Volunteering for CWEALF’s Information & Referral Program
When Listening is the Best Answer You Can Give
In my time volunteering with the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund’s Information & Referral line, I have already heard clients say, “Thank you for listening,” many times over. The week before my volunteering began, I poured over the Information & Referral Program training manual in hopes of being prepared to answer any and all questions callers would ask me. The incredible intern I shadowed my first day and the CWEALF staff who supervise me graciously answered the slew of questions I compiled while reading the manual and advised me on how to interact with callers, answer their questions, and look up attorneys to whom we can refer clients.
I soon realized, though, that the most important part of the hotline is not the free legal information or referrals to attorneys in CWEALF’s Cooperating Attorney Network. Important as they are, what is special about the line is the opportunity for people to finally feel heard.
Volunteer Graham Sternberg helping Kaley Lentini on her first day at CWEALF
Often, a call to CWEALF is one that is made after not finding the information or help needed elsewhere. Clients have sometimes spent weeks, even months, searching for someone to provide them with answers to their legal questions. They may not know how to find an attorney, may not be able to afford one, or may have hired one they can no longer compensate. The women (and men) who call CWEALF seek clarity regarding family law issues, such as divorce, child support and custody, and domestic violence; employment law; education discrimination; and civil rights issues. Along with gaining the necessary insight into these situations, though, callers appreciate having someone really listen to them, hear what they are experiencing, and understand them. Being able to provide this opportunity for others is an extension of the kind of work I have engaged in for over a decade now.
My need to feel heard surfaced during my undergraduate career at Virginia Tech when I became an avid activist. It was during this time that my eyes were opened to the issues of sexism, heterosexism, racism, and classism, among other isms. I explored my newfound passion for social justice and gave in to the urge to figuratively shout from the rooftops about my feelings and opinions on inequality, oppression, and injustice. After graduation, my activism led me to community and political organizing, a new role in the equality movement in which I empowered people to tell their own stories. Being heard by those who could effect change was of utmost importance. I then attended law school to find new ways to use my voice to influence decisions within political and social systems by engaging in social justice advocacy.
In every experience, whether I was participating in a marriage equality rally or pro-choice lobby day, writing articles on body image and sexual assault for my women’s magazine, facilitating community discussions on health care reform and immigration issues, or fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and women through legal work, the power of voice was underscored. Beginning with activism, I learned to express myself and make sure my own voice was heard. I then took on the role of organizer, gaining experience in helping others tell their stories and ensuring their voices were heard. Through law school and my early legal career, I have added the new layer of advocacy, which allows me to fight for others by telling the stories of those whose voices are not often heard.
I see all of these pieces of my past and present as building upon and complementing one another to create a unique set of skills that I can use for the greater good. I am grateful for all of my activism, organizing, and legal advocacy experiences because they have helped me find my place among the millions of people fighting for a more equitable and just world. Importantly, they helped me find my way to the amazing organization of CWEALF and to the people of Connecticut who struggle due to a systemic lack of access to justice.
I&R volunteers Jo Foley and Madison Picard
My journey has led me to volunteer for the Information &Referral Program, where I am once again listening to the stories of others and empowering them to take action to improve their lives and the lives of their families. It is this listening, not my legal knowledge or access to attorneys’ contact information, that has proven to be my most important asset in the past few weeks. I am overjoyed to contribute my time to pick up the phone when someone needs answers, referrals, and a space to tell her or his story. I look forward to continuing to empower the clients of CWEALF and to really and truly listen to them. Because we all need to be heard.
If you or someone you know needs help with issues regarding family law, employment law, education discrimination, or civil rights, please call CWEALF's Information & Referral line at 860-524-0601 to speak with someone from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. We will be here, ready to listen.
Bilingual Community Advocate Nilda Rivera and Kaley Lentini prepared back-to-school supplies for Legal Education families in need.
By Kaley Lentini, CWEALF volunteer at 11 Sep 2017, 13:10 PM
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