More than an Attorney

Monday, August 5, 2019

Volunteer Acts as Advocate, Emotional Support, and Teacher

Vicki Karl, Executive Director, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago

Clients come to CVLS with a variety of issues – not all of them legal. We listen and try to understand their needs, referring clients to other resources as necessary. After all, lawyers can’t do everything. That is, unless you’re represented by a volunteer attorney like Vicki Karl.

Vicki first met Ms. B. at Hel.LAS, our Hellenic Legal Assistance Services Clinic. 54-year-old Ms. B. came to the clinic wanting to apply for U.S. citizenship. She arrived in the United States at 10 years old and had lived as a permanent legal resident since then.

Ms. B. was married twice, is legally blind, and suffers from scoliosis, a brain tumor, and a dislocated back and hips. Her own medical issues and lack of formal education seriously hindered Ms. B.’s self-confidence. Vicki set time aside to really get to know Ms. B.

“After I got to know her better,” Vicki said, “I discovered that she was quite bright, and I tried to use our time together to boost her self-esteem.”

Vicki met with Ms. B. several times to gather information and prepare the documents for her application. After submitting her paperwork, Vicki was informed that Ms. B. was scheduled for an interview. At first, Ms. B. wanted to apply for a medical waiver to avoid the citizenship test.

Although Vicki provided Ms. B. with the appropriate forms, she also tried to convince her that she could pass the test on her own. Vicki met with Ms. B. again and again, helping her study and even creating stories to help Ms. B. understand U.S. history. Ms. B. quickly gained confidence and was determined to pass.

On April 22, 2019, the day of the interview, Ms. B. arrived in a disheveled state, having just undergone a painful procedure on her back. But she was determined to take the test! Although she was nervous, Ms. B. performed beautifully, easily obtaining the requisite number of correct questions.

“Upon hearing that she passed, she momentarily forgot her physical pain, and jumped up and hugged me and the hearing officer,” Vicki remembers. “After the interview, we spent some time talking and taking pictures, and she seemed to have become a different person— happy, confident, and optimistic about her future.”

Vicki told us that representing Ms. B. was one of the most rewarding experiences in her legal career. It sounds like the feeling is mutual because Ms. B. sent the following e-mail:

“Honey, I thank you with all my heart and soul for your help and support.

You are a wonderful person, and I wish you health and happiness, always and forever.

I am going to print out this picture and it will be on my dresser forever.”

- Ms. B.