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VLSP Volunteer: Carrying on a Family Tradition of Public Service

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

  • VLSP

Anya Emerson, an exceptional Volunteer Legal Services Program volunteer, is not one to let an opportunity go by unused. At just 25 years old, she already has a BA from Stanford and a Master of Studies from Oxford, has completed a one-year public policy fellowship through the California Executive Fellows Program in Sacramento, and taught English at a university in Quito, Ecuador through WorldTeach.

When Anya found herself unemployed while recovering from an injury, she viewed it as an opportunity both to give her time to a worthy cause and to explore public interest law. She was carrying on a family tradition of commitment to public service, following in the footsteps of her mother, Prudence Kay Poppink, who won the California Bar Association's Public Interest Lawyer of the Year in 2000. Avidly seeking out legal public interest volunteer work, Anya found VLSP's Family Law Assisted Self Help (FLASH) program and Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP). She volunteered with VLSP from January 2003 until she found work in July.

FLASH is an innovative program housed at the San Francisco Superior Court that provides assistance for low-income people who are doing their divorces themselves. As a volunteer with FLASH, Anya was able to put to work the Spanish she had learned while in Ecuador. She assisted with the presentation of workshops in both English and Spanish on how to obtain a divorce, helped clients fill out legal paperwork, conducted intake interviews, and met individually with clients to walk them through the divorce process.

Anya also saw first hand the difficulties facing clients without legal representation. "Family law is interesting because it affects almost everyone in the world," she muses, "and it is supposed to be more user-friendly, but it's not." It is through the guidance provided by Anya and others at FLASH that thousands of people unable to afford an attorney are able to successfully navigate the legal system.

"Anya was extremely responsive to the clients' needs and always willing to go the extra mile for someone who was facing other problems in their lives," says Leongah Wheeler, Supervising Attorney for FLASH, "She was very dedicated and a huge asset to the FLASH program."

Serving as a volunteer advocate for clients at the Homeless Advocacy Project also gave Anya insight into the important role of volunteers in helping low-income people find their way through the legal system. In one case, she was able to help get a Section 8 housing voucher restored to a client whose benefits had been unfairly cut off. In another case, she helped to obtain SSI benefits for two four-month-old twin girls who were born with serious heart problems.

"I learned what individual advocacy is," Anya says, "and how one doesn't even have to be a lawyer to help another person - how simply writing a letter can help win a benefit, or get someone new glasses." Anya's conscientiousness and dedication make her a very special volunteer - one who truly changes lives.

Anya is now working as a Benefits Specialist at Independent Living Resource in Concord, where she acts as an advocate for people with disabilities as they negotiate the complicated maze of the government benefits system. She plans to enter law school within the next few years in order to specialize in public interest law.

To find out more about VLSP's Family Law Assisted Self-Help program or Homeless Advocacy Project, please contact Amanda Chavez at achavez@sfbar.orgor (415) 782-8956.

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