A legal service for low-income residents that incubated under the wings of Mission Waco is striking out on its own.
Greater Waco Legal Services kicks off this week as an independent nonprofit organization, headed by attorney Kent McKeever, who started Mission Waco Legal Services in 2012.
“I think it opens new doors for us to really strategically structure ourselves for growth,” McKeever said. “Our mission is the same: to provide compassionate, affordable legal services for our community.”
As the sole attorney on staff at Mission Waco Legal Services, McKeever counseled low- to moderate-income clients on civil issues including rental disputes, wills and employment disputes, as well as immigration law, which accounted for about half of his caseload. In 2016, he assisted about 200 people directly, with another 200 coming to monthly legal advice clinics staffed by volunteers.
McKeever said he is grateful to Mission Waco for helping get the legal ministry off the ground, but he thinks an independent organization will allow more focus on legal issues. He has raised his own money for the legal ministry and will continue to raise funds along with a newly constituted board of directors.
McKeever said he hopes to add staff and build capacity to help more clients. The services are available to clients on a sliding fee scale to ensure they are affordable.
“What we hope to do in our strategic plan is to take steps toward hiring more full-time attorneys and support staff and expand into other legal areas,” he said. “There’s a lot of need for family law.”
McKeever, who has worked out of the Meyer Center at 1226 Washington Ave., is moving this week to temporary quarters at Waco Community Development, 1624 Colcord Ave. He said he is scouting permanent space, possibly on Elm Avenue.
Mission Waco executive director Jimmy Dorrell said the new venture has his blessing, and he hopes to continue working with McKeever.
“Years ago, we talked about how the day would come when this would become too big for us to maintain,” Dorrell said.
Dorrell said he hopes to continue to somehow offer legal counseling, if only on a part-time or volunteer basis, to Meyer Center clients who have urgent legal needs.