Spotlight on KIND’s newest location: Florida

February 27, 2023

To help meet the legal needs of unaccompanied children in Florida, KIND opened a new field office in Orlando, with satellite operations in Jacksonville. It is KIND’s first office in Florida, which receives a large number of unaccompanied children every year. Whereas southern Florida has an established immigration service provider community, there is greater need for pro bono legal services in central and northern Florida, one of the primary reasons KIND expanded our legal services program to Orlando and Jacksonville.

KIND’s small and mighty Florida team has spent the past months networking in their local jurisdiction, forming relationships with other immigration service providers, and conducting outreach on KIND’s mission and legal services program. The team held its first introductory training for prospective pro bono attorneys in the community late last year, an important step in educating local members of the private bar about KIND’s work and attracting new partners to assist in providing legal representation to unaccompanied children in the region. More than 30 attorneys attended, a testament to the interest and support from local pro bono attorneys, for which KIND is grateful.

The real focus is: how can we do better for these children and for the immigrant community.

The office also hosted a well-attended meet and greet with other local immigration service providers to strengthen relationships with colleague organizations dedicated to immigration and legal services. “We’re looking to do our work in partnership with those who have already been serving the community,” said Managing Attorney Elisabeth Centeno Lopez, who led KIND’s Baltimore office for four years before relocating to launch KIND’s Orlando office.  

The staff received a warm welcome from this dedicated and collaborative community which has shown a willingness to partner and share resources and information. Lopez stated:

The response to our arrival has been overwhelmingly positive. For other organizations working in immigration law and with unaccompanied children, KIND’s arrival has been an energizing moment. We can take a fresh look at what has worked before, what has not worked, and how together we can move the needle. Our partners are eager to hear about the new ideas we can bring and how KIND can help improve outcomes. The real focus is: how can we do better for these children and for the immigrant community?

Reflecting on the office’s accomplishments so far, Lopez said, “In the months since opening, we’ve really worked to put ourselves out there and get KIND’s name out there…There have been a lot of feel-good moments for the team as we see the operation come to life.” 

Lopez highlighted the importance of KIND’s work and presence in Orlando not just in terms of numbers and working with more children, but also in generating a shift toward greater awareness of the need to serve unaccompanied children in central Florida. 

Some of the staff members of the new office grew up in Florida and know what it is like to be an immigrant and provide services to immigrants in this community. Even with all the challenges, they have the utmost hope. They envision a Florida in which unaccompanied children face better prospects and have more services available to them. Lopez shared that she is continually inspired by her team. Lopez said,

We’re not looking at what has been. We’re looking at what could be, all that Florida could yet be for unaccompanied children. That is the vision that we are seeking to bring about case by case and day by day…That hope is what fuels us.