Salazar to serve as Interim Director of Legal Aid of Western Michigan

 Legal Aid of Western Michigan (LAWM) Board President Paul Vlachos has announced the appointment of Juan Salazar as Interim Director, necessitated by the Nov. 2 death of Michael C. Chielens, who had served as Executive Director since 1995.

Legal Aid provides legal assistance in civil matters to low income persons and seniors in 17 counties.Vlachos stated, “Mike Chielens left big shoes to fill.  Legal Aid has a budget of $4 million with nearly 50 staff in 6 offices.  It’s a big job and the Board feels that due diligence requires that we spend the time necessary to recruit and hire the right person as the next Executive Director... The Board has confidence in Juan’s ability to keep the team running.”
Salazar said, “Successes for our clients at Legal Aid are a team effort. It takes everyone working together and, for the time being, I see my role as making sure that happens.”

Salazar is a 1978 graduate of Central Michigan University and joined the staff of Legal Aid in 1980 as a paralegal.  While at Legal Aid, he has provided leadership in the community serving on the boards of Catholic Charities of West Michigan, RAVE (Relief After Violent Encounters), Kent County ARC, Citizens for Better Care, Michigan League for Human Services, and FSU Legal Studies program. In 2007 he was awarded the Liberty Bell award by the Grand Rapids Bar Association, given to a non-lawyer who has contributed to the Justice system by volunteer activities in the community. He has also been active in the Legal Aid community serving on the boards of state and regional organizations such as the Committee on Regional Training and the Michigan Poverty Law Program. 

During Chielens’ illness, the executive director’s responsibilities were shared by Deputy Director Mary Ellen Drolet and Litigation Director Leslie Curry.  Curry, who has been at Legal Aid in Grand Rapids since her graduation from University of Michigan Law School over 30 years ago, said, “Juan has been a colleague and a friend since I joined Legal Aid. I have absolute faith in his abilities.  This will let Mary Ellen and I focus on our own jobs in a way that is necessary to make sure the ED can do his.”

Drolet, who has been Deputy Director at Legal Aid of Western Michigan since 2001, also endorsed the choice of Salazar, “I have known Juan for nearly 30 years.  He is known and respected by staff throughout our program, in the community, and in Legal Aid statewide.”
Vlachos said he expects it will probably be at least six months before the Board will fill the position on a permanent basis.  The Board plans to engage an outside firm or consultant to assist in the search.