This is a guest blog post from Elder Justice AmeriCorps Fellow Rachael Delehanty ('16), of Alaska Legal Services Corporation in Fairbanks, Alaska.
As an AmeriCorps Elder Justice Legal Fellow at Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC), I am one of 25 Fellows throughout the U.S. who take on abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation cases for adults aged 60 and older.
At just ten years old, I knew I wanted to become an attorney: to grow up, learn about the law, and use that knowledge to help others less fortunate than myself. I became an AmeriCorps member to use my law degree to help low-income people. I wanted to give a voice to people whose voices usually go unheard.
When I took the job in Fairbanks, it was with full knowledge that there was no elder legal program. Not only was the Elder Justice program new to AmeriCorps, it was also new to Alaska. However, my co-workers at ALSC and especially my supervisor, Melony Lockwood, were so welcoming and very helpful in getting this native Californian acquainted with Fairbanks. The first two months working at ALSC, I spent the majority of my time driving all over Fairbanks and the surrounding villages, introducing myself to senior service providers, the local police, adult protective services, and any other organization that had a connection with elders. During this time I also gave presentations about the Elder Justice grant, and the kinds of cases I could take on.
Adult Protective Services (APS) was the first agency to start referring cases to me. APS in Fairbanks is extremely understaffed, with a backlog of guardianship cases. When a person grows older and starts to lose their mental capacity, has dementia or Alzheimer’s, or suffers from a stroke, and they haven’t appointed someone as their power of attorney, then they need to petition the court to appoint a guardian. Without an appointed guardian, these elders have no one to make legal, medical, and financial decisions for them. Those who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, or have suffered a stroke that has left them unable to talk, connect, and understand reality, need a guardian to make sure they are properly taken care of. Unfortunately, APS in Fairbanks only has one attorney assigned to such cases, so I offered my services. It has been extremely rewarding to file these guardianship petitions and ensure local elders receive proper care.
Another huge part of my job is conducting community outreach, which is my favorite part of the Elder Justice Fellowship. I have joined and formed several different multidisciplinary teams with local organizations like the Fairbanks Native Association, Fairbanks Rescue Mission, Fairbanks Resource Agency, The Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance, and many others. Additionally, I regularly visit local senior centers and assisted living communities to give “Know Your Rights” presentations.
My time in Fairbanks is far from over, and I am looking forward to taking on new cases, helping new clients, and doing everything I can to help the elders of Fairbanks.