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On Wednesday, January 13, 2016, the Health Advocacy Clinic group went on a tour of Hesed House with Elise Manzie, the new Assistant Director of Development at Hesed. Some of the students and I had already been on a tour of the building before while others had not.
I expected that I would not learn anything new on the tour and that it would be as much of a routine as walking around the Comprehensive Resource Center and Aunt Martha’s is to me because I was a part of the HAC last semester. I suspected that I would not feel any differently walking around Hesed than I normally do whenever I walk over there to drop something off or serve lunch. Although I am sensitive to the plights of guests, I did not expect to see anything new or different. Surprisingly, the main emotion that I felt during the tour was a sense of reinvigoration—especially in the TLC playroom. This was mainly due to the nice refresher we received from Elise about the guests and the problems they face, which reminded me why I am here. In actuality, the HAC is a course on my schedule, but it is the only one that allows me to really impact the world around me. When Elise told us about the video where kids were asked to choose between a Playstation for them or a coffee maker their parents wanted touched my heart especially when she said that that kind of behavior frequently occurs at Hesed.
I suspect that I went in to the tour not expecting anything new because going across the street to Hesed has become a sort of routine for me. My feeling of reinvigoration left me refreshed and reminded me why I signed up for this clinic with this particular population.
I probably unconsciously view going to Hesed as a routine so that I don’t get emotional each time I go there. If I did, it would interfere with the job I need to do. As part of my compartmentalization skills, if I were to get upset or emotional every time I saw the sleeping mats, for example, I would not be able to be a proper student attorney because I would be focusing too much on my feelings rather than the tasks at hand.
Yesterday’s experience of re-touring Hesed showed me that I might need to be reminded every so often about why I have elected to spend my Wednesdays at Hesed. I might need to spend more time reflecting on the positive aspects of our involvement there so that things do not become too routine.
My first time visiting Hesed House was on August 19, 2015. I was ecstatic to join the Health Advocacy Clinic. I wanted to help people get Social Security benefits, conduct intake interviews, and order medical records from local hospitals. As lunch time approached, I decided to order a tuna sandwich from Jimmy Johns. Jimmy Johns stated they would deliver my sandwich, so I decided to wait outside for it. While waiting for my lunch, I saw a man pacing back and forth under a bridge, near Hesed House. It seemed like he was contemplating something, seemed very confused. He continued pace back and forth, until he stopped. He turned to the concrete wall, unzipped his pants, and proceeded to urinate. I could not believe what I was looking at, a man in his late thirties urinating in public, in the middle of the day. He did not seem to care who was looking at him, cars were racing by him, each car that raced by was able to see him in clear vie
I was shocked. I began to question why anyone would do something like that. Does he not care if there are minors in those passing cars? Does he not care if someone walks by? If someone he knew passed by, would he still do this? Questions continued to swirl through my brain, until I decided to walk back into Hesed House and wait for my food inside
As I walked into Hesed House, still in shock, I was becoming annoyed. Then I came to the realization that there are many factors that may have forced this behavior. Things like he may suffer from a mental health or substance abuse issue. The act is unlawful, and it goes against public policy. However, many people may be forced to conduct the act because they do not have a car, do not have a home, and may suffer from mental health issues. Many people who reside at Hesed House suffer from mental health issues, like PTSD, severe anxiety, and schizophrenia. Many also have addictions that can impact their behavior.
This experience made me appreciate the Health Advocacy Clinic. The Health Advocacy Clinic helps people in need get public benefits. The benefits will hopefully raise their standard of living, like provide money for rent, food, and health care. The shocking experience made me understand that people within the Hesed House community need help, and I can help them.
On August 18, 2015, I resumed working at the clinic after summer break. I now have other students working in the office with me, as well as a VISTA. Today was the first day back, so Professor Boraca and I went on a tour of Hesed House, with the new student and the VISTA. We traveled throughout the shelter, as a small group. As we walked into the main dining room, there were several guests in there and “Mr. Smith” was volunteering. He said hello to us and then began helping guests with breakfast, as it was 9:30a.m. I began zoning more into Mr. Smith helping a man, “Mr. Johnson,” with a breakfast Danish than I was listening to the tour. At this point, Mr. Smith asked the man how he was doing and he said that “it was hard.” Mr. Smith assured him that things would get better. Next, we were walking through the dining room and exiting to see a “secret pantry.”
