Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Autumn... the year's last, loveliest smile" - William Cullen Bryant

Happy Fall! Autumn is definitely my favorite of the four seasons. I love the crisp air, how it is not too hot to go outside and I am not sweating just by walking around the house, yet it's just chilly enough to need a light sweater in the evening. It typically doesn't rain too much in the Fall, either. The weather is perfect for a nice stroll or run and there isn't the treacherous mud that we see in Spring. I love the apples and pumpkins and all the wonderful baking that occurs and restaurant specials and Autumn brews. Most of all, though, I LOVE Halloween! I love getting dressed up in costume Halloween night, I love candy, I love seeing the kids trick-or-treating, and I love everything that leads up to the holiday. :)

There may not be as much foliage in Philadelphia as I have seen every year before in NH and MA, but it's still a great time to be in the city. There are a lot of harvest festivals and events that take place in October and November, and there is a lot of different foods and drinks available to try. Additionally, the Eastern State Penitentiary opens its doors over the next couple of months for "Terror Behind The Walls," which is supposed to be one of the creepiest and scariest haunted houses in the country, as it takes place in the massive prison. Might be worth checking out to kick-off the best season ever...

So the week before last I unfortunately got sick. I tend to get a surprise illness in September, so I half-expected it was going to happen at some point. Last Tuesday morning I woke up feeling yucky, and soon after the cold of the century turned into ear and teeth and sinus pain. I stayed home from work for a couple of days and finally went to the doctor on Thursday who prescribed a few different medicines. Funny story about that. I asked the doctor where the closest pharmacy was to get my prescriptions filled and he pointed me in the direction of China Town, which was a couple of blocks away. I automatically assumed the pharmacy he referenced would be a Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid - or something of the sort. However, when I arrived at the address the doctor had indicated, it was a hole-in-the-wall store with a handwritten "Pharmacy" sign. I wandered in and saw two Chinese ladies rummaging through the store's two narrow glass cases filled with over-the-counter medicines such as Peptobillsmol and Tylenol. Another man was behind a large counter and asked for my insurance card. I handed it to him promptly and my prescriptions were filled in a grand total of six minutes. It was quite the speedy process until I asked to pay with my American Express credit card and they needed to locate their credit card machine... Needless to say, I was a bit worried about this pharmeceutical joint that I discovered, but tried to remain calm knowing that the doctor had pointed me to it. I still stopped at the nearby Rite Aid on the way back to my apartment and had a pharmacy technician there analyze the boxes that the China Town pharmacy had given me, She laughed a bit and told me that they were perfectly fine. All's well that ends well, as I felt better within a few days. My weekend consisted of lounging, watching Big Bang season 5 on DVD (thanks mom!), and going out for ice cream in the pouring rain at "The Franklin Fountain." After watching Man Vs. Food, we had to check this place out! They are famous for their homemade fudge and massive sundaes, and on the show, he ate what's called "Mt. Vesuvius." Needless to say, we stuck with a small sundae each with hot fudge which was MORE than enough. But, if you ever have a hankering for it, here's a photo of the famously large sundae:

On Sunday night we went to our typical 7pm mass. After mass ADROP (Augustinian Defenders for the Rights of the Poor) sponsored a wine and cheese reception to celebrate the UN's "Peace Day" which was the Friday before mass. One of my housemates, Katharine, works for ADROP as her service assignment. They did a variety of "Peace" activities that week, including a poster competition for children at a local Catholic school. The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders warmed our hearts with their posters representing peace. She also attended and helped to organize a conference at Villanova yesterday concerning restorative justice. There was a keynote speaker by a prior Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and panel discussions with victims of prison and defenders. I wish I could have attended because it sounded super interesting, but alas, I had work.

