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Philadelphia VIP recognizes Temple’s ATLAS Program

Philadelphia VIP has named Temple's ATLAS Program the April 2013 Volunteer of the Month for its law students' commitment to providing language access to VIP clients.

For the past seven years, students at Temple University Beasley School of Law have offered to translate for Philadelphia VIP clients who are unable to communicate in English. The partnership between VIP and Temple law students was formalized last fall through the creation of the ATLAS Program.

Founded by law student Rachel Eisenberg and former VIP paralegal Michael Wooten, ATLAS, which stands for "Advocacy Through Language Access Services," provides bi-lingual law students the opportunity to serve low-income Philadelphians by assisting with interpretation, translation, and legal writing in multiple languages, including Russian, Tagalog, French, Spanish, and Mandarin.

ATLAS is now a sub-committee of the Temple Law Student Public Interest Network, and keeps a database of students who are fluent in a language beside English. When a client cannot communicate with his or her attorney in English, an ATLAS student will work directly with an experienced attorney to advocate for the client in the legal matter or case. Students like Katie Cooper and Denise Negron-Bennett have helped women in domestic violence cases protect their families and their homes. Other students have supported clients with a range of legal issues, including family law matters, housing matters, driver's license procedures, and other legal concerns.

Both Katie and Denise cited awareness of the vulnerability experienced by non-English speaking community members when navigating the legal process. For Katie, this awareness developed when she encountered personal emergencies while traveling abroad. For Denise, her experiences in the courts, working with underserved populations, and at her childrens' schools underscored the need.

Maureen Olives, Director of Public Interest Programs at Temple Law, believes that the students in the ATLAS program "solve a critical need because language access is essential for guaranteeing justice for the clients VIP serves. Our students accept the obligation all lawyers have to provide pro bono service while they are still in school. Our students understand that a client with limited English proficiency deserves to be heard."

Mariana Fernández, VIP Pro Bono Case Manager, says, "ATLAS is a great program that has allowed our volunteers and clients to communicate with each other in a meaningful way. This program promotes our mission to provide equal justice for all. We are delighted to have Temple Law students provide assistance on such an emergency basis thus allowing language access for both our volunteers and our clients."

Written by Temple Law School

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