When Karen Garcia got a phone call from Learning Rights, she had no idea how big of an impact she would have on the organization in just a few short months.
“I was looking for places in Los Angeles where I could volunteer. I came to the United States to get a master’s degree in U.S. law, and I needed somewhere I could learn and practice my skills.” Karen was an experienced lawyer in her native Nicaragua, but she had no experience with the U.S. special education system. “My nephew has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan - a written document that outlines the services children will receive as part of their special education), so I figured it would be a good area of law to know about. I watched a video of Janeen (Learning Rights’ Executive Director) explaining Learning Rights’ work and I sent in an application.
A few weeks later Karen was in our office, learning the ropes of interviewing clients. With each parent, she gathered information related to the case and, after an initial meeting, thoroughly evaluated the case with a supervising attorney. From there, she walked the parent through our recommended course of action, depending on the specific challenges the student was facing. With Karen’s direct help, parents left our office with a concrete action plan to secure improved education services for their children. Thanks to volunteers like Karen, in 2017 alone Learning Rights’ Education Rights Clinic conducted nearly 600 intake appointments for low-income families.
In addition to working with the Education Rights Clinic, Karen also worked on our Special Education Toolkit. Karen helped translate the latest version of the toolkit to Spanish, and also helped write sections on Individual Health Plans and Dispute Resolutions. “I loved working on the toolkit, because I learned so much about statutes and procedures,” Karen says. “I felt like everything I did helped me learn. I think sharing with families in the intakes was my favorite. Working with them to find a way to help them, and being able to learn almost at the same time as the clients – I loved it!”
But Karen’s journey into special education law didn’t end with volunteering. After an astounding 215 hours of volunteering with us this year, Karen recently started in a new position at a private special education law firm. Karen is working as an assistant, and is working closely with the firm’s leading attorney. “My volunteer work with Learning Rights helped me to get my new position with this firm – there aren’t many firms that work in special education, so the knowledge I gained here was important.”
The investment of volunteers like Karen is what makes our work possible. In 2017, 183 volunteers donated over 8,000 hours of their time. From pro bono attorneys helping with settlement monitoring to high school volunteers helping us mail event invites, every single helping hand kept our office running smoothly and serving the thousands of families who benefit from Learning Rights’ help each year. We are so grateful for volunteers like Karen. If you would like to become one of those volunteers,
we would love to have you