Op-Ed

Help protecting legal rights

LAW Advocates was established in 1987 and had about 60 volunteers in 2015.

Purpose: We provide free legal assistance to low-income people throughout Whatcom County. We leverage approximately $250,000 worth of pro bono work from local attorney and non-attorney volunteers annually. Our programs include a domestic violence/family law clinic, Street Law (a drop-in clinic offering free legal advice in many areas of law at the Bellingham library twice a month), two weekly homeless/disability drop-in clinics, a weekly tenant clinic and access i.d. (assistance in obtaining official state identification, which allows participation in government services), a monthly kinship custody clinic (an alternative to foster care for at-risk children), free legal help for low-income veterans, a debtor clinic, and drafting of wills and powers of attorney. Most of the people Helpserved in these programs would have nowhere else to turn for help in protecting their legal rights.

Volunteer highlight: Last year we honored a “graduate” of our kinship custody clinic, a young woman who as a child witnessed the murder of her brother by their mentally ill father. Her mother also was mentally incapable of caring for her. Other relatives took the girl in, but because they were not her legal parents they were limited in what support they could provide. They were unable to afford a lawyer and came to our clinic. Our volunteer attorneys and staff helped them obtain full parental rights in court. This allowed them to do such things as include her in their health insurance coverage and make decisions involving her education. Last year, she graduated from high school with top grades, got a job and began college. Despite her rocky start in life she has developed into a well-adjusted, productive member of society. Her story appears in this video on our website: lawadvocates.org/#!home/mainPage.

Signature fundraiser: Lawyers Take Orders, our annual fundraising auction, will be Oct. 21 at the Bellingham Golf and Country Club.

Wish list: We especially need a fairly high-volume document scanner to complete our long-delayed paperless-office project. We also welcome donations of goods/services to assist us with promotion and marketing of our services, e.g. printing and supplies, graphic design and logo merchandise.

Current volunteer needs: We continually seek non-attorney volunteers to help in all of our programs. Some legal knowledge or experience is helpful, but mainly we look for those with good “people” and organizational skills.

For more information, go online to lawadvocates.org.

VOLUNTEER MONTH

April was National Volunteer Month and The Bellingham Herald has partnered with the Volunteer Center of Whatcom County to highlight local non-profit agencies that offer opportunities to become involved in our community. For more information online about the Volunteer Center of Whatcom County, go to whatcomvolunteer.org.

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