Wenfei Cai is the inaugural recipient of Legal Aid's Carl L. McConnell Summer Fellowship, established in memory of the late Carl L. McConnell, former Reginald Heber Smith Fellow (“Reggie”) and Managing Attorney at Legal Aid, honoring his commitment to legal services for those with limited resources, and his dedication to mentoring.
Summer internships are a great way to take what you have learned in school and apply it to everyday life. Internships provide context for one's studies and can help confirm career goals. I had a chance to do just that this summer through my internship at Legal Aid. In law school, to excel meant enduring endless hours of studying, sleepless nights, and anxiety. However, these feelings went away when I met with people in desperate need of legal assistance. Without Legal Aid's help, our low-income clients may not know what to do next. Therefore, being able to provide advice and guidance for them was very satisfying and confirmed my goal to be a public interest attorney.
My internship gave me the opportunity to see first-hand how government programs work. I spent the first few weeks attending Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide students with disabilities a customized study program that fits their needs. As a team, our job was to align the programs the school districts offer with student's needs. By working with parents, teachers, and medical providers, we help identify the child's needs and ensure that the child receives appropriate services to succeed in school.
We also help low-income people with public benefit programs created to support their needs. For example, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a government funded program that helps low-income people who are aged, blind, or disabled. Legal Aid provides support to those who qualify for SSI but are unable to receive the benefits for various reasons. In addition to SSI, we also help low-income families access healthcare through Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program.
The US has people from all walks of life and culture. One of the nice things about this internship is that I was able to use my native language to help the Chinese community in the Bay Area. There are a lot of resources available to immigrant families. However, it may be difficult for immigrant families to understand the relevant materials and make an informed decision. I had the opportunity to translate for some of our Chinese immigrant clients. Explaining law in a different language has its challenges - not only did I have to understand the materials in depth, I also had to put forth a deliberate effort to translate materials as close to their intended meanings as possible. Despite the challenges, by speaking the client's native language, I was able to create a stronger connection between the clients and Legal Aid.
Looking back at the experience I had this summer, I feel extremely proud to be a part of Legal Aid and to have contributed to the community in the best way I could.