Aug. 18, 2014 – Members of the University of Houston Law Center Class of ’17, faculty, and staff showed up in force over the weekend for a day of community service at a food bank and an immigration clinic.
More than 180 first-year students volunteered Saturday for the inaugural “Community Service Day” project initiated by the school’s new dean, Leonard M. Baynes, and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sondra Tennessee.
Baynes said the outreach instills in the future attorneys the value of public service and paying back to the community.
“In these times of criticism and questions about the value of going to law school, it is important to inspire the students and remind them why they are here: to achieve justice for their clients,” Baynes said. “Some of these 1Ls had the rare opportunity to work alongside attorneys to interview and help process immigration claims even before they had their first law school class. This gives them the opportunity to experience the “Power of Legal Education” and further whet their appetite for the law.”
UHLC volunteers, including Tennessee, dressed in red “Community Service Day 2014” T-shirts, packaged 11,860 meals containing 14,232 pounds of food during their stint at the Houston Food Bank on the city’s east side.
Sorting boxes of food “on the line” was another way of easing into the law school experience for Zeinab Kachmar who also attended a Law Preview course and Friday’s orientation on campus. “I’m nervous-excited,” she said during a brief break. “It’s a mix of both.”
Law Center students and faculty also helped undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children apply for special legal status under the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
About 30 UHLC students helped immigrants fill out forms with about 40 applying for DACA renewals and 20 filing initial applications.
Clinical Associate Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Law Center’s Immigration Clinic, explained the law and its history to the students and answered questions from applicants. Clinical Assistant Professor Janet Beck and Susham Modi, adjunct professor of law and clinical supervising attorney, supervised the student volunteers and interviewed individual applicants. The four-hour clinic at the Leonel J. Castillo Community Center was co-sponsored by Own the Dream, Boat People SOS, and NALEO.
“The overwhelming message I got was that people wanted to be able to work lawfully and support their families,” Hoffman said. Many of the applicants were high school students or young adults in their 20s, he said, including a 15-year-old girl who explained she needed a job to help her financially strapped family and a young man trying to support his elderly mother who accompanied him to the clinic.
“Overall the day of service not only gave students the opportunity to connect with the Houston community, but also with each other,” said Tennessee. “These projects allowed each student to see his or her classmates, not as competitors, but as humanitarians. We all were able to give back and make a difference in the lives of others.”
“I am incredibly proud and inspired by the 1L students’ enthusiasm during the service day and I have heard from several 2Ls that they also want opportunities for public service,” Baynes said. “I have asked Associate Dean Tennessee to look into expanding the Community Service Day options for next year and to incorporate service opportunities for the 2Ls and 3Ls during the school year.”
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