Tidbits and Thoughts . . .  Legal Aid's Online  News
December 28, 2017

Thank you for believing in the work that we do. 
Wishing you all the best in the New Year!

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Executive Director's Corner

Earlier this month, I was in Washington, DC for the National Legal Aid and Defender (NLADA) Annual Conference. In addition to seeing the first snowfall this season, I got to catch up with former Executive Director Chuck Greenfield and spend time with a number of Executive Directors and staff from the American Bar Association and NLADA. One evening, during dinner, one of our friends spoke to how rough the last year has been and that it was hard for him to find hope in the future. As we all continued to talk, I told him that I saw hope and that I would remind him the next day during the NLADA Annual Awards presentation.

The next day I had the fortune, to present the New Leaders in Advocacy Award to our former staff attorney, Reyna Ramolete Hayashi, and I spoke to how she gave me hope in her grace, gratitude, and willingness to serve others. I told the story of how during the last time I saw her, she was elbows up in soapy water, washing dishes, but with a huge smile. After the event, our friend came up to me and said, thank you for giving him some hope.

Yet, sharing the story of Reyna's service, is just a part of what has always given me hope. I am fortunate to work with amazing people each day, who go beyond themselves to help others and give so much to ensuring that there is justice in this world. Each person here at Legal Aid comes to our organization with a commitment to our mission to address critical legal needs through high quality legal advocacy, outreach and education in the pursuit of fairness and justice. It is that hope that I take home with me every day, and that I seek refuge in when things look dark or problems seem insurmountable to conquer. I also see hope in all of our clients who are seeking help because they want better futures and just need help. Many times they are our inspiration for hope.

As the year closes, there are many places to find hope in this world. It is all around us and sometimes we just need to take a minute to see it.

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.


Legal Aid's Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center and AmeriCorps members work with pro bono attorneys to complete Employment Authorization Document applications for COFA community

Staff members from Legal Aid's Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center and AmeriCorps members worked with volunteer attorneys to help nearly 70 people apply for their Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD is helpful for members of the COFA community in securing employment and applying for state identification. 

Thank you to the following attorneys and volunteers: 

Joanne Badua
Derek Brow
Sr. Aurora de la Cruz
Phil Dureza
John Egan
Voltaire Gansit
Rebecca Gardner
Steve Iwamura
Sechyi Laiu
Max Levins
Arsima Muller
Beverlyn Simina
Julie Suen
Kelly Uwaine
Asdaq Wahid

AmeriCorps members Jasmine Jin and Rachael Renyon help applicants through the line.

Volunteer attorneys provided free legal services to the community during the EAD clinic.

Legal Aid helps young mother obtain custody of children

Demi wanted to obtain full physical and legal custody of her children. She had a strained relationship with the children's father, which included domestic violence and substance abuse by him in the past. Legal Aid represented Demi in four court hearings, prepared necessary court documents, and provided her with on-going counsel and advocacy. Fortunately, the Court eventually awarded her full physical and legal custody, as well as child support. Demi was extremely relieved and grateful for Legal Aid's assistance.

Demi with Leeward Legal Aid attorney Maile Shimabukuro in the 
Family Court children's corner after winning her case.
Legal Aid helps formerly homeless man give back
Stanley had been living on the beach in Waianae for over three years when he came to Legal Aid seeking help with obtaining Social Security benefits.  Over the course of two years, Legal Aid helped Stanley with appeals and obtaining medical records.  Eventually he was awarded SSDI and SSI benefits by an administrative law judge.  After obtaining increased and stable income, Stanley qualified for help from the "Shelter Plus Care" program.  He is now extremely happy to be living in a nice condominium in Makaha. 

Stanley now volunteers for the food bank and cannot believe how much his luck has changed.  He came back to Legal Aid to enthusiastically thank the staff, and even invited them to his birthday party!

Formerly homeless, Stanley now gives back by volunteering at the food bank.

Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center partners with PACT Project at Palolo Elementary School

Legal Aid's Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center outreach specialist Joanne Loeak joined PACT's (Parents and Children Together) Sunday Project at Palolo Elementary School to help newly arrived COFA parents of students at the school better foster student success. The focus of this session was helping parents access community resources and learn more about domestic violence, public benefits, and fair housing issues. HIJC managing attorney Tatjana Johnson and AmeriCorps member Monica Luat served as presenters.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Legal Aid staff!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the staff at Legal Aid's Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center!
Former LASH attorney Reyna Ramolete Hayashi chosen by NLADA for New Leaders In Advocacy Award

Nominated by the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii for her pioneering work in Legal Aid's Fair Housing and Wage Theft programs, former Legal Aid attorney Reyna Ramolete Hayashi was awarded the New Leaders in Advocacy Award at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association's (NLADA) national conference in Washington D.C.

