Ayano Wolff first began volunteering with the Survivor and Family Empowerment (SAFE) Project at Advancing Justice - LA as a law clerk during her 2L year of law school. The SAFE project focuses on providing legal assistance with family law and immigration issues to immigrant survivors of domestic violence, particularly those who are low-income and limited-English speaking.
Ayano worked with SAFE as a volunteer law student during both the spring and summer that year. She then returned as a volunteer law clerk after graduating from Southwestern Law School in 2015, completing a 200-hour Public Interest Clerkship program with SAFE. Finally, this fall, she became a temporary staff attorney with SAFE. We thank Ayano for volunteering so much time with us over the past few years, and are so happy that she has now joined our staff!
How did you learn about Advancing Justice - LA?
I learned about Advancing Justice - LA when I went to volunteer at the Japanese American Bar Association Legal Clinic during my 1L summer in 2013.
What prompted you to get involved?
At the time, I was looking for an organization that I could get involved with that helped the community. I also, was looking for opportunities to use my Japanese to help those with language barriers, so Advancing Justice - LA seemed like the perfect fit.
What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience as an Advancing Justice - LA volunteer?
Working at Advancing Justice - LA with SAFE has provided me with a variety of experiences that law school was not able to provide. Many of the clients I have worked with as a part of my time with SAFE are often insecure in some way because of the trauma they have suffered and are anxious about the future because they are making drastic life changes. These changes include where to live, how to care for their children, dealing with divorce, and even threats to their lives. It is a very different reality. We help stabilize them and provide them with some room to breathe in their lives. It is a humbling experience to have an opportunity to assist our clients with a positive transformation.
Do you have an inspirational story you can briefly tell about your experience volunteering?
One of the first clients I assisted with was a domestic violence survivor. At the time she met her former spouse she was madly in love with him and married him by going against her family’s wishes. She had three beautiful children with him, however, their relationship involved physical and verbal abuse. Our client was financially dependent on him and he refused to file her immigration paperwork, forcing her to lose her legal immigration status and become undocumented. Without documented status, she thought she was unable to free herself from her spouse and live independently. She went into a domestic violence shelter, which put her in contact with Advancing Justice - LA. From there, we were able to assist with her immigration paperwork. While I worked with the SAFE attorneys and staff to provide her with assistance, she continuously mentioned how grateful she was for our help, and how she would not have known what to do without us. She thought her only option was to leave her children in the US and go back to her birth country. It was incredible to be part of the process of her eventually gaining legal status to stay here safely with her children and be free of that abusive relationship.
What advice would you give other individuals who want to participate in volunteer or pro bono work?
I would recommend that everyone try to volunteer or provide pro bono assistance while in law school. It is a great method to gain experience in the legal field in a safe and supportive environment. In addition, you can really see the change you are making in the community. I love seeing the connection between my work and the community, when Advancing Justice - LA clients recommend their neighbors, fellow church members or friends to come to our organization for help.
Volunteers are important members of the Advancing Justice - LA family. We have pro bono opportunities for attorneys and professional interpreters; volunteer opportunities for all community members, and internships for students seeking professional experience. To be added to Advancing Justice - LA's volunteer database, and to receive periodic emails regarding volunteer opportunities, please complete this form.