VOLS Celebrates National Pro Bono Week: A Message from Marcia Levy

October 22, 2018

 Last week, I was privileged to hear a speech by one of the truly brilliant and dynamic heroes of our times, Bryan Stevenson, Esq., founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. I listened carefully as he suggested four steps for changing the world to provide justice for all. What could be more intriguing and desirable? They are:

1) Get proximate to people in low-income communities.

2) Change the narrative.

3) Stay hopeful.

4) Don’t just do what is comfortable and convenient.

I nodded after I heard each point, and as I listened I could not help but think about VOLS: our staff, our pro bono partners, our community partners and our clients. As Mr. Stevenson described each point and why it was so important, I would ask myself whether we were meeting his challenge, and I was able to answer “yes” on every one. After all, this is what VOLS has done for 35 years. We partner with community organizations to represent low-income New Yorkers who face obstacles in life, often against odds and under circumstances that are unsettling, with the vision of providing hope and legal solutions that have life changing results. Can I say we have changed the world? Certainly, this question is bigger than one organization can achieve, but we are hopeful that our clients continue to feel supported and empowered by the legal assistance they receive from VOLS and the pro bono attorneys who advocate for them.

In honor of National Pro Bono Week, Oct. 21 – 27, 2018, we shine a spotlight on five of our volunteers and their dedication to changing the world one person at a time and making it a more just place for everyone. Our first spotlight is on Tommy Lopez, Esq., Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, and how he incorporates the four themes that Bryan Stevenson promotes.   Each day this week, we will spotlight another volunteer, who:


Gets Proximate:

In line with the belief that young people are our future, Maggi Knox devotes substantial volunteer time to help young immigrants achieve or maintain their legal status in the United States. Maggi works directly with the students and acts as a bridge between them, as they face threats levied by a volatile immigration system, and the promising future they are working so hard to attain. Find out what she learns by being proximate, and how she uses her skills to positively impact the lives of immigrant students in Tuesday’s Pro Bono Week Story.


Changes the Narrative:

Executing life planning documents gives the elders we serve the opportunity to make decisions to ensure that their wishes are clear and carried out by the people they trust the most.  The future planning we do for seniors also ensures that can stay in their homes as long as possible and allows them access to critical benefits and services. Read about how one volunteer changes the narrative by empowering seniors and their loved ones.


Stays Hopeful:

Hopes and dreams go into starting any business, and become particularly acute when the business owner is low income and may lack the supportive resources to be successful. Working directly with a low-income small business owner, Clara Mak was able to fully grasp her client’s “expectations and concerns, which greatly assisted in addressing lease provisions and providing comments on the lease.” “It was great to see a small business get up and running (and that I helped in some way), and that it is possible for such small businesses to serve the community and be appreciated in the community.” On Thursday, find out how Clara stayed hopeful and provided hope through listening, patience and legal acumen, helping to pave a path for one small business owner.


Gets out of their comfort zone: 

By understanding that providing access to justice is not always comfortable, Claire James advises young attorneys to find commonality between themselves and their clients in order to form a connection; one based on trust and a full understanding of what the client wants to achieve. Read about how this volunteer transcends discomfort in order to achieve the best outcomes for her clients.


We thank our volunteers as we proudly celebrate National Pro Bono Week.


All the best,

Marcia Levy