Lori Zeno, Executive Director, Queens Defenders

I want to tell you a little bit about Zaire. We met him when he was a high school student In Far Rockaway.  Smart as a whip, he lived with his parents, did well in school and had a million friends. He was also involved in some potentially dangerous, illegal activity – which he stopped once he became part of the Rockaway Justice Center programs.

Queens Defenders planned an event to support the March 2018 March for Our Lives and invited high school students to write essays about the impact of violence on their lives. Zaire’s was passionate, articulate, and clearly informed by personal experience.

After graduating from high school, Zaire joined Queens Defenders’ mentoring program, attended a leadership skills retreat, and started college in September 2018 as a criminal justice major. Unfortunately, his financial aid package fell through and he was removed from the college rolls. He continued to attend class, with his professors’ permission, and completed all the assignments, though he did not receive credit.

Hoping to go back in the spring, he was disappointed again by the financial aid system and became depressed and angry. His relationships at home fell apart and he was kicked out of the house. He could not afford to pay rent and became homeless and jobless. He turned again to crime.

Queens Defenders did not give up on him. We stayed in touch and he eventually returned to our Rockaway Justice Center. Our staffed helped him reconnect with his family and he moved back home. He applied to other colleges and additional financial aid with our assistance. Queens Defenders gave him a loan that he pays back by working in the Justice Center when he is home. And this past September I drove him to school myself.

This is the kind of work that motivates all of us at Queens Defenders. The opportunity to provide justice of all kinds – criminal, civil, socioeconomic – for our clients is our vision and our mission. We fight for justice every day for every client.