For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Friday, January 05, 2007

Success in Successions

I think it was very appropriate that we took this trip to New Orleans just before Christmas. With exams having just ended and being on break, the last thing that I was in is a Christmas spirit. Two days after exams ended, we left Chapel Hill at 6am for our journey to the city of both despair and hope. When we arrived in New Orleans it was nighttime and we couldn't see anything, including the miles and miles of devastation that we would see on the way out of the city at the end of the week. Having never been to New Orleans (or even LA for that matter), I wasn't sure what to expect, but on the first night as we walked to dinner, we stumbled across a group of musicians playing on the sidewalk. It looked like a group of about six or seven, each playing a different instrument, wearing street clothes and attracting quite a few listeners. That was the last group of musicians I saw playing on the sidewalks and I was surprised. I thought that there would be music everywhere, livening up the city, but this emptiness seemed to be the theme of the week. As we began our work, we were given instructions on what we were to be doing and we hit the ground running. My group worked on successions, which is a process which one must go through to have a deceased relative's estate passed on to their heirs, regardless of whether or not a will exists. This process is unique to LA because of their civil legal system and it is very tedious. There are over 26,000 successions to do in New Orleans alone and as a group we only worked on about 35 so it sometimes felt like we weren't making good progress, but I got over that feeling very quickly when I began to speak with my clients. Those people whose successions the pro bono project is able to handle are of little means and are very grateful for the time that the pro bono project volunteers spend on their file. They were very eager to speak with us and would respond so quickly when we asked for documents and information. Our clients were so kind and grateful to us. It was amazing the kind of spirit these people still had after all that they have been through. They cannot even rebuild their homes until they can collect insurance and FEMA money, which they cannot do until they have their home in their name, which will not happen until these 26,000 successions are done. So we got to work and made good progress as a group. We got our first taste of writing petitions and affidavits and it tasted better than I had ever expected. Especially because we were working hard to make sure that by next Christmas, some of these people would be back in their homes. I left New Orleans in the best Christmas spirit I think I've ever been in. It was amazing to think what these people gave me this holiday season when they have so little to give, but that is what Christmas is about. Giving what you have when you can, even if it is the last you have to give may be just what someone else wants or needs. I am only a first year law student and my time and my service is about all I have to give these days, but it was appreciated. Some clients were surprised to hear from us when we would call, thinking that they had been forgotten and part of going down to New Orleans a year and four months after Katrina is to remind everyone not to forget and to remind ourselves not to forget what happened there or how many people still need help. There are still families with no home, no power in their FEMA trailers, no job, and no neighbors. But these people do still have a lot of hope and spirit and although nothing else was, that was beautiful to see. The last day as we drove out of town, we saw more of what we saw on our tour of the 9th ward, which was desolation and emptiness. Empty apartment buildings, empty homes, empty stores, empty motels, empty restaurants, and even an empty Six Flags. It will take time for the city to rebuild itself and to fill itself with laughter and music and people again, but with the help of those who have just a little bit of time and service to give, it will happen. Thank you to everyone who supported us in our efforts!


Post a Comment

<< Home