Volunteer Profile: Adriana, on a path to change the world
Meet Adriana, an 18 year-old volunteer at Pisgah Legal who goes to school full-time, works part-time and volunteers as an office helper at PLS and teen court attorney.
“I want to be able to look back 5 or 10 years from now and know that all of this hard work got me to the place where I am happy and my parents are happy,” says 18-year-old Adriana.
And she will have a lot to reflect on. In her young life, Adriana shows a strength and determination that takes many people a lifetime to garner.
As a freshman in high-school, she enrolled in A-B Tech’s Early College program- a rigorous program in which students blend high-school and college by taking college-level courses on the campus of A-B Tech. After five years, she will graduate with both a high school and associates degree from college- at no cost to her family.
“Although it’s tough, this is really a benefit,” says Adriana. “It prepares me for a 4-year university.”
Volunteering at local businesses and non-profits is a key component to the early college curriculum, as it prepares students for the workforce by teaching independence, responsibility and establishing relationships. Adriana chose Pisgah Legal Services.
Once a week, Adriana spends 3 to 4 hours helping to screen phone calls, write social media posts, provide translation and interpretation services and whatever else needs to be done.
“Adriana is wonderful,” says Beth Herman, Pisgah Legal Volunteer Coordinator. “She is the first one to volunteer for anything, whether it’s a special event held after work hours, a project where we have to mail out hundreds of letters, or we need help translating documents. She is an exceptional person.”
Adriana chose Pisgah Legal as her volunteer placement because of her deep interest in the law and her passion for justice. When she’s not at school, volunteering at Pisgah Legal Services or working her part-time job as a front desk clerk at Wingate by Wyndham Hotel, she is busy participating at teen court at the County Courthouse.
According to the website Buncombealternatives.org, teen court is the only program in Buncombe County that specifically receives referrals for first-time offenders with the intent to reduce recidivism through restorative justice. Clients are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their offense by participating in court proceedings held by trained youth & adult volunteers. Teen court does not decide guilt or innocence but centers on lowered recidivism through restorative justice. Sanctions for clients include community service, projects, and apology letters.
Recently, Adriana passed her teen court bar exam and can now practice as a defense or prosecuting attorney for teen court. “I first found out about teen court during my sophomore year in high school,” says Adriana. “I was immediately interested. My friend who was a lawyer for teen court told me about the types of things she was doing and the cases she was working on. I get really nervous speaking in public, so I thought this would be a great way for me to get out of my comfort zone.”
Volunteering at Pisgah Legal and at teen court aligns perfectly with the path Adriana has set for herself. She plans on completing the next 2 years at a university then moving on to law school. Not leaving anything to chance, she also plans on completing her CNA certification this summer, so if she isn’t able to attend law school, she is already set up for a career in nursing.
The reason Adriana cannot leave her career to chance is because as a DACA recipient, she doesn’t have a clear path to further her education or her career. She and her family moved to North Carolina when she was 4 years old, so this is the only home she can remember. Yet, she does not qualify for in-state tuition or federal financial aid. Being exceptional in school is not only a point of pride, but also a means of cultivating scholarships so she can further her education and realize her dreams.
“Once I get my undergraduate degree, I plan on applying for law school in Chicago. There I will be allowed to take the bar and practice law as a DACA recipient. I can’t be too far away from my family.” Her hope is that by the time she is ready to take the bar and practice law, things will have changed so she would be able to practice in NC and be near her family.
“I know I’m really busy now,” says Adriana with a big grin showing off her dimples. “But I really want to make a life that will not only provide for me, but for my parents as well. My mom has worked her whole life to give me and my sister everything we have and I just want to be able to do that for them.”
When asked why she chose Pisgah Legal as her placement, her response is not-surprisingly reflective and mature. “I wanted to be in an environment where everyone was focused on helping. Pisgah Legal is amazing- they don’t discriminate against anyone- women who are fleeing domestic violence, kids, elderly people- our most vulnerable neighbors. This is what I want to do with my life, too.”
“I want to become a lawyer so I can make things better for everyone.”
Pisgah Legal Services is a non-profit providing free legal assistance for low-income people as well as services to increase access to housing, healthcare, economic security and basic needs. To find out more go to www.pisgahlegal.org or call 828-253-0406.