Living the Mission: The Power of Pro Bono
Staci A. Fonner
How many people say they want to change the world? How many of us forget that we once said that too? And how many people have the opportunity to change the world by doing their life’s work? This summer, I learned many valuable lessons while working in public interest, but the most important one is this: As attorneys, we can change lives.
When looking for an internship after my first year of law school, I was open to any area of the law. Then I saw that Duquesne University’s Public Interest Law Association (PILA) has a scholarship for students to work in public interest. I received the scholarship and an internship at Legal Services for Immigrants and Internationals (LSII), a nonprofit under the umbrella of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Pittsburgh. LSII offers legal advice and representation for immigration matters.
I quickly realized how our work impacted the lives of our clients. What may have taken a few minutes or hours of our days meant a change of a lifetime for most people. I also realized that in comparison to our clients, we only spent a little time thinking about their situations. The clients probably thought about their situations every minute of every day because these problems often involved vital necessitates of life. Many clients were separated from their families, getting married or seeking citizenship. Some had been abused. Some had come as refugees from war-torn countries.
At LSII, the clients clearly outnumber the staff, which consists of two accredited representatives (only one full time), one part-time attorney and a handful of interns and volunteers. The staff receives hundreds of phone calls and attended several consultations, hearings and immigration appointments each week – not to mention completing the legal paperwork for each client. The only time I saw LSII turn someone away was when it was an asylum or criminal case because it did not have the resources to handle the case. This means the staff takes on many cases, even when they do not have the time or the manpower to complete them. Somehow, they made time – because they cared.
Because of the interns and volunteers, the organization was able to service many more immigrants in a few months’ time than the staff would have been able to complete on their own. Lives were changed because law students and attorneys gave their time and expertise. I saw that if we really are going to change the world, like we promised to do many years ago, this sacrificial giving is the way to do it.
At JF&CS, volunteers and interns are vital to our work and mission, whether they are generously giving their time on a regular basis or providing a particular skill to our agency when needed.
So often, when we share stories of volunteerism with our supporters and friends, we focus on the time and skills donated to our agency, and their tremendous impact on our work and clients, but it is quite a heartening experience to hear our volunteers reflect on the impact our agency’s work has on them in return.
In the article above, featured in the most recent issue of The Duquesne Lawyer, an alumni publication of the Duquesne University Law School, Staci Fonner, a former legal intern with JF&CS’s Legal Services for Immigrants and Internationals (LSII) department, reflects on her recent internship with JF&CS and how the experience impacted her. Staci’s article so eloquently illustrates the direct difference our volunteers and interns can make in the lives of our clients, and the difference this work has in their lives as well.
We are so thankful to our many volunteers and interns like Staci, who help make it possible to for our agency to change the lives of so many in our communities.
If you are interested in volunteering with JF&CS, or finding out more information about opportunities in our programs and departments, please call 412-422-7200, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.jfcspgh.org.