By: Isabelle LaBarbera ‘23
As someone who has spent most of their professional and educational experience dedicated to helping indigent and marginalized communities, I was shocked at the deep troubles facing aging adults. It has been eye-opening and has re-sparked passions that brought me to law school at the University at Buffalo School of Law. However, it made me wonder. I am usually attuned to the struggles of those around me; how was I not aware that such a large proportion of the aging community desperately needed larger scale access to legal justice?
It did not take long to find the answer. All I had to do was listen. So, that is exactly what I did for the past ten weeks. Travelling to all corners of Western New York, I met countless individuals facing varying degrees of similar legal issues, all stating they felt the same: embarrassed. Regardless of the circumstances, each individual, those desperately in need of services, had suffered in silence, too embarrassed to attempt to restore their losses.
All too often we wish we could do more, help more, or be more. This past summer, I had the wonderful experience of working as an IDEA Legal Intern in the Elder Abuse Unit at the Center for Elder Law & Justice (CELJ) The work is tiring and daunting, but it is met with vigor by the entire CELJ team, and I will forever be grateful to have left a permanent mark on the Buffalo Community through the engagement and outreach performed through CELJ.
I was quickly aware that each member of the CELJ team did everything within their power to do more, help more and be the most they could be. I was in awe of every person within the organization, and their ability to combat problems. It was like nothing I had experienced in the past. I was able to see change being made, from the ground up. Whether it be from the policy being written, briefs submitted, or the creation of previously unthought-of solutions – CELJ did it all!
There was never a question left unanswered. Even when there was not a person in our unit who had an answer, someone in the organization did. Even when no-one in the organization did, someone always knew of another who could help. Perhaps the best example of this would be through the use of Enhanced Multidisciplinary Teams (E-DMT) Each month, a team combined of public, profit and non-profit organizations met to discuss cases. Regardless of who was at the head of each case, any complex question could be brought to the table. Within my ten weeks at CELJ, I was fortunate enough to attend over a handful of these meetings, across various counties. Each time, regardless of the trickiness of the question, someone always provided an answer. Deeply complex issues, where one organizations hands had been tied could be passed to another. No client was left behind, and everyone was always given back their voice.
This past summer has changed the trajectory of my future path. I would like to extend my gratitude to Judith Gische and Steven Schurkman, for their generosity in founding the Blanche Gische and Helen Schurkman Award for Elder Justice. I would also like to thank each and every wonderful attorney and staff member at the Center for Elder Law & Justice, especially my supervising attorney Sarah Duval , for encouraging my growth and development this past summer.
Name: Isabelle LaBarbera
Name of Fellowship: Blanche Gische and Helen Schurkman Award for Elder Justice
Placement: Center for Elder Law and Justice
Location: Buffalo, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “I was able to see change being made, from the ground up. Whether it be from the policy being written, briefs submitted, or the creation of previously unthought-of solutions – CELJ did it all!”