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Education Opens Doors, Opens Hearts

July 17, 2020

Morgan Lewis wrapped up its 11th annual Community Impact Week, dedicated to pro bono and community service in a time of crisis. While the firm comes together every June to support the unmet needs of our most vulnerable communities, for some individuals that commitment is an integral part of who they are. Here we share stories of how our people are increasing access to education and helping children to thrive as just one of the many groups who are in need of assistance now more than ever.

 

Ayman Khaleq

Tell us a little bit about your community service.

PACES, which stands for Palestine Association for Children’s Encouragement of Sports, is a UK-based charity that was established back in 2006 to provide after-school sports programs for Palestinian girls and boys (ages 8-16) who live in refugee camps and vulnerable areas in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon. Thus far, more 30,000 children have enrolled in PACES programs. But it does not stop there; the charity has given thousands of coaches and instructors employment opportunities associated with these programs and, as such, its impact extends beyond keeping children off the streets and enrolled in structured sports programs, to creating employment opportunities for coaches and instructors in these communities in need.

How did you get involved and how long have you done it?

Over a 2014 dinner with PACES founder Hani Qattan, who has devoted his time over the last 12-plus years exclusively to PACES, he invited me to join the advisory board. Hani has attracted a number of regular donors who believe in the PACES’ mission and the impact it can make on the lives of girls and boys who badly need it and who are yearning for normalcy and structure in their lives.

In my role, I help develop the relevant sports programs to really take them to the next levelso much so that PACES today is easily one of the most professional organization in the West Bank. Some notable successes include regular participation in the Norway Cup, an international youth soccer competition, by teams of girls and boys; the acquisition of a soccer academy in Jordan; and providing direct support for refugee camps during COVID-19 in the form of daily hot meals.

What does it bring to you as a person?

The feelings I had when I first witnessed a girls team and a boys team from PACES compete in Norway was unfathomable. These are kids who have only experienced life in refugee camps, and to be able to travel to a country like Norway and play against and mingle with children from all over the world is literally life changing for them. Travel opens up doors and help one’s character evolve. It also allows them to have a much broader prospective and an ability to manifest what they can achieve in their lives. This ultimately leads them to commit themselves to education and well-being. Some of these kids have won scholarships and are now attending some of the best regional universities while others are so good at football (soccer) that they may go professional. I have seen them celebrate winning and seen their tears when they lost games; but, ultimately, just seeing life through their eyes is one of the most grounding experiences. It is a reminder of what is genuinely important. It is living proof that a thoughtful and organized approach to “giving“ can go further than just today to a future that may have once seemed like a distant dream.

 

Rachel Lewis

Tell us a little bit about your community service.

Prior to law school, I completed a two-year service commitment through Teach For America (TFA) and taught in a Philadelphia public school, where 100% of the students were deemed low-income. Essential resources such as books, desks chairs, and supplies were routinely scarce, and there were days when the school did not have functioning heat or hot running water. This experience has helped shape some of the community service work I continue to do. Following my TFA service and since starting my legal career, it has been a priority for me to continue engaging in community impact work in schools serving under-invested communities. Such work in these communities, includes helping start a high school mock trial team and previously serving as a coach, and serving as a mentor to local students via Big Brothers Big Sisters for a number of years.

I also currently serve as a volunteer (and will be commencing my board member term) for Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP), a local nonprofit organization. Among other programming, RTP organizes a number of  “block builds” where between 100 and 250 volunteers, along with licensed contractors, take one select block at a time in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood and “rebuild the block” by repairing 10 to 25 homes on one block to make them more safe or habitable. We also work with local high school students by equipping them with construction-related skills, who in turn help repair and rebuild homes in their communities.

How did you get involved and how long have you done it?

Most of my community service opportunities have come about organically. I have been fortunate to find service opportunities that align with my interests and have found that many of the service projects I undertake lead to the next service opportunity. For example, after being involved in certain education reform efforts in undergrad, I was first introduced to TFA as I found the focal point of its mission compelling: to recognize and address inequity and systemic oppression perpetuated through the public education system. It was an organic extension of the work I had already been doing. That TFA service work has led to my continued interest in engaging in various community service projects in underfunded schools throughout the years and to also work on other projects that intersect with education equity issues.

What does it bring to you as a person?

Gratitude and perspective. In going about our daily routines, it is easy to take for granted the simple things or even the privilege of any daily routine of a working professional. When I consider the daily routines and daily concerns of people in communities in which I have served, it makes me take stock of my own privileges and inspires me to increase my service efforts to effect some level of change. Community service also inspires me to be more resilient. When I see how much under-invested communities have done with so little, it forces me to think about how I can stretch my own capabilities. I also firmly believe that we should use our privilege for something other than expanding our own positions and rather as an opportunity to serve others and demand justice for those without access to our same opportunities. Being generous with our time and capabilities in service to others is always the right thing to do.

 

Monica Parry

Tell us a little bit about your community service.

I tutor elementary school students at a local public school who need help reading. Before COVID-19, I would tutor five hours a day on Mondays and Fridays, but for the last few months, I have been tutoring several students in Zoom sessions twice a week.

How did you get involved and how long have you done it?

I joined a group of friends from my church, St. Paul’s Episcopal in Alexandria, at half-day tutoring sessions on Saturdays. I loved working with the students, but eventually wanted my Saturdays back. My practice group leader, John McGuire, supported my request to work part time so I could tutor while school was in session. I have been tutoring for more than 10 years. A few years ago, I was named “volunteer of the year” by the Alexandria City Public Schools, and I am very proud of that award.

What does it bring to you as a person?

