Harrisburg student volunteer honored for using her budding legal skills to help immigrants
Public Relations - Published: April 22, 2014
Widener Law is proud to congratulate second-year law student Vanessa Diaz on being named “Volunteer Interpreter of the Year” by the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center.

Diaz, 25, who lives in Harrisburg and is originally from New Jersey, began volunteering with the center in November 2013. A fluent Spanish-speaker, she has assisted PIRC clients with the abundant paperwork that accompanies an application for asylum. Many people, Diaz said, don’t know how to tell their stories in enough detail, or in a way judges can understand and appreciate.

“I help them tell their stories,” Diaz said. “It’s just like preparing a witness for trial.”

She has found ways to assist clients who aren’t just Spanish speakers, too. For example, she assisted a group of Somalians with their paperwork using the help of an interpreter. And, she has helped other PIRC clients secure pro bono legal representation from licensed attorneys.

The single mother of a 3 year old, Diaz said she has considered seeking Pennsylvania certification for court interpreting, but for now her time is devoted to pursuing her law degree, spending time with her family and keeping up with her volunteering interests. Her family hails from Colombia and Diaz says she has been surrounded by “the environment of the immigration world” her whole life.

For years she has watched her father, a small-business public accountant in New Jersey, help clients with immigration paperwork. She is motivated by the desire to help people who want a better life, hoping to assist them in overcoming language barriers that can stymie efforts to legally fulfill their dreams.

“I love to help people,” Diaz said. “I love to be involved. I never get involved hoping to get recognition. It was really a humbling experience.”

Diaz was honored during the Light of Liberty Awards Reception held March 19 at the Martin Memorial Library in York, Pa. PIRC gives the awards to recognize volunteers, attorneys and law firms who go above and beyond to assist the organization.

Associate Professor Jill E. Family, who teaches immigration law on the Harrisburg campus, served as the event keynote speaker.

Diaz is not the only student volunteer through PIRC. The organization also recognized Harrisburg-campus students Jamilah Espinosa, Benjamin Lombard, Marissa Mowery and Michelle Santos in the reception event program.

Several alumni were also among the volunteers recognized in the event program. They included:
David Freedman ’07, Harrisburg campus
Leanna Miller ’08 , Harrisburg campus
Timothy Norton II ’09 , Harrisburg campus
Andy Mahon ‘07, Harrisburg campus
Gabriela Raful ‘12, Harrisburg campus
Michelle Pokrifka ’92, Delaware campus