In March, seventeen law students donated their time to work with children and seniors during Spring Break. In 2013, the School of Law's Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service began offering an Alternative Spring Break program to allow law students to provide legal assistance to and engage with the local community.
The first program was a Restoration of Rights Pro Bono Clinic in which the Carrico Center partnered with Williams Mullen and Offender Aid and Restoration. Four students, paired with four attorneys, assisted ex-offenders in petitioning the Commonwealth for the restoration of their political rights.
This year, Alternative Spring Break offered law students two different programs, including Wills for Seniors and Street Law. In partnership with Senior Connections and Williams Mullen, the Carrico Center recruited five law students to participate in a pro bono wills clinic for low-income seniors in Charles City, Virginia (approximately 40 minutes from Richmond). The Street Law program engaged three teams of students in developing and teaching an interactive curriculum on civics and our system of laws to the afterschool programs of the FRIENDS Association, Peter Paul Development Center, and United Methodist Family Services (UMFS).
Ian Vance, L'14, is one of three Student Program Managers working at the Carrico Center and a team leader of its Alternative Spring Break Street Law program. Vance said the Student Program Managers are responsible for providing program leadership and support to the Carrico Center, including the cultivation of new program ideas, as well as staffing events held at UR Downtown.
During Spring Break, Vance and his team of law student volunteers led an interactive program with children at Peter Paul Development Center's afterschool program. In developing the Street Law curriculum, the Student Program Managers designed lessons that would appeal to a range of ages, from elementary to high school students. Vance explained, "We tried to find something that would meet each site's demands and needs. What we started with was a simple Civics 101 course covering the three branches of government and rights and responsibilities as a citizen. We then let each student manager and law school volunteers morph it for what the site might like."
Vance explained, "At the Peter Paul Development Center where I was supervising, we decided to break it up into how a law becomes a law." Students were asked to create their own law and demonstrate what they learned about the trial process by acting out a mock trial. Students also learned about the roles of elected officials and created campaign posters based on their electoral platform. "It was really involved and interactive; we got the students thinking and doing what they wanted," said Vance. "At the end, we asked all of the students if they wanted to present either their campaign or the law they created, and everyone was raising their hands."
Vance said his experience with the Carrico Center continues his interest in public interest volunteer work. "Seeing the children in this setting lends credence to what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I want to see them succeed, so this helps me to keep that goal in mind."
Cassie Powell, L'16, is also a Student Program Manager with the Carrico Center and one of the team leaders of the Alternative Spring Break Street Law program. Powell, who is working on a dual degree in law at Richmond and Master of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, said her experience as a program manager at the Carrico Center falls in line with her goal of focusing on social justice issues and public interest work. She added, "Working with the Carrico Center—the link to the community—was a natural fit for me."
Powell said the Center's programs give law students opportunities to volunteer in the community, both legal- and community-related. She was in charge of the programming for the high school students at United Methodist Family Services. "It was so much fun working with them, and I had three really great student volunteers to work with me," she added.
The UMFS Street Law curriculum incorporated references to popular culture to keep the high school students engaged in the lesson material. Powell explained, "We had a slide show on civic responsibilities with movie stars. That was something they responded to really well." The team also led group discussions about civic responsibilities, such as community service and jury duty. Students worked in groups to design public service announcements, which took the form of skits and posters.
Powell said the experience reconnected her with working with children. "Having the opportunity to work with them again was great for me." She also said she appreciated having the opportunity to engage other law students with Richmond's communities and broaden their horizons.
Nicole Manning, L'16, was one of the student volunteers recruited to work at the Street Law program at Peter Paul Development Center. Manning said it was interesting to see the students develop an understanding of the voting process during their discussion of elections. "We saw a few things clicking with the students." She also said it was a good experience working with the center's teachers who helped with their group discussions on topics such as the trial process. She added, "The teachers were really great about engaging their students and giving them ideas when they didn't immediately respond to a question."
Manning's experience with the program made her realize the importance of teaching children about civic responsibilities such as the draft. "This is why we're talking to them. We need to have them engaged so that they can impact their own lives, even if it's a small impact."
Manning also said it was rewarding to have the opportunity to volunteer and contribute in a meaningful way. "For me, having the Center here and seeing its effectiveness was very appealing." She said she plans to continue to volunteer with the Carrico Center's pro bono programs throughout her law school career.
Vance said the Carrico Center has plans to expand the Street Law program next year. During the Fall 2014 semester, they expect to be able to lead programs with children at partner sites each month. Powell added, "I think it's so useful for students to have that pro bono experience, and not just as a resume builder, but also getting the chance to expand your horizons. In some cases, it makes students change their minds about what they want to do for their careers. It's a really good thing that we have, and students should take advantage of it."
The Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service is located in the School of Law and at University of Richmond Downtown, the University's downtown campus located at 626 East Broad Street.