DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Founders of the Wake County Legal Support Center have removed barriers and increased access to justice for thousands within the first year of it opening.
Mary Ellen Williams has received support since the center opened. She believes it's been a big help as she navigates her divorce.
"I can't afford an attorney," she said. "That is more than stressful. When you're going through this and you're up against a powerful attorney who knows the ropes. He's been doing it for 30 years and you're just trying as hard as you can to keep plowing through."
She is one of the many stories coming out of the center. It has shown organizers just how massive the need is for the free legal services offered. While 11 percent of Wake County residents live in poverty, there's only one legal aid attorney for every 10,000 of those eligible to be served.
Volunteer attorneys and students have given so much time to help make it a success within its first year.
"It doesn't matter how much money you make or how little money you make. You have the ability to come in here and get the information that you need to represent yourself moving forward. If that's what you choose to do or that's what you have to do," said Judge Ashleigh Parker.
The center was Parker's idea and in the first year she only anticipated serving 2,000 people, but its served almost triple that number.
"So many lives -- 5,692 lives (to be exact) -- have been affected and impacted by the center," she said. "I could have never envisioned last year that we would be here today."
Clients receive legal support as they navigate complex issues like eviction, child custody and divorce. There's already conversations around expanding access and creating center's like this across the state.
"So to visualize that, if you took all 5,600 people and you put them in Red Hat Amphitheater, it would be just about full," said Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria. "To give you an idea of what that means, and of course that means so many people have had access to justice that would not have had access to justice before."
"I could have never, ever done this without this legal clinic," said Williams.