What started as an idea envisioned in a living room at a CFW Legal Fellowship meeting is now a full-fledged non-profit in its 10th year of providing free legal services to low-income and homeless New Yorkers. Founded in 2009 by a group of Christian attorneys, Open Hands Legal Services uses “the law as a powerful anti-poverty tool,” says Board Member and Treasurer Jonathan Lee. "Our mission is to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed in New York. We break down the legal barriers to their success, enabling individuals to flourish and embody the full persons God intended them to be.”
By mobilizing the talents of lawyers and volunteers throughout the city, Open Hands places legal professionals in direct contact with those most in need of aid by setting up free legal aid desks in shelters and soup kitchens. Staff and volunteer attorneys help individuals who are facing critical, sometimes life-threatening issues, like eviction, immigration issues, access to medicare and medicaid, and child support debt.
Back in 2009, Tim Keller gave a talk to CFW’s Legal Fellowship group, encouraging attorneys in the group to use their skills to help the poor and marginalized in the city. Many in the group were inspired by the talk and felt God calling them to respond. They began by providing legal services to guests of an East Village soup kitchen and continued by creating a business plan. In 2010, they entered CFW's Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI) business plan competition and won in the not-for-profit category. Since then, Open Hands has grown dramatically in response to client demand, and now serves at twelve different partner locations throughout the city. “CFW has been critical in the formation and development of Open Hands. Our prior executive director and several of our board members are Gotham graduates, so we continue to see CFW’s influence as we plan for the next ten years of our organization,” says Lee.
Throughout the process of expanding the number of legal desks and clients they can serve, the Open Hands team has seen God’s faithfulness in providing the resources, donations, and volunteers that such an expansion requires. God’s provision “serves as a confirmation and reminder to us that he wants us to keep doing this work because the demand is so great,” says Lee. “Open Hands is uniquely able to meet the legal needs of those who have fallen through the cracks.”
Wondering how you can help? The Open Hands Legal Services annual Spring Benefit is coming up on Wednesday, May 22 with a goal to raise $80K. Both ticket purchases and donations can be made here.
Several Gotham alumni serve on the Board of Open Hands: Miriam Glaser (G'13), Haejin Shim (G'12), Jonathan Lee (G'13), CJ Masimore (G'11), Jenny Chang (G'15), and Eliot Samuels (G'09). Learn more about CFW's Gotham Fellowship here.