When it comes to personal commitment, Michael Noguera doesn’t shy away from hard work.
It was a hot August Saturday when he and his fellow first-year La Verne Law students arrived for a community service project at Mary Vagle Nature Center in Fontana. Noguera had already been up since first light, preparing to move his wife, three children and all their possessions from temporary accommodations in Rialto to an apartment near the law school’s Ontario campus.
“We’ve been in a hotel since we moved down from Modesto last Wednesday. I started packing the U-Haul early this morning” said Noguera during a break in activity. “As soon as we’re done here, I’m going back to get things done and unload at the new apartment.”
When it was suggested he had a good excuse for opting out of the service project, Noguera shook his head and offered his thoughts on the coordinated volunteer effort.
“I think this is awesome. We get to come out and bond and help out the community. That’s what it’s all about,” he explained. “One of the tenets of the law school is about helping. I’m excited to be here. It’s not about how long the day is; I like helping out in the community.”
La Verne Law administrators, faculty and staff joined with the 1Ls and transfers pitching in at the city-operated facility located in southern Fontana. Buoyed by high spirits and supplied with tools and directions from the center’s staff, the assembled work crew spread mulch, weeded, cut back brush and trimmed brush.
According to Tiffany Anderson, in her third year on staff at the center, the time put in by the law school volunteers will allow the city’s landscape department to focus on other essential projects. This crew wasn’t what she typically sees from most groups lending a hand at the popular community resource.
“Most of the time we’ll have high school groups that are part of the school’s environmental club,” Anderson said. “The fact these students are going so far out of their comfort circle, helping the environment, shows widespread desire to do service throughout the community.”
Brook Bodart, a 1L enrolled in the evening program while working at the Center for Oral Health in Pomona, is involved with community service learning as part of her job. That gives her a great appreciation for the purpose of La Verne Law’s service commitment.
“Any time a school can get involved in the community, it shows they have roots in the community and that they care about the community they serve,” Bodart said. “A lot of the law is about serving people. Anything you can do to assist them is wonderful.”
While pleased with the day’s turnout, Issac Carter said the effort is just the beginning of an expanded commitment to service at La Verne Law. In his first year as the law school’s director of Student Affairs, he has plans to have monthly projects – Service Saturdays – where students, faculty and staff can take part in a variety of outreach options.
Carter is challenging this year’s student body to do 1,500 hours of service between now and the end of the 2015 spring term. That works out to 10 hours by each of the 150 enrolled. Next year he looks to doubled that with 3,000 hours total. By the time this year’s 1L class is ready to graduate in spring 2017, he wants to have La Verne Law students up to 10,000 hours of community service and pro bono work combined.
“These students are the future leaders. They are the people who are going to be establishing our laws and our rules and governing our society,” Carter said. “We want students who understand and value the purpose of community. We’re not after people who just want to receive honors. Most people we look up to and celebrate in life were givers. You don’t have to be great or famous to serve.”
As she searched the grounds for weeds, 1L Brenda Hernandez admitted this was not what she envisioned when deciding to study for her Juris Doctor two years after receiving a bachelor’s in criminology from the University of La Verne. “I never imagined this would be part of earning my J.D. But I love it,” she said. “Just to help the community makes each of us a better person.”
Nearby, Jendayi Saada, professor and assistant dean in charge of the Center for Academic Support & Bar Readiness, stepped back to admire the work she and others had done in pruning shrubs. It inspired her to speak of the direct relationship between the day’s efforts and the role she and her fellow faculty members play in the students at La Verne Law.
“I think it looks better. We made some order out of chaos,” Saada said. “It’s kind of like working with new students. They come in and are kind of chaotic. When they leave they are nice, orderly attorneys.
“Hopefully we are shaping them into really great members of the bar and larger society.