Students from the T.C. Williams School of Law and undergraduate students are taking to the streets.
Street Law is a program sponsored by the law school that teaches elementary, middle and high school students how the legal system works in their everyday lives.
Tom Liu, a second-year law student, is the current president of Street Law.
He said the students involved in the program travel to three different sites within the community, the North Richmond YMCA, the Tuckahoe Family YMCA and the Friends Center, to educate youth about the legal system, focusing on their rights and responsibilities.
"The program is also meant to empower [youth] when they feel those rights are being violated," he said. "The program also gives them awareness of pressing legal issues that are affecting people in their age range."
Anthony Holman, also a second-year law student, is the current vice president. He said the lesson plans the students made were geared more toward a learning experience than giving legal advice.
Tara Casey, Street Law's faculty adviser and director of the Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service, said the program had been on hiatus until she arrived in 2007.
"The students who were the leaders of Street Law worked closely with me as we began its resurgence," she said.
Casey said she had been involved with Street Law since she was the inaugural director of the Carrico Center in 2007.
She said she noticed a natural synergy between what the Carrico Center hoped to accomplish by engaging the law students with the community and with Street Law's mission.
Liu said he had been drawn to Street Law because unlike most of the other service programs in the law school, which were reserved for second- and third-year students, Street Law was available to students in every school at Richmond: law, undergraduate and the School of Continuing Studies.
"I originally had a very strong interest in community service when I was applying to law school," he said. "What brought me to the University of Richmond was their array of community service programs. Street Law is great because it focuses on empowering the community and also trying to prevent future legal need."
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Sophomore Sandra Zuniga Guzman is an undergraduate student who ended up volunteering with Street Law by accident.
She joined the program last year as a freshman when she saw an announcement in SpiderBytes.
"It didn't occur to me that [Street Law] was for law students," she said. "It should have hit me when I saw that the meeting was taking place in the law school, but I still attended the meeting, along with three other undergraduates."
Zuniga Guzman said though it was a mistake that she joined the group at first, she enjoyed getting to know the law students and becoming a recruiter of undergraduate students for Street Law.
Zuniga Guzman is the current volunteer coordinator and serves as the primary contact for undergraduate relations.
Liu and Zuniga Guzman both said that Street Law served as a bridge for law, undergraduate and continuing studies students to work with the community.
While working with people from the law school and the children from the community, Zuniga Guzman said she enjoyed seeing the progress the children made through the program.
"It is very rewarding to see a shy child open up and gain confidence through our lessons," she said.
Zuniga Guzman also said that Street Law gave her the ability to realize that she liked to interact with children and gave her an idea of what the school system was like. She has seen the benefits of being a mentor for these at-risk students.
"Having come from a single-parent household, I wasn't an at-risk child, but I definitely see the benefits of having a mentor because I have had them throughout my life," she said. "And being an immigrant child, it is so important sometimes to just know that there are people in the community that care about you beyond just your family."
Liu said Street Law was an important program to stay involved in because the program focused on prevention of legal issues rather than current need.
"We hope to inform them of common misconceptions about legal issues that a lot of youth in our nation face today," he said. "We help give legal education to the community so that they know what their real legal rights are."
Holman said Street Law benefited the law students by reinforcing what they had already learned in the classroom for some of their core classes.
Casey said if the Street Law lessons were not resonating with the students they served, then they would not need to continue to work with them. But, she said that the dialogue the students and mentors had about current issues showed their understanding and growth.
"To be able to provide a forum of expression for these students is invaluable," she said. "I hope the children see the college students as role models and contemplate: 'That could be me. I can go to college, to law school.' Just envisioning their own potential through this interaction is phenomenal."
Contact staff writer Amelia Vogler at firstname.lastname@example.org
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