After being sick for a few days last week, my work load definitely piled! This past week was super productive for me, though. I did some follow up for Pro Bono Opportunities Day. I got a few of my cases approved at our case review meeting. This means that I was able to write case summaries for the files and begin the process of trying to refer the cases to volunteer attorneys. Each staff member can have a maximum of 30 case files assigned to them at any given point. This includes cases being worked-up and cases trying to be referred to attorneys. Thirty seems quite overwhelming to me, as each case is individual and requires different work. But, needless to say, I am learning a ton. For instance, I learned how to calculate the amount of transfer tax someone would have to pay to have a title transferred to their name from a non-family member. I also learned how to calculate an approximate inheritance tax rate someone would have to pay to have a title transferred from a deceased person's estate based on the mortgage currently left on the property in question. I also negotiated with a mortgage company and "stayed" a sheriff sale on a client's property, which essentially means that because VIP is currently assessing and working on the client's case, the company has given an extension, which is typically 120 days, and needs an update at that time. I also ordered a deed from archives and picked it up at City Hall - which was an insanely confusing process to find the correct and open door to retrieve the document. I was happy to call two of my clients and tell them that their cases have been approved and we were now working on finding them a volunteer attorney. Even though it's still a long road and nothing is guaranteed, just knowing that things are moving in a productive direction and the case is accepted is typically a big relief for the client who sometimes feels helpless and burned out. I also learned about VIP's "Tangled Title Fund." Tangled Title cases are primarily homeownership cases - so the ones that the LawWorks team is assigned to which I am a part of - and the Fund is something that a volunteer attorney who has an open case can apply to have certain fees and taxes paid for so the client does not have to pay out of pocket. Most clients cannot afford these fees, as they are low-income and receiving pro bono services for this reason. I believe each accepted applicant can receive up to $2,500 currently. This covers things like transfer and inheritance taxes and some of the fees for processing titles and such. It's a great benefit for our clients, but the application itself can be time-consuming for attorneys, so we are working to edit it and make it much simpler for the volunteer to facilitate.

All in all, I am so happy that I am at Philadelphia VIP. In addition to learning a ton, the staff is super friendly and open. There's about sixteen full-time staff and several part-time interns. Although the office is split into the LawWorks and Litigation Teams, there is some overlap in terms of the process of the work we do. I am constantly full of legal questions and need help reading and understanding various documents, such as deed and mortgages, since every case is unique and every document is different. It is crazy how one deed from the 1950's appears versus one from a few years ago. In addition, the language really dictates the terms of the case, and this is especially relevant for cases where the deceased record owner left a will. If nothing else, a lot of this information is good to know for everyday life. Shout out to Mom & Dad (and really anyone who is currently will-less) - please write a will. It makes whoever is handling your estate that much more knowledgeable about what to do with your assets and it is less of a sticky situation. I will let you know the things that I desire. :)

Side-note, I am currently preparing for the LSAT. I just signed up for an online course that begins in mid-October. I have flash cards and have been preparing on and off since the summer. My goal is to take the December 1st test so that I have the option to apply to law schools for next fall. It is going to be a test of my diligence - so wish we luck!

Oh, and someone shared this with me recently. A non-partisan Christian group asked both Romney and Obama about their views on poverty and plans to provide help and opportunity to our nation's poor. Each submitted a short video clip on the subject. Definitely worth watching if you have a few minutes to spare:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"I don't ever want to let you down, I don't ever want to leave this town..."

So after going to the concert last weekend I have become slightly obsessed with Imagine Dragons. But if you haven't heard their hit single, do listen:

And I am not ever one to share youtube links, so it's a great song, haha.

Well, let's see. Last week was super busy at work! I felt like every day was a rush against the clock to finish around 5pm. But maybe that's the real world for you, haha. On Friday I went to a Probate training at a local law firm. There were a lot of young lawyers there who are interested in potentially doing pro bono law and specifically working on cases with VIP. I think that it's neat that VIP offers so many free opportunities for attorneys to get involved in pro bono law. It's great advertising because there's never enough volunteer attorneys, but the training materials are really invaluable.

I also finished my first case work-ups. So tomorrow I will present them at our weekly case review meeting! I felt so accomplished.

