Byte of Prevention Blog

by Monisha Parker |

LM Feature: Lawyers for Literacy

lawyers for literacyLawyers build their careers on helping people solve problems. Clients come to lawyers seeking solutions to issues they can’t handle on their own. Lawyers’ dedication to helping others extends beyond the courtroom. Through the NC Bar Foundation's Lawyers 4 Literacy (L4L) program, judges, attorneys, paralegals and law students have the opportunity to share their time, love of reading and knowledge of civics and U.S. history with young students who are working on improving their reading skills. Jackie Houser, attorney with Walker Allen in Goldsboro participates in the program. We had a chance to talk to her and some of her colleagues about their work and experiences with Lawyers for Literacy.

LM: How long has Walker Allen been involved with the Lawyers for Literacy program?

JH: This is our firm’s first year participating in the Lawyers for Literacy program.  We had three lawyers and six staff volunteer.  However, even with us dividing the students into groups of four, there were still too many children to service.  We could have used 4-5 more volunteers, and this was only at one school!  It made me realize how many children at different schools could use this valuable resource.

LM: What made you want to get involved with the program? 

JH: Several years ago our firm’s managing partners founded the Walker Allen Foundation which is dedicated to the enrichment of the lives of children, and its focus is two-fold:  first, we focus on local children so that we can make a difference in our community; and, second, we focus on making a difference in the lives of underprivileged children in other countries.  Through our managing partner, Jerry Allen, Jr., we have “adopted” children in Jalacte, Belize.  Jerry and a team of volunteers visit the village at least once a year to bring medical supplies, hygiene supplies, and toys to the children of the village; and, every year the number of children who come to participate in medical screenings and games grows exponentially.  Locally, we “adopted” the fourth grade class at Brogden Elementary School; and, through the efforts of the entire law firm, we started hosting Christmas parties each year for the fourth graders where we presented gifts, including toys, shoes, socks, and personalized backpacks.  We know that for some of these children it will be the only presents they will receive.  This year, we wanted to do more, and that is how we got involved with the Lawyers for Literacy program.

 While I enjoy a good Christmas party with 200 fourth graders as much as anyone, I wanted to do something more substantive for these kids.  With the Christmas party, we are there for one day—one crazy, busy, exhausting, loud day.  And, while the Christmas party was fun, it was taxing on the school counselors and teachers.  What I like about the Lawyers for Literacy program is that I can build a relationship with several of the students, and we can invest our most precious asset, i.e., our time, into their lives.

LM: How does the program work?

JH: NCBA has done a great job of making this program so easy.  Each volunteer commits to read with one to four students each week for 30 minutes for a period of four weeks.  The NCBA sets up the school (or you can coordinate with a school of your choice that wants to participate in the program) the NCBA provides the supplies, and Ann David, the state coordinator, or Diane Wright, the NCBA Law-Related Education Director, will meet with your volunteers and provide helpful advice for making this program a success.

 LM: Why do you feel a program such as Lawyers for Literacy is so important?

 JH: Being able to read is so important; and, reading comprehension is essential to succeed.  If we want these children to be productive members of society, then we must invest in them.  And, sometimes it makes a difference for another adult—other than a teacher or a parent—to show them how important it can be to read. 

On the first visit with my fourth graders, I told them that reading was like exercises for your brain and if they wanted their brain to be strong then they needed to be able to read, learn new words, and understand what they were reading.  We had a good time each week talking about our “brain exercises.”

LM: How has your work with Lawyers for Literacy impacted you personally and professionally?

JH: I met four amazing young people with so much potential.  Even on the days when I was so busy, and (I thought) I did not have time to interrupt my work day to go to the school, I never regretted it.  The time spent with them was uplifting.  They wanted to read well and they wanted positive feedback.  The 30 minutes I spent with them flew by, and I always left the school feeling inspired to do more for others and to certainly participate in this program again next year with a new group of fourth graders.

When we finished our first book together, we let the kids pick a book to take home.  They were so surprised that they could “keep” a book.  It was a great incentive.

 LM: I’m sure everyone who participates has amazing stories about the children they’ve worked with. I would love to open it up for some of your colleagues to share.

 JH: At our first session I laid the groundwork for our time together.  I told my students that I was a student at Brogden as well, and I confessed that I was not a good student and it took a lot of years for me to overcome.  They always had a lot of questions about being a lawyer and how to become a lawyer.  Most of the questions come out of the blue, e.g., “Do you like sharks?”  One young man was a shark fanatic.  I did not have any books about sharks, but he knew where every book about sharks was located in the library.  I could tell he liked the pictures but he struggled with the words.  So, on one visit, we read one of the books about sharks from the library, and he seemed to realize how important it was to comprehend the story in addition to the pictures.  Another impromptu question was by a young girl who asked, “Do you have to go to college to be a lawyer?”  When I said “yes,” she seemed so disappointed; it was like that would not be possible for her, and I was suddenly concerned that this fourth grader would give up on a dream just because it seemed improbable.  So, I quickly added, “but, it’s fun! because you’re a grown up and you can take the classes you like and . . . “ And she added, “And have your own apartment or you can live with your friends who are going to college?”  “Yes,” I replied; and she said, “Oh, that does sound like fun!”  I felt somewhat guilty fibbing to her about how “fun” college or law school can be; but, then I was reminded that anytime I speak of law school, it is usually one of the best memories ever. So, maybe it wasn’t a fib after all.  The eight weeks I spent with this young girl were certainly fun, and that’s not a fib.

