Member Story: Called to Serve

My name is Phillip Koski and I am Service Corps member at the Western New York Law Center in downtown Buffalo where I assist an attorney with foreclosure and surplus monies cases. I also participate in our CLARO sessions, a clinic held twice a week to assist visitors with consumer issues. I fill out an intake form with each visitor and am able to be the first person at the clinic to sit down and talk with them about their consumer issue.

Throughout my service year, I have been shocked by the amount of direct contact that I have had as a paralegal with clients, banks, and banks’ attorneys. Coming into this experience I was worried about becoming merely a paper pusher because I would be under an attorney, but in reality the communicating is split up between us. In most cases I can say I talk to the client more than the attorney does because she is busy reviewing/writing paperwork. This has allowed me to really personalize my work and to understand that my everyday tasks have a profound impact on real lives. It’s also been a surprise to hear how grateful people are for our help. They really appreciate our generosity and the fact that we not only help them solve the issue, but that we walk them through the process every step of the way.

My biggest challenge is that as a paralegal, my work is very interdependent with my attorney. Prior to this experience I was used to (and preferred) working on my own tasks on my own time. This job does not function in that way whatsoever. When I was first assigned to attorney Jordan Zeranti, I was extremely nervous. I was not used to having to work so closely with another person, especially someone that I had only known for a couple of weeks. Over time she and I quickly developed a great working relationship, where our work styles differed, but our personalities really clicked. Throughout my time here at the Law Center, Jordan and I have become friends, and that makes adjusting to new cases and circumstances so much more comfortable.

Another massive challenge I have had this year was investing myself in this community. The political climate here in Buffalo is the opposite of what I experience in Florida. The communities here have so much diversity, yet so much segregation. Being on Buffalo’s West Side has been a real gem because of the opportunity to be placed in the middle of diversity. Being in a place that is so different from what I am used to has forced me to become more observant, and, along those lines, being from a different place allows me to see things that people embedded in this community have never noticed.

Living in a working poor community has very much changed my perception of wealth, society, and what we should be called to. It has recently become incredibly popular to oppose wealth, but I do not oppose anyone for merely being wealthy (regardless of how that wealth was obtained). Society teaches us from birth that money and things are success and happiness. It is morally wrong when people have mansions all over the place, but there are people on street corners without a bed. It’s also given me a new perspective of beauty. The well-off cover themselves in makeup, sunglasses, jewelry, etc., but there is nothing more beautiful than, through the pain, putting on the most natural of smiles.

I stood on a corner on the West Side, Grant and Arkansas. Across the street there was a man dealing drugs, a couple of people came up to me panhandling, and the buildings were deteriorated. As I looked around I thought to myself, “I could not imagine the fear a child has to grow up in such a neighborhood.” I did not recognize the area as one that was the great nation I constantly hear about. That is not an area that I would label “A Work in Progress,” it is an area that society and government have completely abandoned.

That experience has really led to me feeling called to work for these individuals, especially children. I have been accepted into the Loyola University Chicago Opportunities in Catholic Education where I will be teaching 2nd-5th grade at St. Benedict the African School in the Englewood neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago in the fall. Englewood has an unemployment rate over 20%, a poverty rate around 44%, and the average household income is only $21,000/year. I feel called to work with children in a community school where we work with families rather than just students.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -  Matthew 5:3

-Phillip Koski, CCSC Member 2015-2016