The following are examples of how recent AmeriCorps JD members brought access to equal justice to low-income and underserved communities throughout the country.
Helping Veterans Re-Enter Civilian Life
Sarah Mateja is a member of the 2013 Equal Justice Works’ AmeriCorps JD class. Currently, she is serving Veterans struggling with substance abuse issues at the Allegheny County Veterans Treatment Court. Sarah, a law student at Duquesne University School of Law, manages the clinical aspect of the court, which divert qualified Veterans from jail to treatment programs. Equal Justice Works interviewed Sarah to learn more about her experience. Read more about her experiences here.
Veterans Serving Veterans
Timothy Chapman joined the Army in 2001, and served 10 years on active duty, as a drilling reservist, and as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Tim decided to join the military because he has always wanted to help people, and he felt that lending his services to the armed forces would be a great way for him to do so. During his 10 years of service, he worked on major reconstruction efforts in the Baghdad and Babil provinces in Iraq, and was a member of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team at the U.S. Embassy in Babil. “Part of what I experienced working for the State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team was the significance of the rule of law efforts. I saw attorneys dedicating a year or more of their lives to informing the Iraqi citizens about the U.S. justice system, building crime labs and introducing them to forensic evidence, building new correctional facilities and courthouses, and trying to build trust and enhance the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and the legal system,” Tim says. His experience with lawyers overseas showed him one facet of public interest law, and an idea was born. Tim enrolled in a dual JD/MBA program at Notre Dame and is currently in his third year there. Last summer he served as an AmeriCorps JD Member (then known as “Summer Corps”) at the Rochester Office of Legal Assistance of Western New York (LawNY), where he worked directly with clients – perhaps most notably veterans.
During his service, Tim spent at least one day a week at the Veterans Outreach Center (VOC). “Being a 10-year military veteran myself, I was able to make an immediate connection with these clients,” he said. “The legal issues veterans face run the full spectrum of possibilities. We processed and accepted cases including landlord/tenant evictions, public benefits application/appeals assistance, unemployment benefits application/appeals assistance, wills and power of attorney, child support modifications, and some military pay and bonus issues.”
Over the Fourth of July this summer, Tim worked on one particularly rewarding case. Due to a complicated series of events resulting from a late GI Bill payment, a Marine veteran was at risk of being evicted. Tim explained, “The GI Bill payment process is a complicated one, as it requires certification from the school. This client had not received his GI Bill payment for school yet, and therefore fell behind in rent payments and was facing immediate eviction when he sought my assistance through the VOC on July 3. I was able to leverage my own experience and knowledge of the VA educational benefits and how they are distributed to discuss it with the landlord and the landlord’s attorney. As a result, we were able to stave off the eviction proceedings long enough for the client to receive his educational payments and pay off his rental arrears. I was able to keep him in his home and relieve his and his family’s stress so he could focus on school, and save him several hundred dollars in attorney fees by avoiding a court appearance.”
The direct client interaction that Tim was able to experience this summer opened his mind about public interest law. “I really valued being an integral part of every phase of a case at LawNY. These were cases that could change the course of a person’s life,” Tim says. “Helping these people can make the difference between them getting evicted or not, obtaining VA payments or not, keeping Section 8 housing or not—these are real cases with real people’s lives at stake. I was glad I could be a part of that and make a difference.”
“My experiences as an AmeriCorps member led me to think that I could combine my business and legal education with my military experience to serve as a leader in an organization such as the VA, or a Veterans Outreach Center,” Tim says. Providing legal services to veterans last summer gave him “joy in knowing that every day when I went to work, I had the opportunity to positively affect someone’s life, and that made me feel very blessed. I think a lot of people hesitate to go into public interest law because they think it won’t make them wealthy. But the relief and happiness in clients’ faces I saw last summer made me feel very wealthy indeed.”
This year, Tim will spend half his summer working for the Chicago Public Defender's Office in conjunction with a clinic out of Northwestern's Law School.
In times of war, "Stand Down" refers to the time when an exhausted soldier is removed from the battlefield and placed in a secure base camp to rest, get a clean uniform, enjoy a warm meal, receive medical and dental care, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment.
Today, Stand Down is the name of a community-based intervention program designed to help the nation's estimated 200,000 homeless veterans "combat" life on the streets.
"I served much more than 40 hours a week, but that didn't matter. I had a reason to do it: I was helping real people and making a difference. I was working to balance the scales of justice and to ensure that class boundaries did not equate into disparate legal representation. I can't wait for the opportunity to do it again." Gordon served as a legal intern with the Lexington Trial Office of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy.
"... Internship Leads to a Public Interest Career When John Busby applied to become an Equal Justice Works Summer Corps member in 2007, ..."
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If you have questions about AmeriCorps JD, please send an email to AmeriCorpsJD@EqualJusticeWorks.org.