Helen Poitra-Chalmers is our marvelous November Volunteer of the Month!
Helen can truly do it all. Not only does Helen lend her talents to the Landlord/Tenant Hotline by helping Alaskans with their critical housing needs, she also serves as an essential member of ALSC’s fundraising committee. We are so thankful for the passion, determination, and inspiring ideas that Helen continuously brings to the table! Check out our interview with Helen below:
Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?
Having a background in nonprofit legal services, I honestly never considered it an option to not volunteer with the local Legal Services organization! I currently serve as one of the Landlord/Tenant Hotline operators and on the Jammin’ for Justice Fundraising Committee for ALSC. In addition, our firm is co-counsel with ALSC on a complex CINA matter representing a Tribe and would-be Tribal Member adoptive parents. Getting involved is something that just comes naturally to me, as I really value community. But given that I’m an associate in private practice, I need to manage my time without over-committing. The set time of my monthly Hotline shift makes it easy to get my pro bono hours in without the risk of taking on too much. (The CINA case, well, that’s another story, but it’s so worth it for our firm to advocate for the ICWA rights of one of our longstanding Tribal clients.)
What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and/or the community?
I love talking with the Hotline callers! It is so gratifying to have folks call in with problems that are really weighing them down, and that likely are impacting other aspects of their lives, and then work together to craft a workable and empowering solution that meets their individual goals. Housing uncovers a lot of personal vulnerability for both tenants and small-scale landlords. It’s often a real challenge for Hotline callers to separate their emotions from the legal question presented. I am so happy to serve Alaskans from all over the state to validate their concerns and then help them work to identify what a realistic resolution could look like. It’s a particular honor to be able to talk with Elders, disabled people, and victims of domestic violence who may face even more difficulty accessing legal help, but are disproportionately burdened with legal needs.
How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?
Developing familiarity with common Landlord/Tenant issues has proven helpful in improving my continuing service on the Hotline, as well as with other pro bono clients we work with at Fortier & Mikko. It also makes me a better friend to have when someone I know has a question about dealing with their landlord or tenant! Working one-on-one with people who are overwhelmed by an important issue in their lives is an essential lawyering skill that we all need to consistently hone. I am confident that my Hotline service has helped develop my interviewing and fact-finding skills, as well as helped me identify the practical hurdles many low income folks have with tasks I as a lawyer may take for granted – like getting the appropriate forms without access to the internet, or perfecting service.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’d like to give a shout out to the ALSC crew for their tireless efforts to assess and foster access to justice across the state. Serving on the Jammin’ for Justice Committee has also showed me that they know how to have a good time! I truly appreciate the effort ALSC puts into fostering pro bono and leadership opportunities for young lawyers, and look forward to helping with bigger and better efforts in the years and decades to come.