By Cynthia B. Jones
During a time of year when we traditionally reflect on giving and appreciation, KCBA timely selects Martha Cohen as its December Volunteer of the Month.
KCBA as a whole owes a great amount of gratitude to Cohen for giving us the tools to provide quality services to thousands of people with limited English proficiency, said Riana Nolet, program manager of the Neighborhood Legal Clinics for KCBA.
"Martha has been an outstanding volunteer Spanish interpreter with the Bilingual Spanish and Immigration Clinic since November 2005," Nolet said. "In addition to her dedication to ensuring that Spanish speakers receive equal access to services, she has provided multiple trainings for KCBA staff and volunteers on how to effectively work with interpreters."
KCBA recently spent some time chatting with Cohen, a warm and lovely personality who earnestly believes in access to justice and dedicates her career and, thankfully for KCBA, volunteers her talents to ensuring that access to justice is always the goal.
Read on and be prepared to be inspired by this most special of volunteers.
Q. What do the pro bono legal clinics mean to you and how will your experience help others?
A. It's really a matter of access to justice and access to services to those who ordinarily would not be able to communicate to gain legal assistance. My experience serving as an interpreter with the pro bono clinics has provided that access to legal services that are difficult to come by generally.
Q. How do you gain perspective regarding a difficult situation?
A. I usually try to take a step back, take a couple of deep breaths and look at the big picture. That goes for problem solving and finding a good solution to a challenging situation.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I sing in two choruses, the Seattle Peace Chorus and Seattle Labor Chorus. I love to travel and travel as often as I can. I try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes up for travel. I love to watch ice skating and I have been to five world championships. I love theatre - the more spontaneous the better.
Q. How often do you volunteer, what inspires you and what keeps you motivated to volunteer?
A. I have been volunteering for many years for KCBA and volunteer at least twice a quarter. Many of the people that come to the clinic have no place else to go and again it's a matter of access.
I love the fact that my interpreting skill is vital in making a connection between the volunteer attorneys and people who have usual and unusual legal questions and don't know where else to go to find answers. At the end of a long day of work, no matter how tired I am, once I arrive at the clinic I'm energized by the attorney volunteers giving of their time and the clients who have dutifully come seeking assistance.
Q. Where in the world would you visit if money were no object?
A. Because I love to travel and I love animals, almost any place where I could combine the two would be great. One trip that was such a memorable highlight was when I went to Australia and stayed on Kangaroo Island and the animals were running completely free on the island. I experienced many close encounters that were natural and very exciting.
There was no public transportation on the island, so I had to rent a car. As I was driving, a couple of huge kangaroos came right up to the car and there we were just looking at each other.
Q. What is one of your best skills?
A. I believe that one of my best skills is my ability to relate to people. I think I can go just about anywhere and be in almost any situation and find something to talk with someone about as I'm very curious about people and like to ask questions about their lives and their experiences. My husband said my tombstone will say, "I talk to citizens."
Q. What is your passion in life?
A. One of my passions is making sure that non-English speakers have the same access as monolingual-English speakers.
Q. Do you have any words of advice for fellow volunteers?
A. If you're even considering volunteering, please remember that you are making an important difference in someone's life and any skill that you can provide will be helpful to them. So don't hesitate to be of service in your community. It's rewarding, not only for the clients, but also for those of us providing the services.
Cynthia Jones is an attorney with Jones Legal Group, LLC in Seattle where her practice focus is appellate advocacy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.