February 2020 Volunteers of the Month- Joy & Steve Sakamoto-Wengel

For the month of February, MVLS is excited to nominate two individuals as Volunteers of the Month, a married couple doing equally essential pro bono work in the legal field: Joy and Steve Sakamoto-Wengel.

Joy was the Pro Bono Coordinator at the Office of the Attorney General until December 31, 2019. She approached encouraging pro bono within the AG’s office with great energy and commitment and also volunteered herself, taking 54 cases from us starting in 2002. Over the years, Joy has helped clients with the following legal issues: bankruptcy, adult guardianship, name change, deed issues, foreclosure, social security, expungement, and estate planning.

Steve also has a deep commitment to pro bono. He has volunteered with MVLS since 1995 and has helped 25 clients with bankruptcy matters. Steve is a regular volunteer at our Bankruptcy Bypass Clinic, where he meets with clients to determine if they are collection proof and if so, he explains what their options are for working with creditors.   

Read below to find out why pro bono is important to Joy and Steve.

  • Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS?

We believe in access to justice for all. We believe that MVLS provides a vital lifeline to people of limited means by matching a volunteer attorney to a client with a legal issue that needs to be resolved. MVLS’ clients are our neighbors and our friends, and we want them to live their best lives. We strive to do our part to assist MVLS by helping people who come to them in need of free legal services. We also believe attorneys are responsible for providing legal assistance for those people who would otherwise have no attorney to work with them and would have no access or inadequate access to the justice system.

  • Do you have any stand out stories?

Every person’s story is a stand out story. One client needed help with changing her name after completing gender reassignment surgery. She had reached the end of one portion of her journey and was beginning an exciting new chapter in her journey. A smart, determined young woman with a bright future ahead of her really made an impact. Elderly clients with fixed incomes who lived with soaring debt were thankful and relieved to not have to live with daily calls from creditors who made them feel fear and dread because they could not repay those debts with their meager sources of income.

In addition, MVLS really demonstrated outside the box thinking when it created many different types of clinics. The clinics allow attorneys with very busy schedules to perform pro bono services within a limited period of time while providing valuable services for many people. For example, MVLS created its Bankruptcy Bypass clinic for consumers who have significant debt but insufficient income and assets while still being pursued by creditors. Attorneys meet one on one with a few individuals over a course of a few hours, which allows us to serve many more consumers than we would be able to if we instead had to file Chapter 7 bankruptcies for them, and it achieves similar results.

Another MVLS project that really demonstrates the high level of creativity and talent of MVLS staff is creation of its Homeowners clinic. Through this program, MVLS clients are now able to securely own and occupy their homes, obtain access to homeowner repair programs, and own valuable assets they may transfer to future generations. The impact of this MVLS program for low income homeowners is huge!

  • What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?

Nothing can replace the face-to-face contact we’ve had with our clients and being able to work closely with them to improve their circumstances and stabilize their lives. Equally as rewarding is being able to work with the very dedicated, skillful and knowledgeable MVLS staff who share the same goals we do.

  • Why should other attorneys do pro bono?

Other attorneys should do pro bono because they will have the great fortune to meet wonderful and interesting people who they will be able to collaborate with on something very important and worthwhile. And not only is this important and worthwhile for those collaborating, but this collaboration works for the good of our community.