It’s a fact: Many different communities need help and support as they struggle with the variety of problems facing people today. As lawyers, we are uniquely suited to assist these organizations and communities because our law degree gives us a special set of skills. With the new year around the corner, many people will be making resolutions to get more involved in their communities.
But like walking into a brand-new gym on January 2, for many of us, getting started is hard. However, we don’t need to master every piece of equipment on the first day. Often, learning one skill and applying it successfully can be the perfect way to start down the road to true transformation.
This past year, I participated in the G. Lane Ware Leadership Academy through the State Bar. Participants in this program learned and refined many leadership skills. The skill that I use the most turned out to be “active listening,” which is deceptively difficult to master. This skill has paid dividends in my ability to meaningfully contribute to my community.
Here are two examples.
I am currently on the board of the Community Immigration Law Center (CILC), a Dane County nonprofit. By using active listening in conversations with the vulnerable people the CILC serves, board members learned there is a large gap in legal services provided to immigrants in our community in the area of deportation defense. Based on our listening, CILC hired its first staff attorney, who is now representing clients in deportation proceedings pro bonoor at low cost.
As lawyers, we are uniquely suited
to assist these organizations and
communities because our law degree
gives us a special set of skills.
I also am the director of community outreach for the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers (WAAL). Through my active listening to YWCA Madison personnel, I discovered that the organization’s Third Street Program, a transitional-housing program for mothers and children under 5 years old, and Empower Home, a transitional-housing program supporting mothers and children fleeing domestic violence, were struggling to provide Halloween costumes for their children. Although costumes may seem trivial, being able to dress as a favorite superhero or Disney character can mean the world. These children already are facing extremely difficult situations, so any extra joy that can be provided is a great use of time and resources. In response to this need, WAAL organized a costume drive that was able to provide every child in the two programs with their requested Halloween costumes so they could participate in the trick-or-treating activities around the city.
These are just two examples of how I have been able to use what I learned at the Leadership Academy, specifically the active listening skill, to better my community. Going into 2018, I resolve to continue to reach out and listen to support individuals in the community. As lawyers, we should ask who will need our assistance and how can we help. Lastly, will we be able to hear them when the call comes?
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What’s your favorite nonwork activity?
My favorite nonwork activity is my work with Women In Focus Inc. (WIF). WIF is a Dane County nonprofit dedicated to the support of the education of students of color. WIF does many great events throughout the year, but my favorite aspect of the organization is the literacy committee. I have been the chair of this committee for the past two years, and we get to do so many fun events with children in the community. This includes everything from monthly literacy nights with the mothers and children at the YWCA Madison’s Third Street Program, to our annual end-of-the-year themed Book Fair. Last year our theme was “A Day at the Zoo,” and all the WIF members dressed as their favorite zoo animal or zookeeper.
The positive effects of the literacy activities on the children and families we serve bring me so much personal joy.
Amber Raffeet August, RISE Law Center, Madison.
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