Happy National Volunteer Month!
As you know, volunteers are the heart and soul of the OneJustice network!
Geoff Cleveland offers today’s guest blog post as part of National Volunteer Month.
Volunteers travel hundreds of miles with the Justice Bus Project to bring life-changing legal assistance to Californians in isolated areas of the state. The 100+ nonprofits we support also work with thousands of volunteers who commit their time, energy, and expertise to serving low-income Californians. Without a doubt, volunteers are the backbone of our state’s safety net for those facing legal barriers to basic life necessities.
At OneJustice, we celebrate our volunteers all the time, but National Volunteer Month gives us an extra special opportunity to recognize their work. During this month we will be featuring a series of guest blog posts with first-hand experiences from (you guessed it!) – some of our amazing volunteers!
We are particularly honored to lead off with a blog post by Geoffrey Cleveland, a first year student at Southwestern Law School. Prior to attending law school he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of California, Riverside. After his undergraduate studies he enlisted in the United States Army where he served in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Just last month he joined the OneJustice’s inaugural Justice Bus trip to bring legal assistance to veterans in the Inland Empire. Thank you Geoff!
It was not long ago that I was in Afghanistan applying for law school and waiting for the elusive letters of acceptance.
Less than a month later, I was sitting in a classroom in Los Angeles learning about a “hairy hand” and its relevance to modern contract law.
Geoff Cleveland and seven other law students from Southwestern Law School boarded the Justice Bus to deliver free legal help to veterans in the Inland Empire.
To say that it was a bit of a transition would be an understatement. Although I miss my friends, I am grateful for this opportunity to start a new career in a new home and meet new wonderful people. What I am most grateful for is that I have always had an amazing group of friends and family to support me through the difficult times. I am truly a fortunate person.
Yet, for some the transition to civilian life is much more difficult. Some are asked to end their service because of injuries sustained during combat or training events and then are left without the proper help. Some end their service and build new lives and are never aware of the benefits they are entitled to. For some the stress and experience of combat leaves lingering effects that make transitioning to civilian life near to impossible. I knew even while I was waiting for those letters in Afghanistan that I wanted to somehow help my fellow veterans who were left in these difficult times.
When Cynthia Luna (OneJustice Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow) came to my law school to discuss the Justice Bus trip to San Bernardino to set up a free legal clinic for veterans, I jumped at the chance. I was excited to have the opportunity to help fellow veterans as well as gain effective legal experience.
When we arrived at the American Legion hall, where we would set up the legal clinic, I was nervous. Besides mock interviews in class, I had never actually conducted a real client interview. I kept picturing the horrible scenarios of unruly clients that I had heard about and asked myself if I was prepared. I ran through the check list of to-do’s in my head over and over, almost like the check list I would run through before an Airborne jump in the Army.
It was smiles all around after Geoff and Ryan helped this couple at the Justice Bus clinic serving veterans in the Inland Empire.
Just like a jump, before I knew it I was out the door and I was sitting face to face with an elderly couple, my first real life clients! Unlike the nightmare scenarios I had dredging through my head, these two were amazing. My friend Ryan and I listened to their incredible story and helped them by working with an attorney at the clinic to provide them with the information they needed.
The couple were hoping to set up a meeting with an attorney, and we fortunate enough to be able to set up that meeting and have the majority of their needed paperwork filled out, another first for me. Their kindness and appreciation blew me away, and I was not only relieved that I had survived my first interview, but appreciative that I had met such wonderful people.
Overall, that Friday was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable days I have had since moving to Los Angeles a few months ago. I would recommend the experience of a Justice Bus trip to any law student or attorney for not just the educational aspect but also the relief of working for deserving and truly appreciative people.
Want to provide more legal services for veterans in need? Give online today to our Veterans Legal Aid Fund!
From everyone at OneJustice, a most heart-felt “Thank You!” to all of the amazing volunteers from Southwestern Law School!