The Housing Justice Project is delighted to honor Maria Leininger as Volunteer of the Month for her service at the Housing Justice Project in Kent. Leininger’s approach to representation is both enthusiastic and conscientious. Her infectious energy is an inspiration to clients, fellow volunteers and staff. Thank you, Maria!
Q. How long have you been a KCBA Pro Bono Services volunteer?
A. Since April 2013
Q. Which PBS programs do you volunteer for and how often?
A. I volunteer with the Housing Justice Project. It used to be once a week in Kent and Seattle, now it’s closer to twice per month.
Q. Who/what inspires you to volunteer?
A. I find that one of the biggest barriers to success that people face is housing insecurity. I remember speaking with a former client who explained to me that the reason they were having difficulty finding a job and staying clean and sober was that they didn’t have access to stable housing. Being able to help people get in and stay in their homes makes me feel like, perhaps, I’ve played a tiny role in someone’s life being slightly easier and more productive.
Q. What is your most memorable volunteer experience?
A. It’s hard to pick a single one. The cases I’ve found most meaningful are the ones where we’re able to help someone, even if it’s just to help bring certainty into their lives during a time of stress. One of the best things about the Housing Justice Project is that so many of the people who come to us have this mental picture of lawyers where we’re inaccessible and aloof, or that we provide a service they would never be able to access. HJP hopefully gives our clients a new view of attorneys; that we care about helping people and are ready to stand with them during arguably one of the most stressful moments of their lives.
Recently, I helped another client who brought their toddler into HJP with them. He brightened up everyone’s day running around and drawing pictures, one of which is hanging on the wall in front of my desk.
Q. Please share a brief client story:
A. One of my most memorable HJP cases was being able to help my clients, who were living in what was effectively a shack, dispense with their unlawful detainer, allow them more time to move, and create an agreement where their landlord actually ended up giving them money to defray some of their moving costs.
Q. If you were not a lawyer, what profession would you choose? Why?
A. I actually don’t work full time as an attorney. I am Congressman Adam Smith’s political director and campaign manager. Prior to this I ran a large state Senate campaign in the 45th Legislative District, and prior to that I was Congresswoman Suzan DelBene’s political director.
Q. What is the biggest challenge with helping the clients in HJP?
A. So often clients come to us when there’s virtually nothing we can do. Those are the cases that are most difficult to me. It really sticks with me to think that anyone who came to us might not have somewhere safe to sleep at night.
Q. Words of advice for fellow volunteers?
A. Remember that our clients are going through a really tough time and often don’t have anyone in their life who is willing to listen to their problems. As much as we help our clients secure stable housing, it’s also important that each client leaves HJP with the feeling that they have someone who cares about them and their overall well-being. Treat each client exactly how you would hope someone would treat you if you were in their shoes.
Q. Favorite pet? Names(s)?
A. I have two cats named Belly and Roo.
Q. What do you do for fun?
Q. Favorite quote?
A. “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” (British suffragist and journalist Rebecca West)
Q. Favorite law-related movie?
A. “My Cousin Vinny” or “Erin Brockovich.”
Q. Must-have office supply?
A. Sticky notes, my desk is literally covered in them.
Q. Title of the last book you read?
A. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
Q. Favorite comfort food?
A. Potatoes, just generally.
Q. Favorite Supreme Court justice?
A. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of course.