I have worked with Mr. Smith, a former guest of Hesed House, so I know him to be a spirited and caring man. However, Mr. Smith has lived in the community since I have been working on his case. While volunteering, I found it uplifting and nice of Mr. Smith to ask Mr. Johnson, whom I assumed he knew from having previously lived at PADS, how he was doing. However, prior to seeing an encounter like this, I did not really think about how it would be for people to engage with people once they moved on from life at Hesed House PADS. I was glad to see that it was a positive relationship and exchange that Mr. Smith was sharing with Mr. Johnson.
Moreover, I was somewhat anxious watching this encounter. I wondered if Mr. Smith felt sad for Mr. Johnson or uncomfortable because Mr. Smith was now living in a home outside of PADS. Also, I felt desolate for Mr. Johnson, because he was relating to Mr. Smith, who used to live among the rest of the guests, who is now possibly seen as superior , or at least different to the guests of PADS. I was left with many questions about how Mr. Johnson felt. I wondered if he missed Mr. Smith because he only sees him when he volunteers, or if he is an inspiration to Mr. Johnson to move out of Hesed House? I was frustrated for the situation, but comforted for Mr. Smith that he was out of PADS.This means that when people are able to overcome homelessness the partners of the NIU Health Advocacy Clinic are working. It proves that no matter how small one’s work may feel, it can prove to be very worthwhile.
I guess I had an overload of emotions due to the fact that in my own life when I see other people do great things, I have always tried to strive to do better. So in a way, I cannot imagine having circumstances limiting my ability to do great. Some of the guests of Hesed House have things working against them that will keep them in poverty, unless they have a support system outside of Hesed House.
Overall, this was a simple conversation, but I felt it had greater implications, which I am sure neither party envisioned. I think it is important to remember that clients face greater things than the things they bring into your office, so this was a good thing to keep me in perspective. In the future, I will keep in mind that people living at PADS, whether they move onto TLC or community-based housing, will always have a piece of Hesed House with them. It may be something that is difficult to deal with or it may be a sense of pride but either way, it is important to remember that people have other complicated things going on in their lives. These things include problems in relationships; financial fears, social disadvantages and reduced access to jobs. These things are not going to be quickly forgotten, just as a person will never forget Hesed House once they have been a guest.
-Lindsay Weidling, August 31, 2015
Recently, the student attorneys of our clinic had the opportunity to meet with graduate students studying Psychology at Northern Illinois University. We all met in a classroom in the psychology building on campus and watched Professor Boraca give an informative presentation on medical-legal partnerships. This was an exciting experience because our team is looking to collaborate with psychology students to evaluate our clients suffering from mental health issues for Social Security cases.
I was very unsure about what to expect going in to this meeting. The idea of collaborating with the psychology students seems like an incredible opportunity. I was hoping that the students would show interest in working with us and sure enough they did! As I looked around the room during Professor Boraca’s presentation, I could see that the students were attentive and engaged in the presentation. Furthermore, the students and their professors asked plenty of questions which reflected their interest in working with us and our clients. This semester is the first time I have had the experience working at the Health Advocacy Clinic. I was genuinely happy to see that others expressed interest in teaming up with us and enjoyed the presentation.
Professor Boraca gave a very convincing presentation as to why a collaboration between the health advocacy clinic and the psychology department would work hand in hand. She provided stories from her legal career and interesting statistics about the mentally ill homeless population. I was extremely happy with the presentation and the way that Professor Boraca highlighted our success thus far. It is truly rewarding to know that we are making a difference in our clients’ lives.
There is a lot of time and effort that goes into making a medical legal partnership prosperous. The combination of our Health Advocacy Clinic working closely with Aunt Martha’s and Hesed House is a great blend of groups working together to get the best possible results for our clients. The fact that the psychology students met with us and showed interest in our clinic makes me feel like all out hard work is paying off.
I am glad that our Health Advocacy Clinic students took the time to meet with the psychology students. I know that their evaluations of our clients will be beneficial for our clients’ cases. I will apply what I learned from this experience by trying encourage other law students to work at the Health Advocacy Clinic next semester. This has been an incredible educational experience for me to take on the role of a student attorney and take responsibility for my own clients. I would recommend that other law students take a clinic so that they are well prepared to represent clients when they graduate.