OH and I am now on the staff page on VIP's website:

Last weekend we just relaxed on Friday. Saturday we went on a cheese steak adventure. I hadn't eaten beef in a very long time, but I couldn't resist the temptation to try a famous Philly steak. We went to Jim's Steaks on South Street. Yes, I do realize that Pat's and Gino's are the MOST famous but Jim's is in the running as well. Haha, listening to peoples' opinions on cheese steak places is hilarious. You would think that it is a hot political debate here in Philadelphia. Here's a photo of us at Jim's:

Saturday night we went out because one of Caroline's friends was visiting. On Sunday we relaxed, went to 7pm mass, and then out for a beer after with some of the church-goers. It was a really fun weekend!

I am really excited to start to be able to go into court. It's neat talking to lawyers and clients on the phone and through email because you get a sense of their stories and struggles with the cases. However, I think it will be very eye-opening to actually experience litigation and do some client intakes at the local courthouse. I wish I could share more anecdotes about the cases I've been working on, but there's confidentiality I must legally abide by.

I did promise some photos of the apartment though. So here's a few!

 View into my bedroom

 One sitting area

 Communal computer/office area

 View into our massive living room area


Augustinian Banner

The rest of this week will be spent continuing working up my new cases, following up on case pitches to attorneys, and continuing preparation for Pro Bono Opportunities Day. It can be stressful at times, but I definitely prefer being busy over not having enough to do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections." - Saint Augustine

This post is a testament to the fact that I have survived my first full week of work! It was technically a four day week, since we had Labor Day off, but I have quickly discovered that the 9am-5pm routine can be quite exhausting. I get up around 7am each morning and get ready and get home around 5:30pm. We share in the chore of cooking dinner, but I hate to call it a chore because it's one of my favorite times of day. I love spending time with my community members because even if we're sufficiently exhausted, we never cease to be excited about food!

Hannah, one of the staff members, was at our apartment Tuesday through Thursday in the evenings. She was doing the monthly site visit, where we have one-on-one meetings, a community meeting, some training and discussions, and dinners together. She took us out for dinner on Thursday evening which was a nice change of venue and menu. I specifically requested cake maybe ten to fifteen times, though, and Hannah failed to deliver. Sigh. My community and I was determined to find and purchase funfetti cake and chocolate frosting last weekend and rest assured, it happened.

This past week, aside from the excitement of baking a funfetti cake, Katharine, Caroline and I walked around Olde City where we live for "First Friday." First Friday is a monthly tradition in Philly where lots of small shops and vendors have their artwork on display or their stores open from 5pm-9pm. There are also lots of different jewelry and products for sale and different foods and snacks available. We went in search of the places that offered free glasses of wine. Definitely a fun time, and we plan to go even earlier next month!

Here's a photo of us from Friday night:

On Saturday we ventured to the Piazza to watch a free concert. Imagine Dragons were there (which apparently is a relatively popular band?) There was a beer garden and we hung out with the large crowd of hipsters, high school kids, and every else in between. We met up with Jimmy, a fellow AV-er who is serving in South Africa beginning in January, since he lives in the area. It rained (actually let's be honest, it POURED) while we were there. There was hail in the forecast but I think we luckily missed that. All in all, it was still a fun time. We went back to the apartment after with Jimmy and a few of his friends from Villanova and ordered a couple of pizzas. Then him and his friends left and the three of us went bar hopping for a few hours.

Here's a photo of the us with Jimmy before it stormed:

On Sunday we went grocery shopping. Living on a budget can be stressful, haha. We now have like $50.00 left to get through until the 30th. But it's all about getting creative, or hoarding from other sources, whatever works... For instance we went to mass on Sunday night and there was a BBQ after. The great thing about being connected to the church is they are very apt to give us leftovers. And we NEVER refuse. Brownies, cheesecake, chips, pretzels, we'll take whatever comes our way. After a staff meeting last week the director gave me the rest (like 20) of the massive pretzels to bring home too. It's strange, at almost any function in Philadelphia people eat warm pretzels. I also requested the cheese sauce, which made my boss laugh, but nonetheless she handed it to me with no hesitation. :)