Jackie’s colleagues took the time out to share their experiences with the Lawyers 4 Literacy program. It was great to hear how the program has not only had an impact on the children, but those who volunteer as well.

MELISSA BLACK is a nurse paralegal in our office.  She has faithfully participated in the Walker Allen Foundation activities.

LM: What made you want to get involved with the program?

MB: We have developed such a relationship with Brogden Elementary over my years with the firm. I was excited for another chance to give back to them and volunteer in my community.

LM: Why do you feel a program such as Lawyers for Literacy is so important?

MB: It is well known to me from having school age children that reading deficits are prevalent here in Wayne County and more so at the schools in low income areas. I feel like this extra, “fun” reading time, away from regular class time, is so helpful and influential for the children. They are excited to come read in a closer knit, informal setting. It’s so important to build their confidence in their ability to read but also to push them to read more often.

LM: How has your work with Lawyers for Literacy impacted you personally and professionally?

MB: Working with my group of students has been such a rewarding experience. Seeing them arrive, excited for our time together and to hear how they have improved over the last couple of months is the icing on the cake! As a nurse in a lawyer world, I have felt loss in some ways, taken away from my patients in the community. I feel like this experience has made my bridge between these two, medicine and law, a little broader. Being back in the community, even if in a little different capacity, is so refreshing!    

LM: Can you share a little bit about your experience with the program?   

MB: The 1st time we met, only one of my three students (“David”) was able to leave class and attend. I explained what we would be doing and introduced him to the passport (to chronicle the books he would read during the program). The next week, when all three students arrived, I could tell David was so excited! He couldn’t contain himself and blurted out how he had told the other two about me and he told them all about the passports and what we would be doing. Also, several times, between pages of the book as we were passing it around and reading, he would blurt out how he got new shoes or he got a haircut. He just could not wait to tell exciting things that had happened to him since he last saw me. It was so sweet! I still smile when I think about it.

 

LEEANN MYERS has worn many hats in our firm.  She began as a receptionist and then moved to administrative assistant; later she was promoted to paralegal, but she recently moved to the administration side of the firm.  Regardless of her position, she is devoted to learning new things and giving her best.

 

LM: What made you want to get involved with the program?  

L. MYERS: I wanted to get involved because it was a good opportunity for me to branch out of my “bubble” with the youth.

LM: Why do you feel a program such as Lawyers for Literacy is so important?

 L. MYERS: I feel like the program is important to get children excited to read and excited for their future.

LM: How has your work with Lawyers for Literacy impacted you professionally and personally?

L. MYERS: This program has helped me tremendously. I have always had a shy/reserved personality and when I was a child, I was so nervous to read out loud or to do any kind of “public speaking” and even as an adult, I still struggle with this. I tried my hardest to make my children feel comfortable and that it was a “safe” space for them to read or tell me when they needed a little help. We would pass the book around and read one page at a time. I wouldn’t ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do, so I would also read a page when it was my turn. My kids definitely helped me branch out with their fun and positive little personalities.

LM: Can you share a little bit about your experience with the program?  

L. MYERS: On my very first session of Lawyers for Literacy, I had just met my children. I guess I assumed they would also be shy to read out loud, especially since they had just met me. When it came time to start the book, I asked who wanted to read first, all three of their hands shot into the air. They were all so ready and so excited to read.

DANIELLE DEVER is an administrative assistant with our office.  She developed a special bond with her students.  She would pick up stickers or colorful pencils for them.  Here are her answers:

LM: What made you want to get involved with the program?

DD: I love children and always wanted to be a teacher.

LM: Why do you feel a program such as Lawyers for Literacy is so important?

DD: Children today are so distracted with tv and games that reading gets pushed to the side.  LfL helps children see the fun and importance of reading a good ol’ fashion book.

LM: Can you share a little bit about your experience with the program? 

 DD: On our first day the children were nervous to even meet me but on our second day they almost argued over who was going to read first! 

 You can find out more information about Lawyers for Literacy here

 

 

 

About the Author

Monisha Parker

Monisha Parker is the Marketing Coordinator for Lawyers Mutual. Monisha connects Lawyers Mutual with our insureds and the legal community through the use of social media. You can reach Monisha at 800.662.8843 or monisha@lawyersmutualnc.com.

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