I came straight to law school from undergrad. Although I’ve had part time jobs, I’ve spent most of my life in school. I was drawn to law school because in comparison to the other graduate programs I was considering, law appeared to me to be a profession of “doers.” By this I mean, a profession that does more than participate in academic research and writing; a profession that actively interacts with people from all walks of life and has the skills necessary to bring about real change in communities. I do not mean to downplay academic scholarship, which is essential to meaningful debate, particularly in the legal field, and is often a catalyst to change. But to me, as someone who has spent most of her life in a class room and spent a lot of time writing and researching, I wanted to do more—interact with people, find out what people need and want, and help bring those needs and wants to fruition.
Over the last two years in law school, I did not exactly find what I came looking for. In fact, sitting in one of my doctrinal courses as a first year law student, I thought to myself, “What am I doing here? I am not doing anything I came here to do.” I subsequently came to enjoy my doctrinal courses, and in retrospect, I now see their necessity to provide me with a foundation to the skills I need to practice law—in other words, the foundation for the skills I need to do. I’ve also had experience working as a clerk and research assistant. In these roles, I’ve had opportunities to help people with their legal problems and write about significant legal issues, but always in a subordinate role—the attorney or professor I worked for always took the lead.
As I came to my last semester of law school, I felt there was a huge gap in my law school education. I kept thinking this cannot be everything there is to law school. Some of my fellow students told me about their experiences at the Health Advocacy Clinic. They thought I should participate in the Health Advocacy Clinic. I did. And I found the piece of law school I was missing.
From the very instant I walked into the Health Advocacy Clinic, I was doing. I met my first client on my first day. The next week, I was meeting with another client—by myself. I take the lead in my cases. Professor Boraca supervises me, providing me with helpful suggestions and encouragement. And I readily admit, I constantly seek her advice. It has been exciting, scary, and ultimately very rewarding to finally be doing. I meet with clients, listen to the problems they are facing, find out why they have come to the Health Advocacy Clinic—what they want me to help them with—and then I get to work with helping my clients. So far all of my clients are applying for Social Security Disability benefits. I’ve ordered medical records, called a Social Security adjudicator, and helped clients complete Social Security reports on their work history and functioning abilities.
The best part of my clinic experience thus far has been to see the very real difference the clinic is making. The clinic is brining positive change to the Aurora community, and I get to be a part of it. For example, one student attorney secured Social Security benefits for her client, which will bring him some financial stability. The client will no longer be homeless soon. Another student attorney helped obtain a power scooter for her disabled client, which will help him get around much easier. These were no easy accomplishments and the students put in many, many hours. But these examples affirm why I came to law school. To do. These students used their legal skills to help their clients in a way that not only changes the lives of their individual clients, but collectively serve the guests at Hesed House, thereby changing the Aurora community for the better.
Most recently, I got to help at Power of Attorney Day, where I assisted three clients with completing health care powers of attorney. Although I felt confident when I initially arrived at Hesed House, I immediately was attacked by nerves when my first client sat down. I fumbled a little and started second guessing myself in my head—what if the client doesn’t understand what I am saying? What if I don’t explain the forms correctly? How do I ask these very personal questions about a client’s health care wishes in an empathetic way when I’ve only just met the client? I took a deep breath and slowed down. After finishing with my first client, my confidence increased.
One client did not understand a portion of the document. I listened closely to the answer he was giving me. It did not match the selection he was making. While he was saying “I only want my sister to make decisions for me if I am in a coma or something,” he told me he wanted to select the option where his sister could start making decisions immediately. When I read the options as they appear on the form a loud again and then explained what the options meant, he asked me, “What do you think I should do?” I responded, “I can’t make that decision for you. This is about your wishes.” I took a moment, thought to myself, and then regrouped. “Let’s take some more time with this section,” I said. I began again this time by saying, “From what you are telling me, you only want your sister to be able to make decisions if you physically cannot. Like if you were in a comma? Does that sound right?” We proceeded from there. I re-explained the options again, this time giving him some examples of what the options would mean in real life. I could see the understanding come across his face. He then confidently told me which option he wanted. It was in this moment I felt like “a lawyer.” I was able to use the skills I learned in law school and help a client make health care plans. Although this may seem like a small feat, this preparation gives clients control over their health care wishes and brings an element of stability to their lives, however small. Power of Attorney Day enabled me to do—to work with clients and bring some stability to their lives.
