on reforming the justice system, toured Goodwill’s 211 call center to consider the organization’s role.
“I thought, ‘Couldn’t we just have one of those operators just come over to the Hall of Justice and be present there so that they could look somebody in the eye who needs a referral and give them the same information that they would get if they called 211—except now with a human touch,’” Doran says.
This initiative aligns with Goodwill’s experiences and successes with providing over-the-phone help through 211/LIFE LINE. During the pandemic, the service connected more than 500 tenants and landlords with emergency rent resources to prevent evictions, officials say. Goodwill’s Neighborhood Navigation Centers that operate out of its stores in Greece, Webster and Canandaigua provide similar services as the Hall of Justice CCD.
“On any given day, we encounter a diverse range of individuals with various needs,” says Loni Wellman, Good Neighbor program director for Goodwill, who oversees the CCD. “Some might be searching for affordable housing, day care options, or help with employment reentry. We understand that sometimes people may not be sure what exactly they need, and that’s where our expertise comes in,”
Now, judges from any court at the Hall of Justice can recommend the CCD for connection to services including housing, mental health, food access and employment.
“We help them navigate through their challenges and identify the core issues at hand,” says Wellman. “This collaboration among various organizations and volunteers is driven by a common goal of making resources more accessible to all members of our community.”
The initiative will be piloted for a year.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].