The NLADA leads a broad network of advocates on the frontlines to advance justice and expand opportunity for all by promoting excellence in the delivery of legal services for people who cannot afford counsel.  Its New Leaders in Advocacy Award honors rising attorneys who exhibit extraordinary leadership early in their careers as civil legal aid or indigent defense advocates.
Reyna is a 2011 graduate of the Seattle University School of Law, where she earned a full-tuition scholarship as a Scholar for Justice.  After law school, Reyna served as a Hanna S. Cohn Fellow at the Empire Justice Center in New York where she started the Wage Justice Project to empower workers to fight wage theft through organizing, impact litigation, and policy reform.  In her time at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Reyna launched its new Wage Theft Project modeled on her work at the Empire Justice Center. Some of her other notable victories and impact cases at Legal Aid include the adoption of a more robust language access policy and to push for the recognition for hanai (a native Hawaiian practice of informal adoption or caregiving) in subsidized housing.

Legal Aid Executive Director Nalani Fujimori Kaina accepted the award at the 
NLADA national conference on behalf of Reyna Ramolete Hayashi.

In accepting the award, Reyna writes:

I am very sad that I cannot be there with you in person. I am humbled and in complete disbelief to receive this award. I feel very undeserving of recognition for just showing up and doing my job.
I do want to say mahalo, salamat, and thank you to my beloved community of ancestors, family, and friends, without whom, my journey, and my humble attempts to practice of love as justice, would not be possible.  Without you, there is no me. 
Mahalo to my Legal Aid Society of Hawaii 'ohana, my Empire Justice Center family, and my Emergent Island Economies 'ohana for your unconditional support, mentorship, and for stewarding my dreams. 
To all of you at the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, I know each of you is doing incredible work in the places you call home.  Thank you for your deep love for justice, for the most marginalized among us.  This can be a thankless vocation.  But there is hope, humanity, and grace in it and in our clients.  Thank you for advocating for them and for transforming what is often pain, heartache, and fear into power, inspiration, and justice.
Most of all thank you to my powerful clients, whom I have the privilege of witnessing in their most vulnerable and most heroic moments. They are the only ones deserving of this award, because they are the New Leaders in Advocacy we have been waiting for.  I am everyday humbled by their gifts, their resilience, and their courage to risk it all, to fight for their housing, their jobs, their civil rights, their dignity.  They have shown me where I need to stretch and grow as an advocate. They have taught me, not just how to be a better attorney, but a better human being. This award belongs to them. 
Thank you & Aloha, 

Legal Aid's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program and Low Income Taxpayer Clinic will end in 2017

For over 20 years, volunteers have provided free basic income tax services at Legal Aid's Bethel office. 

Legal Aid's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program and Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) have helped hundreds of low to moderate-income individuals and families prepare and file their federal and Hawaii income tax returns for free and helped settle disputes with the IRS.  With reductions in funding, both programs will not continue in 2018.
The VITA program at Legal Aid started in 1996 to offer free tax help to individuals and families who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English speaking taxpayers who needed assistance in preparing their own tax returns.  Every Saturday from January through April, over 20 IRS-certified volunteers provided free basic income tax services at Legal Aid's Honolulu office.  In 2016 and 2017, the program helped nearly 3,000 individuals file their taxes and receive over $1.9 million in federal and state refunds.
Wayne Keawe, Legal Aid Comptroller, who led and grew the program, remarked, "For over 20 years, the VITA program at Legal Aid has helped provide free tax preparation for many hard working individuals and their families. I want to thank the countless volunteers, many from the Bank of Hawaii, for their time and commitment to this program."
The LITC program is a matching grant program of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that provides federal funds to organizations such as Legal Aid to provide LITC services to taxpayers who are low income or who speak English as a second language (ESL). Legal Aid's LITC program began in 2005 and advocated on behalf of low income and ESL taxpayers, conducted outreach and education about taxpayer rights and responsibilities, and provided representation for qualified individuals who had a dispute with the IRS. 

For a list of other tax assistance resources, please visit   http://www.hawaiitaxhelp.org/ 

Legal Aid's Comptroller Wayne Keawe was presented a Certificate of Appreciation by members of the Internal Revenue Service for his 20 years of volunteer service in leading Legal Aid's VITA tax program.