Marjorie Vandow may be retired, but she still sees work to be done – and she’s not waiting around for others to do it. As the leader of the legal assistance effort for her congregation’s Refugee and Immigration Committee, Margie first reached out to Safe Passage Project to seek out opportunities for her fellow committee members to volunteer their lawyering skills. Unexpectedly, she was immediately moved to take on a case herself, and now provides legal representation to two refugee children through Safe Passage Project.
When asked what made her take the leap to volunteer, Margie explains, “It was Safe Passage’s outstanding mentorship model that gave me the courage to take that step forward. That first experience of direct client representation, which is still a work in progress, has been so satisfying because it holds the potential to impact a young person’s life in a lasting way. It is an awesome responsibility.”
“She was touched, surprised that I cared so much. That’s connection.”
For Margie, it was key to strike a delicate balance between communicating with her client with sensitivity and digging deep to build a strong case. “On the one hand, it is essential to build trust with one’s client. On the other, there are potential minefields that must be explored in order to competently represent a youngster who has faced challenges that we cannot necessarily imagine.” According to Margie, knowing she could rely on Safe Passage Project’s mentorship and social services throughout the case was also vital in successfully supporting her client. “Safe Passage Project set me up for success in building a relationship with my client by pairing me with an extremely knowledgeable and kind mentor attorney who has answered all of my questions, helped me problem-solve, and reviewed my draft papers. She also connected my client with Safe Passage’s excellent social service support, which has been critically important for my client.”
Not only has Margie been a strong advocate for her young clients, but she has also been a leader in mobilizing others within her community. Recently, she helped to organize and recruit prospective volunteers for a Safe Passage Project training at her congregation, B’nai Jeshurun. Led by Senior Training Attorney, Alexandra Rizio, the training covered two major forms of relief for unaccompanied refugee children entering the United States: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and Asylum. At the training event, Safe Passage Project was thrilled to present Margie with a Mayoral Service Certificate of Recognition for her inspiring work on behalf of Safe Passage Project and the young children we serve.
While Margie hadn’t originally planned on taking on a case herself, she couldn’t be happier to watch her young client flourish. “It has been a joy to see my client grow and successfully navigate her new life. She has persevered. Her English has improved impressively and she is proud of her performance in school. She is maturing. It is still early in the life of my client’s case with several hurdles ahead, but I feel that I am backed by the most dedicated, knowledgeable and caring team of professionals possible. In my opinion, this is the best pro bono experience that an attorney could wish for.”
The most valuable thing to Margie throughout her experience thus far has been the small victories and human connection. All in all, it’s the little things that keep her motivated to fight for her client. “The highlight of my pro bono experience so far was one small interaction: after my client cleared a major hurdle that had stalled our progress, I wrote to her that she had ‘made my day,’ she responded, ‘Really?’ She was touched, surprised that I cared so much. That’s connection.”