The Northern Illinois University Health Advocacy Clinic is beyond excited to announce we officially opened our doors on August 18, 2014 and have begun accepting clients.
I will never forget how I felt when I saw the first client referral form in our mailbox at Aunt Martha’s. It was the most nerve-wracking but thrilling anticipation I had ever felt – Who is the client? What is his or her case about? When do I get to make my earth-shattering closing argument and win the case? As soon as Professor Boraca handed the referral form to my fellow student-attorney and me, I wanted to jump in my car, drive to the courthouse, and begin making arguments for our new client. However, before I could make it to the door, Professor Boraca asked, “What should your first step be?” My fellow student-attorney answered, “We should set up an interview with our client. That way we can meet him and get a better understanding of the facts of his case.”
Of course we should meet our client. Why didn’t I think of that? My mind was racing with legal arguments and “terms and connectors” I could use to create a good search for case law that I forgot about the logical progression of the case. Suddenly, I felt very overwhelmed. I was anxious to meet our client, but I had not even thought about what I was going to say when he or she came into the office.
As I considered my oversight, my mind drifted back to my decision to apply for the Health Advocacy Clinic. I remember talking to the previous student-attorneys about the Health Advocacy Clinic, and they told me how much they hoped to take their first client that semester. I felt fortunate to be following in the footsteps of a great team of student-attorneys who worked to build the clinic, ground-up. Thinking about my predecessors reminded me of the email Professor Boraca sent me at the beginning of the semester. Her email contained a number of intake forms, organized by topic, which list information and questions you might want to ask in a client interview. I breathed a sigh of relief. These intake forms gave me a good place to start, and once I read them, they prompted me think of other sources I could read to find out what information I needed to know for my first client interview.
Remembering the intake forms was more meaningful than simply giving me a place to start for my first interview preparation. When I initially read the client referral and didn’t know what next steps I should take, I felt alone, scared, and unsure of what would happen next. However, the intake forms reminded me I am part of a much bigger and very incredible movement.
As part of the Medical-Legal Partnership model, the Health Advocacy Clinic has partnered with Hesed House and Aunt Martha’s Health and Outreach Center. Since we began our experience at the Health Advocacy Clinic, the other student-attorneys and I have been fortunate to meet many staff members and guests at Hesed House, along with the staff at Aunt Martha’s Health and Outreach Center and at the Community Resource Center. Every single person we met has been welcoming and willing to help. From minor issues, like getting the copier unjammed, to some complicated issues, everyone we have asked to help us has been more than willing to do what they can for us. Their support is not only an integral component to our combined success, but also a beautiful reminder that we are part of a team working toward the same end: The eradication of poverty.
While I do not purport to understand the struggle that poverty and homelessness poses to those who endure it, I do think my moments of feeling intense helplessness gave me a very minute slice of how a person who is homeless might feel: scared, afraid, and unsure of what will happen next. However, my realization that I was not alone gave me great hope. Because of the support group I have, I felt like I had the tools needed to handle the case successfully, and I think this realization sums up one of the Health Advocacy Clinic’s goals. As one of my predecessor student-attorneys said, “[Poverty] is not a problem that can be solved without collaboration and exploiting countless skill sets, passions, and ideas—it will require a community and the use of all of its resources.” It is my hope that the NIU Health Advocacy Clinic’s partnership with Hesed House and Aunt Martha’s Health and Outreach Center will provide the same hope for those who are destitute or homeless that it provided for me: Support and confidence to realize they are not alone in their struggle, and knowledge that we are here to help.