FARMINGTON — Sixteen University of Denver law students wanted to make a difference.
They wanted to learn more about their field of study and ditch their books for a dose of real-life legal services; a precursor to their future careers.
They chose to do it in San Juan County and on the Navajo Nation.
The 16 students will spend the week working with local children and seniors and performing various outreach projects designed to leave a lasting footprint in the area.
The group worked Monday and Tuesday with area Boys & Girls Clubs and children at the Sycamore Park Community Center on how to make better choices and how to weigh consequences.
"Every day you make small decisions and big decisions," said Natalie Koehn, recreation supervisor at Sycamore Park Community Center.
The presentation was a natural fit for the children who use the community center's services each week.
"Kids don't realize that decisions affect their lives on a daily basis," Koehn said.
Koehn said the children were receptive to the message, which reinforces what staff tries to convey each day.
The organizers of the week-long volunteer project tried to reach out to all demographics in the county by hosting events and informational sessions at a variety of centers targeting different age groups.
"In my opinion, we can never do too much with the kids," San Juan County Domestic Violence Commissioner Cindy Gray said.
Gray also is the chairperson of the San Juan County Pro Bono Committee.
The students also went to area senior centers to offer free consultations on a host of matters concerning the elderly population.
Locals attorneys, acting as mentors and advisers, were on hand each step along the way and will continue to work with the students throughout the week.
The week-long partnership between local lawyers and the law students has several benefits, said Kimberly Schooley, Volunteer Lawyer Program director for DNA-People's Legal Services.
Schooley, along with other area lawyers and legal organizations plan to use the materials created by the students for the various presentations to continue getting information to the public.
"I really see this as a jumping off point," Schooley said.
The presentations at the area Boys & Girls Clubs and community centers coincides with Schooley's desire to get lawyers into area schools to teach constitutional law and help students gain a better understanding of the legal process.
"This is a first step along that process," Schooley said.
This week the law students will work to create a pamphlet outlining unemployment benefit procedures and wrongful termination of employment issues. They also will work to create a script for a domestic relations instructional video, which the court, DNA Legal Aid Office and the local Pro Bono Committee will use in the future.
The students, accompanied by local attorneys, will offer four informational clinics Thursday dealing with public benefits, housing assistance and other resources available to area residents.
There are two clinics Thursday morning at the Farmington Indian Center and two in the afternoon at the Farmington Public Library.
"I hope it's something very beneficial. It has the potential to be," Gray said.
The information presented will not be legal advice, but data people can use to receive benefits.
"We recognize that there's a need," said Erin Snow, a second-year law student.
Snow had hoped to work with the American Indian population in the area, which is one of her areas of interest in law school.
Offering the free help can make an immediate difference in people's lives, as well as be a symbolic gesture which shows people do want to help, she said.
Several of the students will spend their time working with clients on the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservations with the Native American Disability Law Center, a non-profit, private organization that provides free legal services to American Indians with disabilities living within the Four Corners region.
The students also will be assisting with general intake at DNA People's Legal Services, a federally funded group providing low-income civil legal services for area residents. The intake will begin at 8 a.m. today.
Brendan Giusti: firstname.lastname@example.org
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housing assistance, etc.
housing assistance, etc.