Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Biloxi, Day 4

Today may have been the most memorable day for our group thus far. The day began at the Mississippi Center for Justice office in Biloxi. After settling into the MCJ's "new" office, located in a portable trailer behind their main facility, we ate the most delicious potato doughnuts and received training for the clinic we would be participating in at 4 pm. The training was comprised of both a training DVD, put together by the MCJ, and a discussion led by Crystal Utley from the MCJ. In addition to learning about the major issues confronting the region, our training also emphasized the importance of letting the clients tell their story. While the primary goal of the clinic was to help connect individuals with Katrina related legal needs with an attorney or advocate, the clinics also helped to meet some of the therapeutic needs of the clients as well. We were able to witness first-hand how having someone to listen, someone who cared and wanted to help, gave the Katrina survivors great hope and optimism that things would get better. While were we not able to change the survivors situations, we allowed them to see a light at the end of the tunnel. For many the tunnel will be long, but just having someone willing to listen and start the process of legal assistance let our clients know that the future promised hope.

The clinic began at 4 pm at a Church rec room in Moss Point, MS. Clients began arriving promptly at 4. 1st year law students were paired with 2nd and 3rd year students, while the attorneys were on hand for issues that came up during the intake process. The primary goal of the clinic was to fill out client intake forms and identify the clients legal need's so the MCJ would be able to understand the issues and match the clients with an MCJ attorney or a national pro bono partner. As clients came in, they were matched with pairs of law students who listened to their legal problems and filled out client intake paperwork. Law students listened to problems clients were having with their FEMA trailers, trailer park closings, the Mississippi Development Authority’s "Homeowner Grants", contractor fraud, mortgage foreclosures, and rebuilding issues. While some of the problems were limited to one issue or another, others were complex and were comprised of all of issues we learned about in the MCJ training. Although many of the clients sought help on very tough situations (emotionally as well as legally), many of us law students were both surprised and inspired by both the optimism the clients had for the future and appreciation the clients felt for being alive and what they did have. This experience opened many of our eyes to the real life experiences of Katrina survivors. While we learned a great deal about the region and the aftermath of the hurricane, I think we also learned a lot about humanity and how lucky we all are to have all that we do.

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