Some of my students come from homes where parents do not speak English, some have parents who did not read to them, and some just need extra help because they process information differently. None of that was true for me when I was learning to read, and because I was so fortunate, I feel the need to help others who are not. I have tutored some students for two or three years. I spent one summer tutoring a girl from Eritrea at her family’s apartment for a few hours twice a week, after which her mother insisted on cooking me lunch (and I spent the afternoon sleeping it off). I have received many wonderful thank-you notes, some addressed to “Miss Tutor.”  

Volunteering brings balance to my life, and helps me remember to be grateful for what I have been given.

 

Carlotta Roos

Tell us a little bit about your community service.

I serve on the Leadership Council for Take Stock in Children (TSIC), which is an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters Miami. TSIC provides mentors and college scholarships for deserving low-income students. The mission is simple: empower underprivileged youth to break the cycle of poverty through higher education. Each year, the Miami Chapter awards approximately 100 scholarships. I work with TSIC throughout the year, attending meetings, fundraising, and ensuring that every participant in the program is paired with a mentor and meeting all of the academic goals required for the college scholarship.     

How did you get involved and how long have you done it?

I got involved with TSIC five years ago when the chair of the TSIC Miami Leadership Council reached out to partner with Morgan Lewis. TSIC is always looking for mentors, so I first got involved that way and now help connect mentors with future leaders.

What does it bring to you as a person?

The most meaningful part of my TSIC experience has been sponsoring the annual scholarship award ceremony. Looking around the room each year, I experience an overwhelming sense of admiration for the TSIC graduates who have overcome countless challenges, earned a college scholarship, and demonstrated remarkable determination.

 

Mike Schlemmer

Tell us a little bit about your community service.

I currently sit on the board of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that I hold in the highest regard. Child Advocates serves foster youth in the Santa Clara County Dependency Court System, from birth to 21 years old. These youth have experienced trauma in the form of abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment. Child Advocates helps to give them mentoring and support, as they are shuttled through the court systems by providing stable adult advocates, influencing foster youth policies, and building community partnerships to serve these youth. As a board member, I help to ensure that this important organization has the critical funding it needs to fulfill its mission, and that its programs are implemented in a way that best fulfills its mission. I am proud to share that Morgan Lewis serves Child Advocates as a pro bono client, and has supported the organization financially through sponsorship of its fundraising galas. Our firm band, Morgan Lewis & Rockius, has also selected Child Advocates to be the recipient of our fundraising efforts for many of our recent performances, with members of the firm contributing thousands of dollars toward this important cause. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

How did you get involved and how long have you done it?

Prior to law school, I spent five years as a social worker, focused on emancipating foster youth.  I helped these youth prepare for life as independent adults, and helped to influence legislative change to ensure that appropriate funding was available to them as they made this transition. These are children whoby no fault of their ownhave been removed from their biological families. Tragically, they are often shuttled from home to home, and school to school, with little ongoing and consistent positive adult engagement. Child Advocates aims to overcome that issue by recruiting and training positive adult mentors to be appointed by the courts to stand by these youthto ensure their voices are heard, and their needs are met. Once I made the transition to law, I knew that I would want to continue serving this important population. I initially served as outside pro bono employment counsel for many years, and actively supported the organization financially. I was honored to be asked to join the board several years ago. While it required a commitment of time, of which I had little to spare, I couldn’t say no.

What does it bring to you as a person?

Serving the greater community is a privilege that I hope all of our lawyers and staff find time to commit to. It brings a sense of importance and purpose, a deep feeling of satisfaction that goes to the bedrock of who we are as human beings. With respect to Child Advocates, this is sometimes a life or death question. Traditionally, those in foster youth are disproportionally destined for jails or institutions, alcohol and drug dependency, homelessness, and other struggles. Indeed, one-third of each of the homeless and incarcerated populations are former foster youth. This is an opportunity to change that by inserting a positive adult presence into the lives of these children, to allow them hope and a semblance of consistency and structure during a time of chaos. Particularly now, while these children are removed from their biological familiestheir parents, siblings, and extended familywithout an opportunity for visitations during the pandemic, these children need a caring presence looking out for them. While my role as a board member is removed from the actual services, I can take great pride in knowing that nearly a thousand youth in the county are being appropriately served in this capacity.

But I also get to learn perspective and resilience from these incredible youth. I have had one go on to Princeton on a full scholarship, who then followed in my footsteps through Berkeley Law.  With the right support, there is nothing stopping these kids. And on days that I think life might be tough, I remember that I am coming from a place of extreme privilege. So I learn from their example, and value the hope and perspective that this experience affords me. That’s something we can all probably use more of right now, when we might otherwise fixate on situations reflecting the worst of human nature. So I always encourage those I work with to find something they are passionate about, and make the time to commit meaningfully to that causewhether through pro bono work, financial contributions, board membership, volunteer activities, or otherwise. It is what makes us good humans.

 

Allison Soilihi

Tell us a little bit about your community service.

I visit Millfields Community School, a primary school located in Hackney, North London, roughly every other month. Our groups of volunteers from the London office rotate so that three or four of us can go in turn every two weeks at lunch time. We spend time with the Super Writers, a small group of children who need more attention because of educational or family issues. We engage in creative learning activities together, each of us focusing on one child. Cutting, gluing, painting, and other coloring activities are encouraged as they learn about Egyptian mummies, different types of coastal landscape, or the Blitz!

How did you get involved and how long have you done it?

I got involved through our London office charity and community committee, which provides opportunities for ways to give back. I have been visiting the school for two years now. Every visit is a source of happiness, so I very much look forward to it.

What does it bring to you as a person?

I feel privileged to be able to share some time with the children. We have created lasting bonds with them. It’s very rewarding to know that during that hour and a half we spend together, all that matters is cutting up pieces for a sarcophagus we are making, or choosing the colors for a Second World War plane we just assembled together.