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From Drug Dealer to Community Organizer

Ernie is not shy about his colorful life but that makes him one of the best community organizers. His heart for the community of Winton makes him go the extra mile, his passion to 'put Winton on the map for something good' keeps him busy during his off hours. He understands the struggle the community members are going through, he knows the temptations and he has lived in the community for years.

Recently Ernie and Adrian, our AmeriCorps member, were approached by the Merced County Public Defenders office to share at their luncheon about the work that they are doing in Winton with the at-risk youth and a relationship developed.

Here is an article that was in the Merced SunStar that makes all of us proud!

Vincent Andrade: Quite a LifeLine in Winton

A free legal clinic is planned for Winton on July 9. The Free Winton Legal Clinic is a product of the collaboration between Winton LifeLine Community Center, Merced County Public Defender, Central California Legal Services and UC Merced Law Clinic. The purpose of the clinic is to make free legal services and information available to Winton residents.

Winton LifeLine Community Center has been part of the community for several years. LifeLine has become a force for improving the community by engaging in graffiti abatement, involving the local youth in this project and working on other projects.

I first met LifeLine representative Ernie Solis several months ago. I learned about him from a story that appeared in the Sun-Star. Getting to know Ernie, I have come to appreciate both his compelling life story as well as his commitment to his hometown of Winton. He is a force for improvement and change in Winton. There are undoubtedly equally committed individuals in Winton as well as other Merced County communities.

The needs of the residents of these communities take many forms. One area that Ernie identified is legal services. A free legal clinic is a way to improve the lives of indigent and working people in ways that those who have access to legal services may not consider.

Imagine the senior who wants control over her estate but who cannot read or write, the hard-working father with a criminal record who does not know he can clean his record and thereby get a better job, the mother with three children facing eviction who will end up on the street if she does not know how to defend against the eviction in court.

To help people with these needs and similar problems, Winton LifeLine Community Center is hosting, and Merced County Public Defender and Central California Legal Services along with UC Merced Law Clinic are sponsoring, this free clinic.

Teaming up with Central California Legal Services staff attorneys Pahoua Lor and Safiya Morgan, we have embarked on an ambitious alliance to deliver legal information and basic services at the clinic, which will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Crookham Elementary, 7160 W. Walnut Ave.

University students active with the UC Merced Law Clinic will volunteer their time at the clinic.

Presentations are scheduled in the areas of juvenile justice in Merced County, the eviction process, gang intervention, wills, health care directives and power of attorney and the immigration application process. Participants will include Merced County Superior Court Self-Help Center as well as a number of other organizations and groups that want to contact and help Winton-area residents.

As a supervising attorney in the office of the Merced County Public Defender, I am interested in improving the service my department provides to residents who live in the various Merced County communities. Increasing the level of service outlying communities receive will help to improve the lives of Merced County residents -- no matter where they live.

The organizations that have collaborated to develop the Free Winton Legal Clinic have planned and worked for its success. Based on the level of community support and response, it's hoped that free legal clinics can be planned in other communities....

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