Each day I am at the Health Advocacy Clinic, I leave much happier than I arrived. My experiences at the clinic have affirmed my decision to go to law school. I find myself excitedly looking forward to practicing law after graduation. Working with my fellow student attorneys and Professor Boraca, I am happy to find what I came to law school for—a profession of “doers,” who work together with people from all walks of life, including staff at Hesed House and health care providers at Aunt Martha’s, to provide legal services to clients. Through everyone’s collective impact, positive change has been brought to the Aurora community.
The NIU Health Advocacy Clinic is back for the Spring 2015 semester! At the end of last semester, we lost one student to graduation and studying for the bar exam. However, we had two students join our ranks for a total of four at the clinic this semester.
It is very exciting to see our clinic grow and evolve. When I started in August, the clinic had just started taking clients. It took a while before each of us got our first client. We had to finalize procedures once we received referrals from Aunt Martha’s, which was exciting as we were building things from the ground up. This January, just one semester later, we came back from winter break and jumped right in to multiple client referrals and interviews. Our new students were given clients on their first day at clinic and were able to observe and participate in client interviews right away. They were able to learn about cases that we had already been working on and provide input in case strategy.
I think having new students has been a growing experience, which has allowed me to view the clinic and our practices through new light. It has been very interesting to evaluate the clinic’s policies and procedures and how they works with the transition of students. Through the last couple of weeks, we have tried to bring the new students up to speed on what we do for preparing for client interviews. This includes organizing forms for the interview and figuring out which questions to ask and other policies that we developed last semester. While explaining our practices, I have been able to better understand them myself. It seems clear that one must explain something in order to really understand things. It has also made me realize how important it is for us to have a handbook, and we need to make it a priority to finish ours this semester. For example, I was asked by one of our new students how we arrange our files, and I realized that that is really something that should be written down so that all of them are done in uniform.
It is very fun and exciting to see our policies evolving. When we started this spring semester, our chart for social security was something that I had used for one person applying for Social Security. With having two other students creating these charts for different clients, I have been able to see and hear their ideas for improving them for our clients in the future. Seeing the evolution of a sheet I made once into something that is really beneficial for our clients who are applying for social security is really exciting. The young ladies that we have joining our clinic have great ideas, and I am excited to see how they help shape our clinic and make a difference.
One thing that makes the NIU Health Advocacy Clinic, our medical-legal partnership (MLP) unique is the fact that we are located on site at a homeless shelter called Hesed House. To my knowledge, most MLPs include legal aid agencies or law schools partnering with hospitals or medical providers. The NIU Health Advocacy Clinic and our medical partner, Aunt Martha’s are both located within Hesed House. As a result, we have three entities working together: NIU Health Advocacy Clinic, Aunt Martha’s, and Hesed House.
This organizational structure provides our clinic with the opportunity to interact with homeless people on a daily basis. It is my belief that because of this in-person contact, working at the clinic has been one the most important parts of my law school experience.
The law school world is a bubble. From 1L year to 3L year, a law student is constantly interacting with people connected to the legal field. Whether it’s attorneys, professors, judges, clerks, court room personnel, or other law students, being at law school has a way of isolating a person from the larger world. After a while, you begin to assume that every noon time speaker or after hours network event comes stocked with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. You begin to think that everyone you know is fluent in “legalese” and ready to chat about the latest Supreme Court decision.
Working at our clinic breaks that academic haziness. Most of the homeless people have constant daily struggles. They struggle to eat, sleep, and keep a job. This type of suffering is very different from the struggles of GPAs and anxiety-filled interviews. Being able to walk along side the suffering of a homeless person has a profound impact on a law student. It grips the law student with a sense of the injustice and heartache that thousands of people experience everyday. Interacting daily with people who are suffering to sustain themselves on the most basic necessities brings humility and perspective. This ultimately builds experiential character that will last long past graduation.