When Brittany Young, a third-year student at Miami Law, found out she had been selected as a Legal Up! fellow, she was elated.
"It seems like a good option to get off The Bricks and get involved with helping to teach kids," Young said on Tuesday, just minutes after finding out that she and two other Miami Law students had been selected to volunteer for Legal Up!. The not for profit is led by United States District Judge Ursula Ungaro and operates under the umbrella of The Family Learning Partnership of Miami-Dade County, which is made up of a coalition of local, family-based organizations. Legal Up! brings select attorneys, judges and law students together to teach classes at the Department of Juvenile Justice and alternative schools about the law.
Young, and classmates Amir Whitaker and Angela Bousalis, are now working alongside prominent lawyers who have been chosen to donate their time to enriching the community. The law students will be paired with attorneys to teach a four-module curriculum, which encompasses financial literacy and areas of general, employment and tenants' rights laws. They will also participate in quarterly lunch-and-learn sessions at the Federal Courthouse. Young, who dreams of pursuing a legal career in immigration and international matters, knows this opportunity will help her to lean how to effectively communicate with children. "It's good to know how to work with kids and communicate with children to make sure they understand important concepts," she said. She recalled a time when she worked for the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center and had to explain to unaccompanied minors how laws can have different consequences for immigrants and citizens who commit similar crimes. "Being able to explain that in such a way that they understand, but aren't scared, is important."
Jan Goldman, senior program director for Legal Up!, says there's an immense payoff for everyone involved. The juvenile students learn about their rights and are placed in constructive and even eye-opening settings. The law students come to understand the importance of giving to the community.
"If we all make one little piece of difference, then we can repair the world," she said.
Erik Neff, a third-year student, was accepted to the fellowship last year. He hopes to continue volunteering even though his service is complete. He said that one of the most memorable moments was when he taught young men at the Department of Juvenile Justice how to put on a tie.
"That's a step to being a man. That's a step to being a working man," he said. Many of the students had never worn a tie and didn't know what to do. "They were so proud when they tied that tie."
He said Legal Up! became an opportunity for students to learn about the law and about self awareness. He realized that it was through learning about how they fit within society (as a father, a citizen, or wife) that they are able to understand their responsibility to uphold the laws.
"That's when they break the cycle in their heads," Neff said about the moment a student begins to understand that he or she is no longer a victim of the system, but rather, fully in control of his or her future. "Everything is encompassed in the rules we create for ourselves. If our rules don't coincide with the big rules, then there's going to be some correction."