By Christelle Tshibengabo Reading Partners connects students in under-resourced schools with volunteer tutors and mentors across the United States. In Washington, D.C., Reading Partners has reading centers in 19 elementary schools, 10 of which are East of the Anacostia River. A significant percentage of the volunteers and tutors in the District's Reading Partners programs are attorneys and other legal professionals. Attorneys from Hogan Lovells LLP, for example, have volunteered for Reading Partners for several years, and Hogan Lovells partner Stuart Stein is on the board of directors. Hogan Lovells has a number of programs that service communities east of the Anacostia River, including a partnership with Kimball Elementary School. Stein became involved with Reading Partners after attending a citizenship program held by Hogan Lovells at Kimball four years ago and has remained committed to volunteering since. Speaking with WCL intern, Christelle Tshibengabo, Stein explained that when he started volunteering at Kimball, he ran the corporate practice at Hogan Lovells. While his professional life kept him busy, he still made time to spend an hour every week with the students at Reading Partners. Currently, he works regularly with at least four students. When asked how volunteering with Reading Partners has impacted his life, he explained that it is an "unequal partnership" because you get more from the students than you give to them. To learn more about Reading Partners, Tshibengabo also interviewed Reading Partners Community Engagement Director, Naomi Shachter, at Maude Aiton Elementary School in Lincoln Heights. When Tshibengabo arrived, three students from kindergarten through third grade were already in the reading center starting their day. Participating students are usually pulled from classes during independent reading times based on their reading ability and needs. When they arrive at the reading center, they meet with their tutors and begin a lesson, which consists of reading a book of the student’s choice aloud, targeting difficult vowels and consonants, and assessing content comprehension. Lawyers can have an outsized impact on the students they tutor. As an example, Naomi shared the story of Ana, a DC law student and Reading Partners volunteer, and her student Israel, who worked together at Aiton’s reading center. At the beginning of their first year working together, Ana had said she wanted to become a lawyer, while Israel said he wanted to make pizza. But by the end of their second year together, both Ana and Israel wanted to become lawyers. After their time at the reading center, the students are encouraged to take books home both as homework and for recreational reading. Because books for the program are donated to Reading Partners, donors are also important to the long-term impact on the students. Reading Partners is always seeking new volunteers for its programs. To volunteer for Reading Partners, register online here. After registering online, attend an orientation, complete a background check, and then schedule a session time. The students’ lessons run for 45 minutes, so volunteering involves hour-long shifts during school hours. If finding time during the school day is a challenge, you can also donate books to Reading Partners for the students to take home. Christelle Tshibengabo interned with Washington Council of Lawyers in 2018.
DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP) has opened a satellite office in The Commons at Stanton Square to serve victims of domestic violence and at-risk children and their families. The new location will be a collaborative effort with Martha’s Table and Community of Hope to serve clients in Ward 8. DCVLP Co-founder and Executive Director, Karen Barker Marcou, said that she is excited the new location will provide more legal and social services to families and children in Ward 8. “At least 30 percent of our clients reside in Ward 8. We were excited about Stanton Common’s focus on families and children, because our legal practice focuses on families and children.” The new location will provide space for attorneys to meet with clients and will provide support services in areas such as housing assistance, counseling, parenting classes and emergency assistance with food and clothing needs. DCVLP recently celebrated its tenth anniversary in May. The organization was started in 2008 to provide pro bono legal services to domestic violence victims and Guardian Ad Litem services to at-risk children. DCVLP attorneys staff the Domestic Violence Intake Center at DC Superior Courthouse every Monday and provide walk-in clinic services every Wednesday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Southwest DC. Marcou stated that the Wednesday clinic sees over 400 people annually and that she never dreamed that DCVLP would grow to be so big. “I am very excited that we have been able to engage thousands of attorneys in pro bono work to help District residents in desperate need.” If you are interested in getting involved, sign up to attend DCVLP's volunteer recruitment lunch on Thursday, September 13. Register here.