Legal Council for Health Justice ( LCHJ ) celebrated 30 years with a gala at Venue West on Oct. 13.
Formerly named the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, LCHJ was founded at the height of the AIDS epidemic as a resource to people living with HIV and facing health-related legal problems, including workplace discrimination, insurance denials, confidentiality breaches and illegal evictions.
Today, LCHJ is a resource providing free legal services and, since its inception, has expanded its services to include other populations facing similar systemic hurdles such as families of children with serious illnesses, seniors, and homeless individuals with severe mental illnesses.
"It's just pretty incredible when you think back to how little it was and how immense the problems were but James Monroe Smith [the organization's late founder] was so dedicated to making a change and providing help and it kind of caught fire," said Karen Gatsis Anderson, co-chair of the anniversary celebration.
"The sad, but true, thing is they've come so far, but there's still so much to do. There's still areas where there's a stigma, so it's very unfortunate. Of course, we're really glad there are much better medical treatments, but there are a lot of issues for people with AIDS/HIV and then of course the council decided to really expand and go into all kinds of other areas of helping people in need, which is a wonderful thing."
Gatsis Andersona lawyer, adjunct professor, grandmother and longtime supporter of the LCHJco-chaired the anniversary gala with husband Kimball R. Anderson, a lawyer and partner at Winston and Strawn LLP who sits on a number of public interest boards. The gala was sold out and welcomed more than 400 leaders in law, finance, business, public service and other areas.
"We started the organization 30 years ago; I was wondering whether we were going to survive 30 days because we were on a shoestringwe had no money, we had no volunteers, we just had one guy, James Monroe Smith, who had an idea and a phone and a determination to help as many other people as he could," said Kimball, who was the founding president of the LCHJ's board of directors for two years. "So, no one is more surprised than I am that we survived the first 30 days, let alone 30 years, but it's really been a testament to James Monroe Smith's idea and his demonstrated ability to take an idea and make something happen."
"Long live the council and we hope to have at least 30 more years," Karen added.
Fox 32 News Anchor Larry Yellen served as the master of ceremonies. LCHJ presented awards in leadership and advocacy to Rep. Greg Harris ( D-Chicago ), University of Chicago Medicine's Dr. Nicole Hamp, and health organization Howard Brown Health, with Howard Brown's president and CEO David Ernesto Munar accepting the award on the organization's behalf.
"All three of them are very inspiring," said Kimball of the awardees. "It makes me proud to see people carrying on the mission and doing it so well."
Throughout the evening, along with the award winners and gala co-chairs, LCHJ Board President Jena Levin and LCHJ Executive Director Tom Yates took the stage to say a few words. Lynette Campbell-Stowers, a LCHJ client, also came onto the stage to present an award. Toward the end of the program, Roberta Kramer, from Heritage Auctions, and Dr. Nabeela Rasheed, from AbbVie and LCHJ supporter, energetically led the paddle-raising portion, which allowed attendees to donate more money.
"It's also good for good will, said Yates of the event. "We met a lot of new people, we had supporters who brought friends, these are all people who might help support our work or maybe even volunteer with us or potentially ever work for us. So, we had some clients here tonight, that was really nice to see that and we had a number of the medical partners that we work with…For me it was gratifying to see them all here."
LCHJ also presented a video featuring the award winners, the site medical director at Howard Brown's Englewood facility, a case worker, and LCHJ clients and staff. In the video, each spoke about the impact of the council in their own lives and in others' lives.
"I would say that we provide a unique model of legal services because we work with safety net medical providers, like Howard Brown Health and we train their medical staff on the legal issues their patients may face and then they make referrals and we see those people and provide legal services," Yates explained of LCHJ and its importance. "For us, it's providing legal services to a population that often wouldn't know how to get free legal help or might not even realize that the problems they have might have a legal solution. It's a really successful model and we think it works really well to serve people who otherwise wouldn't get any help. That's what's important to me."
Attendees were also able to participate in the raffle and silent auction for a various prizes. All of the gala's proceeds went directly toward LCHJ's programs serving people living with HIV, children and their families and individuals who are homeless, living with severe mental illness.
"I hope it helped us raise our profile, I hope it raised some money and I think it was actually good for the team, as well," said Yates. "I think it's affirming to see everyone who showed up to support our work. It helps us realize that we're not working in a vacuum."
For more information about the Legal Council for Health Justice, visit legalcouncil.org .