By Cynthia B. Jones
Mike Goldenkranz is KCBA's December volunteer of the month. Goldenkranz has been an outstanding volunteer with the Neighborhood Legal Clinics Program since 2006.
"Top on the list of great qualities is Mike can always be counted on in a pinch," said NLC Program Manager Riana Nolet. "He typically volunteers at the southeast clinic, but often floats around filling in for various clinics that need a last-minute sub, allowing us to maintain our commitment to clients."
Nolet added that "in addition to his clinic work, he is a dedicated member of the Neighborhood Legal Clinics committee, and has contributed to several projects like scouting out new locations for the Greenwood clinic site and recruiting new volunteers for the Renton clinic which opened in July."
To learn more about Goldenkranz, read on:
Q. Why do you volunteer at the Neighborhood Legal Clinics?
A. Spike Lee said "Do the Right Thing." The Hebrew version of that is "Tzedaka" (giving back). I know only too well what it is like to need good lawyers and first-rate doctors and I've been blessed to have them for myself and my family. While the time commitment required for NLC is two hours a month, having folks walk in that door with significant needs -but worst of all without much hope - is a humbling challenge. But when, on occasion, they leave with a faint smile, a little spring in their step and a "thanks for being there," it feels like "comfort food."
I admire many of the folks who come into the clinics. They are at least willing to try and get help - or better yet - help themselves. I find it gratifying because they keep going one step at a time through so many daunting challenges (legal is often just the tip of the iceberg). When we help clients identify and assess their issues and steer them to organizations that can provide the follow-up they so desperately need and want, then we've had a good night.
Q. What are you currently reading?
A. Bill Bryson's comic memoir of growing up in the early 1950s, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and re-reading Bill Cosby's irreverent Fatherhood now that my kids are grown, in the hope I'll be a very funny grandfather.
Q. What is your favorite comfort food?
A. Brisket (don't tell my doctor). My mother actually made sure that all her boys could cook. (It was easy because she did not cook, so we either cooked or went hungry. Just kidding, mom!)
Q. Favorite legal movie?
A. "12 Angry Men" (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam.
Q. Why did you become a lawyer?
A. As a congressional intern in D.C. during the Watergate hearings, it was like watching a legal constitutional Super Bowl. Later, when I was talking to my faculty advisor about applying to graduate school in psychology, he said, "Mike, you don't have the temperament or patience to just sit there and listen dispassionately, you need to be an 'advocate' - have you considered law school?"
After a year of working with a police department, I realized he was right. The sergeant I worked for was really tough and I had heard about his sense of humor, but never saw it 'til I told him I had got into law school. I thought I detected a faint grin. The cake at the party they threw read, "Happy Unemployment Mike."
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Run (slowly and for a short distance) alongside my daughter who will have completed her first marathon at Thanksgiving. I can't keep up with her (or I guess anyone else). A former neighbor saw me "trying" to jog up the hill to get home. He thought he was being an encouraging mensch by seriously offering as I passed by, "Mike, keep it up, I didn't know you took up speed walking." I was devastated. But I'm still out there!
Q. What inspires you?
A. Resilience and quiet acts of kindness.
Q. Favorite U.S. Supreme Court justice(s)?
A. Ruth Bader Ginsberg - we both went to James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York. Well sort of … I was not born yet when she graduated. But there is a mock courtroom now named in her honor. And Louis Brandeis. I went to college at his "namesake" and his spirit of social justice did pervade.
Q. Words of advice for folks looking to volunteer?
A. "Just do it." You'll kiss your house, your spouse and kids when you're done, and the folks you saw will have a little more spring in their step and options, from just that little bit of help and yourself that you provided.
Cynthia Jones is an attorney with Jones Legal Group, LLC in Seattle. Her practice focuses on litigation and appellate advocacy.