Friday, December 23, 2016

Inch One Hundred Fifty: December Legal Clinic

We wrapped up the 2016 year at the Legal Clinic this past Tuesday. It was a quiet night; the weather or the holidays or both may have kept clients away. All the same, we had volunteers showing up to advise, to assist, and to just be there. At one point in the evening, we had one volunteer playing Christmas music on the piano, three lawyers sharing tips and suggestions, and a young mother and her little girl eating a late supper at a nearby table.

One of the things I do after every Clinic is send out a thank you email to the volunteers. We are a unique model in that we do not have a board, do not have funding, and rely solely on volunteers to make this thing work. I try hard to make sure I let those who serve know how much they are appreciated.

This is the email I sent out:

One and all:

We finished the year with 219 clients, not counting phone clients. I have not been tracking phone clients (ones that a volunteer talks to when there is a burning issue and no Clinic anytime soon). IF we had 10 phone clients in 2016, and we may well have, then we have served 2500 clients since starting in October 2003. (Given that some early records are missing, I think it is safe to say we have sailed past that benchmark.)

Well done, everyone. Your time and commitment make Delaware a richer, more inclusive community. I especially appreciate that we all come together--tired from work, from life, from chemo, from too much on our personal/professional plates--and willingly set it all aside to do this month after month. 

Some shoutouts for last night's Clinic: Erin and Colin, who accompanied their mother, Karen M. (FOOD), and kept two children of a client wonderfully entertained for almost two hours (including some rollicking rounds of hide-and-seek); Karen M. and Sue P. for a year's worth of hot and delicious meals, including desserts; Doug W. for the concerned, patient look on his face as he crossed the waiting area to grab a handful of tissues to take to a crying client; Kate S. for jumping into Intake (and talking to the aforementioned upset client); Dave H. for taking a seat at the piano and playing Christmas music for us all.

Last night there was a young woman with a little girl--not a client but someone who gets services from Andrews House--and she ended up staying while her little girl ate some of the delicious Karen/Sue offerings. Mom explained to me that her daughter is in daycare about 50 hours a week while mom works (and there are two other older children at home) so they really look for time they can spend together. Mom took home leftovers from Clinic and extras from the Mobile Market; her daughter was ecstatic because we tucked the extra Santa napkins in one of the take-home bags. It made me appreciate how much Andrews House shelters us all, and how our Clinic sometimes serves those who aren't even there for legal advice. 

Thank you for a wonderful 2016. I'm looking forward to working with you all in 2017. 
My email prompted this response from Dave, who was one of the founders of the Clinic as well as the piano player:

Thank you all!

April's email causes my eyes to well up when I think of all that Mel and the Andrews House do for our community and how much this clinic has grown over the years despite having no real, official organizational structure.

At the outset of this endeavor back in 2003, we hoped to see a few clients every month and perhaps give them some direction and advice.  The clinic has now served more than 2,500 clients and routinely more than 200 a year.  It has a grant to allow some outside legal work.  It received another grant to remodel the basement of Andrews House into meeting rooms.  It routinely provides not only legal advice, but also nourishment- of body and soul- to those who come.  And, I like to think that it provides some of that same nourishment to those of us who volunteer there (along with a little CLE credit too!)

I cannot speak for others who were involved in the early days, but I could not have possibly envisioned what the clinic has become through the hard work of you as volunteers and Mel (and Don before her) at Andrews House.  It warms my heart to see it every month.  It strikes me that the clinic works without a formal 'board' or governing structure because it has taken on a life blood of its own- fed by too many volunteers who care too much about it to let it slip in any way.

I'm getting sappy now- but thank you all for your involvement in this project and for improving the lives of people who would otherwise have nowhere to turn to.  


Dave's email prompted this response from Mel, who is the Executive Director of Andrews House, our home since the Clinic's inception in 2003:

Good Morning all,
I didn’t expect to be so emotional this early in the morning.  I can’t thank you all enough for what you continue to do at the Legal Clinic and for our community.  I ditto Dave & April, the nourishment people receive (for body & soul) at the Legal Clinic, in addition to the legal advice in the kind and generous way you all have, is a such soothing balm to our clients.  It warms my heart every month I witness it.  Thank you for continuing to volunteer and for bringing food and supporting the Legal Clinic.  Andrews House is honored & blessed to be part of it.
Very Merriest Holiday wishes to you!

And finally this response:

You good people share good words and kind thoughts. Thanks to all of you for sharing your valuable time and abundant talents with those in need. (Those in need include us lawyers, of course!) God bless you wonderful people!

We feel always the spiritual origin and part of the Clinic, but maybe more so at this time of the year. From its very humble beginnings, the Clinic at Andrews House has carried on and been guided by a very clear and simply-stated mission, to help people in need of legal services. The Clinic operated simply. (For example, there used to be no food served!) It still operates pretty simply, but with some nice additions and many more clients and volunteers. The Clinic has grown into an important and valuable community resource (one of many emanating from and nurtured in Andrews House). On Tuesday, I took a moment in the hustle and bustle of the evening to stop and take in what was going on. April captured much of it in her e-mail. Your donations of good food and good cheer, David’s pretty music, and your shared, warm camaraderie, coupled with the concerns, problems, anxieties, and tears presented by clients, made for a poignant time. Apparently, many of us felt that poignancy. You all are doing good work, with simple kindnesses, Andrews House hospitality, and wise legal counsel.


The world is often a cold, hard place. This Tuesday night, thanks to the open hearts of many, it was a little warmer and a little softer.


Laurie said...

Wishing you a warm and joyful holiday, April. Thank you for adding some light and love to the world.

Ellen Goldstein said...

April, I envy your ability to soldier on despite your own problems and to be of so much help to others. These emails are a testament to your good nature, generosity of time and spirit and dedication to your community.

I salute you.