2010 Founders Fellowship

Personal Essay

The 2010 Women’s Bar Association Foundation Founders Fellowship allowed me to achieve an extraordinary amount of work on behalf of underprivileged women and children in the District of Columbia, all of which was of vast importance to their own lives.  As the 2010 WBAF Founders Fellow, I worked in the Univeristy of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law’s HIV / AIDS Legal Clinic, which is the second oldest such clinic in the nation. Throughout the summer, I provided comprehensive legal services to women and children affected by HIV / AIDS by addressing several legal issues at once. I assisted women and children in accessing public benefits, as well as drafting and executing last wills and testaments, powers of attorney and advanced directives. Additionally, I helped women facing a wide variety of permanency issues, such as the need to plan for the future care of their children by transferring legal custody to another member of the family or to a family friend if and when that caregiver is no longer able to parent the children.
The experience was extremely rewarding, as I have been able to give mothers a sense of peace of mind that their wishes for their children will be carried out when they pass away.  These women, whose voices may have gone unheard if it not for this clinic, have been given an opportunity to find a sense of security in the fact that someone is vigorously fighting on their behalf to carry out their goals for their children and their family’s future.  
For example, one of my clients (“Ms. C.”) was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s.  She was referred to the clinic because she wanted to set up a will, a living will, and a standby guardianship for her two grandchildren, who she had sole legal and physical custody.  Throughout the summer, I met with Ms. C. and helped her prepare all of these documents.  I learned so much from helping Ms. C., not only about wills and estates law and other issues of family law, but on a much deeper personal level as well.  Ms. C. was one of the strongest women I have ever met in my life and despite the enormous amount of personal obstacles that she has had to endure over the years, she was still adamantly fighting for her family to ensure that her grandchildren are taken care of when she is no longer here.  My journey with Ms. C. was a difficult and emotional one, but one of the most rewarding in the end, as she was extraordinarily grateful for the legal assistance that we were able to provide her.  If it had not been for the WBAF Founder Fellowship, Ms. C. would have had a difficult, and potentially impossible, time trying to find an attorney who could provide her with these legal services free of charge.  For that, both her and I are very appreciative of the work that the fellowship allowed me to pursue this summer.
Overall, I assisted fourteen clients this summer.  I have unique stories from all of them, and all of which would not have been possible without this fellowship.  However, in addition to working with clients, I also took on three major separate projects this summer.  
 
1. Improving the Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect Office’s Parent’s Guide;
 
I organized my colleagues to review and make suggestions to improve the D.C. Superior Court Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect (CCAN) Office’s brochure for parents regarding the child abuse and neglect court process.  After speaking with parent advocates in the community, I became aware that many mothers were turned off by the language of the brochure and were often overwhelmed by all of the legal terms and the organization of the brochure.  After making several improvements to the brochure, My supervisor, Tanya Cooper, and I met with Wilma Brier, Branch Chief of the CCAN Office, to discuss their proposed improvements to the brochure.  The meeting was very timely and beneficial, as the CCAN Office is currently in the process of revising the brochure.
 
2. Creating a “Initial Client Interview” training video for future students working in the HIV / AIDS Legal Clinic; and
 
My colleagues and I, along with Family Ties Project of the Consortium of Child Welfare, created a training video for future students working in the Clinic.  Under direction of our supervisor, LaShanda, Taylor, the training video sought to address approaches to communicating with clients who are affected with HIV in your initial client interview.  I played the role of the student attorney and shot an example of a “bad interview” which emphasized improper ways to communicate in your initial interview, followed by a “good interview” that demonstrated how to be a zealous, ethical and compassionate advocate.  The training video is going to be used to help train new students entering the Clinic.
 
3. Lobbying to open child welfare proceedings in the District of Columbia.
 
I met with Mayor Fenty about the enormous harm done to children by the secrecy that permeates the child welfare system, including closed court hearings and sealed records.   What many have argued for, including one of the Clinic’s supervising attorneys Matthew Fraidin, is opening up these proceedings to allow for more accountability and more transparency.
 
All of this work could not have been done without the assistance from the Women’s Bar Association Foundation.  I was grateful for the opportunity to work in the HIV / AIDS Legal Clinic and was honored to carry on this role through the Women’s Bar Association Foundation Founders Fellowship.


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