All in all, things are going well! I'm becoming more and more comfortable with the city and know my way around - at least to an extent. I am having a lot of fun getting to know my community members and taking over our massive apartment. I'll post some of photos of the inside of the house soon. As for the work site, everyone is super nice and welcoming at VIP! A few new interns and a staff member began on Tuesday and we all had a couple days of extensive orientation/training. There's also a VIP tradition of "tea" where staff gets together, typically in the kitchen, for about a half an hour and hangs out. Sometimes there is food and sometimes they are themed, but the only catch is you cannot discuss anything work-related. We had a tea on Friday celebrating the new staff members and interns and we played two truths and a lie. There was also a tea this morning celebrating two recent birthdays in the office. Cake at 9am. Hey, I'd never refuse cake, any time of day! I also have made my first client phone calls and am in the process of learning how to refer cases to volunteer attorneys. Essentially you 'pitch' the case to several attorneys and hope someone will take it, as there's so many cases to be taken by needy clients. I was pretty nervous to do my first intake (interview) with a client but it's a learning experience. You can always call the clients back, and usually it's a lengthy process before it goes to case review. I have a few other projects I am in the midst of as well, including some data entry and working on Pro Bono Opportunities Day (PBOD for shore) which is VIP's signature training in celebration of National Pro Bono Week. Attorneys come for a breakfast with prominent judges and themed trainings. The hope is that they will take a VIP case within six months of the training. VIP offers monthly trainings on different topics as well, and I am going to attend a Probate training on Friday to get a feel for the process.

Here's a picture of my cases I have been working on:

Tonight we are going to make grilled ham, tomato, and cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for dinner. My favorite :)

OH, and hey I'm famous:

Monday, September 3, 2012

"By changing nothing, nothing changes"

It is the final day of my three day holiday weekend. It is really rainy and icky outside, so it's a great day to just lounge and watch television and relax. My community and I were talking about how strange it is not having homework or a paper or some assignment hanging over our heads. I guess the "young professional" life is pretty snazzy in some ways...

I had my first day at my service site on Friday! I was really nervous about getting lost (I assume if you know me at all you know that I have quite possibly the worst sense of direction in the entire world) so I attempted to do a dry run on Thursday afternoon. Well there are only two SEPTA lines) (which is the name of the subway system in Philadelphia) and I STILL managed to get on the wrong one initially. In my defense, I put a $10.00 bill into the token machine and was supposed to receive six tokens and some change, according to the directions. I only received four and was rightfully upset so I awkwardly talked into the microphone to the SEPTA man in the box and he had me fill out a form for a reimbursement to be mailed, etc etc. By the time I did that, I saw a train coming and just figured it was the right one so I hopped on. To my dismay, I realized that it was going the opposite way, but I was able to get off a few stops later and switch directions. Alas, I was happy I did do all of this Thursday instead of Friday morning before work.

I felt really welcomed and excited when I arrived on Friday morning. The staff were all very kind and full of advice and questions for me. I was happy too because they set an orientation of sorts schedule for me that will last through a lot of next week. It was kind of strange starting on a Friday before a holiday weekend, but it ended up being a low key day and a good time to get somewhat acclimated to the worksite, my office, and some of my coworkers. I am so pumped to have my first office! I set up my phone and voicemail, and learned that whenever someone leaves a voicemail it is sent as a copy to my email so that you can listen to it on the computer. How nifty is that? I learned a little bit about what I am going to be doing. I am a pro bono case manager for the LawWorks team, working specifically on homeownership claims. I think it is a fancy title for a paralegal. The staff is in the middle of strategic planning, so I will be able to attend meetings and also have the responsibility of helping formulate goals and ideas for the coming year. I am considered a full time staff member and therefore part of the team. There are a variety of interns starting tomorrow and in the coming weeks so I will have some training sessions with them, but since they are part time they are doing different types of work. It's neat that I am actually a staff member, even though I am certainly the youngest one of the bunch.

This weekend my community and I mostly just relaxed. We watched some television, caught up on sleep, cooked a few meals, went to mass, played Trivial Pursuit (that game is still extremely difficult in my opinion!), and went out one night to a local club called Silk City. I am excited for my first real week of work!