Helping Goudy: The Chicago Bar Association’s Adoption for Change
By Mercedes Pino
Mercedes Pino is an associate editor of The Affiliate and the Director of Career Services at the St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Not so long ago the William C. Goudy Elementary School (Goudy) located in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood was considered one of the most challenged schools in the United States. In October 2003, the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) adopted Goudy and continues to assist the school in various ways.
The Affiliate had the opportunity to speak with William “Bill” Oberts, immediate past chair of the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (YLS) and an associate with Tribler, Orpett & Meyer, P.C., who briefly described the history of the program. “Five years ago the CBA adopted the William C. Goudy Elementary School, which is named after the first CBA President. As part of its adoption through the Chicago Public Schools, the YLS assisted Goudy in many ways this year,” says Oberts.
Dan Cotter, Vice-President and Deputy General Counsel for Argo Group US, Inc. and a past YLS Chair, has been involved with the program since its inception. Cotter, current Co-Chair of the CBA’s William C. Goudy Elementary School Committee, explained that the CBA adopted Goudy because “Goudy is a melting pot school with more than thirty languages and countries represented. They had a real need. [The] first years, we bought them musical equipment that they now play for us each holiday visit.”
Explaining his involvement, Cotter continued, “Over the years, I helped champion getting the school adopted, have participated in a number of Christmas parties where we have handed out gifts to the primary children, and have been involved in Lawyers in the Classroom [LIC] going back to 2003–2004. LIC is a program where we visit different grades and discuss the Constitution and the letter versus the spirit of the law.”
Oberts added that the YLS puts on various programs at Goudy throughout the year. For example, “Over the summer the YLS painted an old classroom and turned it into an Art Room. In September, the YLS collected school supplies for Goudy that provided all fifth grade classrooms with everything they needed for the coming year as well supplies for the new Art Room. In October, leadership from the YLS and CBA participated in the ‘Principal for a Day Program’ at Goudy and became acquainted with the principal and children firsthand. YLS members also regularly visit eighth grade classrooms in the spring to discuss the Constitution and law and to administer an open book U.S. Constitution test as part of the LIC program.” Oberts recounted, “In December, several YLS members, including YLS [Journal] Co-Editor Justin Heather as Santa, were treated to a lively assembly of first through fifth graders who used musical instruments donated by the YLS to accompany themselves during a variety of holiday songs. Santa and several volunteers then read and acted out ‘ How Did Santa Get His Job?’ for the group. YLS members also teamed up with Goudy during the YLS’ ‘Dear Santa’ Campaign by answering and distributing letters to all students in the second grade who wrote to Santa seeking a present.”
When asked about his favorite programs at Goudy this year, Oberts responded, “I enjoyed all the projects we held at Goudy this year. I think the projects were a well-rounded approach at assisting the school in various respects. Overall, we painted classrooms, collected/donated school/art supplies, acted as principal for a day, educated the students on Constitutional law, answered ‘Dear Santa’ letters for all of the second grade classes, and held a holiday party.” Cotter’s favorite program is the “holiday visit.” “We read a story and get to have a good time interacting with the students. I also love LIC, because it gives a great chance to interact with the students and address their questions about the law.”
According to Cotter, the program is successful as a result of the efforts of twenty-to-thirty volunteers who give freely of their time. In addition, Cotter stated, “The Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago gives us a pocket constitution for each student, as well as some exercises designed to talk about law. But . . . this [project] really comes down to pure volunteers.”
Cotter explained that he has remained active with the program over the years because “[i]t is great meeting the students, and getting to answer their questions and to discuss important concepts with them.” It is also “a great way to give something back and give many students their first positive introduction to the law.”
Oberts echoed this sentiment: “I would recommend adopting a school and/or simply implementing one or more of the above projects at a local school that may need assistance. I think any affiliate member will receive personal satisfaction knowing they helped change the life of a child.”