Pro Bono Project establishes Family Preparedness Project

Photo of mother with baby looking through legal documents

Bilingual Wake Forest Law students volunteered in the Family Preparedness Project, a new initiative led by the Pro Bono Project that seeks to provide durable powers of attorney for individuals in North Carolina who may be at risk of deportation. Student coordinators, Emily Scotton (JD ’18) and Vanessa Garrido (JD ’18), organized client appointments at the Downtown Health Plaza in Winston-Salem over the course of four evenings in April.

Using a training module and a forms packet provided by the North Carolina Justice Center, law students met with immigration clients to prepare documents under the supervision of local volunteer attorneys, including Dean Suzanne Reynolds (JD ’77).

“For me, participating in this project gave a face – actually, two faces – to the immigration debate,” Dean Reynolds says. “Through student translators, I talked with a mother and father anxious to provide for their children in the event they had to leave this country without their children. These parents, my clients, brightened as they executed the documents, and I felt a part of something really important.

These documents included durable powers of attorney, power of attorney to make educational decisions about children, authorization to consent to health care for a minor and a DMV power of attorney.

“We are ecstatic that we were able to serve so many people,” Scotton said. “We were concerned that we would encounter significant challenges since we organized this clinic rather quickly, but thanks to our student and attorney volunteers, the project came together, and now 17 individuals have the peace of mind that comes from having these documents.”

The Downtown Health Plaza is a frontline provider of primary care to the medically underserved in Winston-Salem.

Professor Margaret Taylor who served as the faculty adviser to the Family Preparedness Project says, “It was gratifying to establish a partnership with colleagues at Wake Forest Baptist Health. I am so impressed with the pro bono commitment to our students who eagerly stepped forward to organize and staff this project, generously volunteering their time with just three weeks left before final exams.”

In addition to the two project coordinators, 12 law students volunteered: Michael Callahan (JD ’19); Katherine Escalante (JD ’18); Shomik Gibson (JD ’18); Mary Kate Gladstone (JD ’19); Katherine Haddock (JD ’17); Teresa Herran (JD ‘); Santiago Herrera (JD ’17); Carson Lane (JD ’19); Erica Litvak (JD ’19); Mattie Gibbons (JD ’19); Raquel Macgregor (JD ’19); Julia de la Parra (JD ’17); Frances Sullivan (JD ’19); and Juliana Vergara (JD ’19). Four local attorneys volunteered as supervisors, and two Wake Forest Law faculty participated in addition to Dean Reynolds: Adjunct Professor Helen Parsonage and former Pro Bono Director Beth Hopkins.

The Family Preparedness Project is grateful for the assistance of Dr. Julie Linton, Robert Jones, Daisy Valdevinos and other colleagues at the Downtown Health Plaza for providing a space to meet clients, provide logistical support and for working with valued community partners to identify potential clients. Wake Forest Law alumni Jessica Bell (JD ’05) and Matthew Phillips (JD ’06) generously volunteered their time and estate planning expertise to provide an orientation to project participants and to train student volunteers.

In light of its success, the Family Preparedness Project will continue in the 2017-2018 academic year. The Project hopes to serve more clients by forming relationships with new community partners and expanding their network of volunteer supervising attorneys. If you or your organization are interested in getting involved, please email Professor Taylor at taylormh@wfu.edu.