As you'll read elsewhere in this issue of the Bar Bulletin, the bar's annual fundraiser March 26 to support our pro bono and diversity efforts was a tremendously positive experience for the attendees, providing funds for our pro bono and diversity initiatives in King County. That said, while almost 1,000 of you were with us for the event and hot breakfast, that left 13,000 King County lawyers outside the ballroom eating cold cereal and not learning more about the ways KCBA lawyers give back to the community.
One story we shared was from Omar Contreras, a University of Washington minority law student from the Dominican Republic. Omar told us the story of how several years ago he found himself in a police station being interrogated by detectives about his stepfather. Omar realized that he wanted a different path for himself. Today, he is receiving scholarship monies from the King County Bar to help cover part of the annual $30,000 in tuition he must pay.
Over three years of study, that will approach $100,000 at the University of Washington, without counting room and board, books, transportation, and all the other expenses facing today's law students. At Seattle University, annual tuition is $41,000, or more than $120,000 for a three-year degree program. While the King County Bar makes available more than $135,000 annually for the schools to share for minority law student scholarships, we are barely making a dent in assisting with these astronomical costs.
The next story we shared was about Shaa, Kyla and Amore, a family that faced unimaginable horrors. Shaa and Kyla were sisters, part of a large and loving family. Bad choices resulted in Kyla entering a life of prostitution and drug abuse, which resulted in her death. Her 5-year old son helped carry her dead body to a car, and then his father dropped Kyla's lifeless body at an emergency room before driving away. Amore was facing a life with this individual as his caregiver until his Aunt Shaa stepped in to seek third-party custody.
A KCBA volunteer lawyer, Donna DePaola, took on the case, helping Shaa fight off a myriad of attempts by the natural father to keep custody of Amore despite the father's life as a pimp. Ultimately, the court awarded full custody of Amore to his aunt. His future in a caring, loving, nurturing home is now secure, thanks to the hard work of a volunteer KCBA attorney.
In a video interview of the family and their attorney that we played for attendees at the Breakfast With Champions in March (view it online at tinyurl.com/n9zo7tw), DePaola said, "If it wasn't for the King County Bar Association having this great program, I'm afraid that things would not have turned out as well." Shaa commented about her volunteer attorney that "one person can really make a difference" by donating their time and legal skills.
Supporting the work of DePaola and the other 1,300 volunteer lawyers and paralegals in our pro bono programs means having a group of dedicated, professional staff at the bar to schedule client meetings, arrange for interpreter services, offer trainings for attorneys in new areas of the law, answer volunteer and client questions, and so much more. We use 16 staff in this support capacity with roughly 81 volunteers supported by each staff member.
We are limited in the number of minority law student scholarships we can offer for students like Omar and the number of volunteer lawyers like Donna we can support. Candidly, we rely on voluntary, charitable cash donations from the bar to make all this happen.
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