Student Profiles: Julie Slabinski
After working at a court of common pleas, Harrisburg student Julie Slabinski confirmed her desire to become a lawyer.
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Giving Back With Grace

Caren Sydnor and Damiano del Pino.

Widener Law’s popular community service program Wills For Heroes is inspiring in its can-do attitude of generosity to the community. Law student Caren Sydnor, arguably the program’s most enthusiastic student cheerleader, embodies that same giving spirit.

Sydnor, 31, has volunteered at six Wills For Heroes document-preparation events since she learned of the program in the fall of 2011, when she joined the incoming Widener Law class. She spent the day at the Nov. 17, 2012 event just three weeks after giving birth to her third child.

Wills For Heroes has deep personal meaning for Sydnor, who has had family members and friends employed in law enforcement. The program provides wills and other end-of-life planning documents, at no cost, to first responders in the state of Delaware. It draws on volunteers from the school and the legal community who – under Widener Law’s sponsorship coordination – draft, witness and notarize the paperwork at the document-preparation events.

In addition to volunteering her budding legal skills at the events, Sydnor is constantly looking for ways to spread the word about the program. She’s organizing an information table for the Blue Rocks baseball team’s law enforcement night, she actively seeks out speaking opportunities for herself or 2011 alumnus and program coordinator Damiano del Pino, and she looks to pursue marketing opportunities through places first responders frequent – like their credit unions.

“They do a great thing for the community and their country, but I don’t think they realize how important it is to have these documents in the event of a tragedy,” Sydnor said of the first responder clients. “It’s a subject they don’t want to approach, but they need to and this program makes it as comfortable as possible for them.”

Model of Perseverance

“Caren is unbelievable, inspiring and impressive,” del Pino said. “Her energy, dedication and tenacity are remarkable.”

Sydnor experienced an epidural-related spinal cord injury during the birth of her first child, and with the help of a grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation began therapy at Magee Rehabilitation, through Jefferson Health System, to learn to walk again. After the injury she went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in legal studies, a master’s degree in information systems technology, information assurance and began thinking about law school.

She would later start the Sydnor Locomotor Training Fund at Magee, to financially assist others with the same critical therapy that was part of her rehabilitation. Today, she moves about the Delaware campus with the help of two canes.

Sydnor went on to have two more children after her injury, including a son during the fall 2012 semester. Clearly one who is not easily discouraged, she earned admittance to Widener’s class of 2014 after proving herself through the Trial Admissions Program in the summer of 2011.

“It is unbelievable how much she has accomplished and has continued to take on given her physical, family and educational demands,” del Pino said. “Don’t ever tell her she is taking on too much or that she should not do something. She will do it with renewed vigor just to show you she can. She’s a great lady.”

Sydnor carries a full course load. She also serves as an intern in the Veterans Law Clinic, and is an avid participant in the Martin Luther King Semester of Service program, doing polling place assessments for compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and teaching civics classes at William Penn High School. She embodies the Widener Law spirit of civic engagement.

“My problem is I tend to take on too many pro bono opportunities,” she says with a smile.

But Wills for Heroes is a favorite. She already knows when she graduates she’ll keep volunteering with the program.

“It’s never going to stop,” she said. “With that, and any other things I can do in the community.”