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Getting Kids the Help They Need

Friday, March 04, 2005

  • By: Megan Low
  • Organization: VLSP
Mara Rosen Pam Wool

Volunteer attorneys Mara Rosen and Pam Wool are proof that it's possible to maintain a successful law practice, help pro bono clients and raise a family. They are two of the Volunteer Legal Services Program's most committed volunteers, going above and beyond the call of duty to improve the lives of low-income families through their work with VLSP's SSI (Supplemental Security Income) for Children with Disabilities Project (SSI for Kids).

Mara and Pam met at UC Hastings College of the Law, where they participated in the Civil Justice Clinic together. After graduation in 1997, they went their separate ways to pursue their legal careers. In the past two years, the women have reconnected and are of counsel to each other in their respective disability and special education law practices.

They have also come together as volunteers, collaborating on cases for VLSP's SSI for Kids Project, which provides advocacy for low-income families whose children are entitled to social security benefits based on the child's disability. These children may suffer from a mental illness, physical disability or both. SSI benefits are crucial for the families of disabled children to be able to provide the support and care that their children require.

Mara and Pam's energetic involvement in VLSP demonstrates lifelong commitments to helping low-income families. Their compassion and dedication show: "The families they work with get so much out of the relationship because they know Mara and Pam will always strive to get the best results for the child," says Rose Molloy, Supervising Attorney for the SSI for Kids Project. Mara and Pam often willingly step out of their attorney roles, "acting as a type of social worker, and offering to drive clients to appointments or even helping them run errands."

Part of what makes Mara and Pam valuable volunteers is their ability and desire to connect with their clients and help them the best way they can, even if it means more work. A recent case involved a two year-old boy with severe asthma who was frequently hospitalized. His mother came to VLSP hoping to secure SSI benefits for him, which Mara and Pam were able to do. For most attorneys, the work would stop there. Not for Mara and Pam. In the course of representing this family, Mara and Pam identified additional SSI and special education issues in the family that they generously agreed to take on a pro bono basis as well. Because of their hard work and dedication, Mara and Pam were ultimately successful in securing SSI and special education benefits for the oldest child, and are still waiting to hear about the mother's SSI benefits.

For Mara, the most rewarding part of pro bono work was getting to know this family. "The mom is inspirational," she says. "Given what she's been dealt, it's amazing how far she has gone and how loving she is with her kids. Her children are respectful, charming and really connect with adults."

A native of the Bay Area, Mara has a Masters in Social Work in addition to her J.D. Since working with the developmentally disabled in high school, Mara has dedicated her career to working with disabled and special needs people. Mara began her legal career working for a disability law firm in San Francisco. Committed to public interest law, she saw pro bono work as a way to make a difference for low-income clients.

Pam, too, was on the public interest track from the beginning. Prior to law school, Pam worked on the 1990 and 1991 International Conferences on AIDS in San Francisco and Italy. She decided to attend Hastings because of its public interest program and because of the public interest-minded community in San Francisco. After graduation, Pam took some time off with her husband to travel and live abroad. Upon her return to the Bay Area, Pam was a staff attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland before taking some time off to raise her family. She saw pro bono as a great way to maintain her skills in public interest law.

Of her pro bono work, Pam is unequivocal: "Helping people is the whole purpose of my career," she says. "VLSP is amazing in that I can learn new areas of law with support while giving back to my community."

In addition to their pro bono cases, Mara and Pam have also volunteered as expert attorneys for VLSP. Mara has also done arbitration work for VLSP's Homeless Advocacy Project. Their commitment to VLSP and their clients has earned them each a 2004 Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service Award from VLSP.

Mara lives in San Francisco and says she loves spending free time with her family. Likewise, Pam says that much of her free time is spent with her three-year old "three-nager" at home in San Leandro. It is clear both attorneys are dedicated to their work and love what they do; they both call it the "perfect balance of earning a living and giving back to the community."

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