March 08, 2006

Case law students to spend spring break helping with Katrina recovery effort

Students will Aid with Legal Tasks, Cleanup and Rebuilding

While many university students will spend their spring breaks enjoying sun and surf in places like Florida and Mexico, a group of Case Western Reserve University law students will spend theirs in New Orleans, helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Twenty students from Case's law school will be in the Crescent City March 12-18, performing legal services for people whose homes were destroyed or damaged during the hurricane and helping with the cleanup effort.

Kathleen Gibson, a first-year law student, is organizing the expedition. She got the idea from a small item in an e-mail newsletter from the law student section of the American Bar Association, of which she is a member. "At the bottom of one of the e-mails was a little blurb about an organization called the Student Hurricane Network," Gibson recalls. "I contacted them and what they are doing sounded really exciting, so I decided to get together a group of students from Case to go there."

The Student Hurricane Network is an association bringing law students from around the country to New Orleans and organizing them to help with the relief and recovery effort.

Gibson began talking to friends, members of the ACLU club (whose executive board she sits on), and putting up posters inviting other students to join her. Although she was expecting to get no more than 10 volunteers, she quickly found she had 20 volunteers, and decided not to take any more. "Twenty just seemed like a manageable number," she said.

The Case students will be working with three organizations, including the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), New Orleans Legal Assistance, and Common Ground. They will work on tasks such as client interviewing, landlord-tenant disputes, and establishing proof of home ownership when titles and other documents were destroyed in the hurricane. The students will also help with rebuilding and cleanup.

Although the Case students will pay their own way to and from New Orleans, they are working to raise about $4,000 to pay their living expenses while there. By late February they had raised about half that amount through a raffle of prizes donated by local businesses and contributions from area firms and businesses. Law school faculty members have also made donations, as has the ACLU of Ohio.

A native of Cleveland Heights, Gibson performed volunteer work throughout high school and college, but this is the largest challenge she has taken on. "The neat thing about this opportunity is that we will help in a way that we as law students are uniquely capable of helping," she said. "I think it's going to be pretty fulfilling for everyone."

Students making the trip say they are looking forward to the opportunity to help out. "Sometimes as a law student you feel like you're doing nothing but reading," said Carol Rubin, a first-year student from Canton. "I had originally planned to visit a friend in London over spring break, but hearing Kathleen talk about this got me very excited and I decided to do this instead. London will always be there, but this is a one-time shot to do something meaningful with my friends."

Tony Vacanti, a third-year student from Erie, Pa., said he gave up an opportunity to go to Bermuda to take part in the trip. "I wanted to do something a little different, so when I saw posters advertising this I inquired and it sounded like a good idea," he said. "I see this as an opportunity to make a difference before the real world hits."

Posted by: Heidi Cool, March 8, 2006 02:48 PM | News Topics: Community Outreach

Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.