While Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic’s main office is located in Indianapolis, there is also a satellite office in Ft. Wayne. Desiree Koger-Gustafson serves as its Director and part-time attorney, while Cathy Warney serves as the only full-time employee. In addition to her paralegal duties, she also handles reception and coordinates volunteers. “My days are pretty crazy,” says Cathy. “I wear lots of hats.”
Although her extroverted nature means she is well suited to working directly with the many clients who come to the Clinic, Cathy didn’t plan on such a career. “I never had any intention of working in the legal field,” she says. “I just kind of fell into it.” With a Master’s Degree in Business and experience working in insurance sales, Cathy found herself looking for full-time employment several years ago. Her roommate, a part-time attorney, saw there was an opening at the Ft. Wayne office and urged Cathy to apply. “It was an amazing, miraculous timing and fit for me to get this position,” she says.
Of course, there are difficulties related to being the only full-time staff member. “I’m about six arms short,” Cathy says and laughs. “The hardest part is just juggling everything.” But there are also great benefits. Cathy is proud that she personally knows each and every client who comes through Ft. Wayne's office doors, often remembering specific case notes or current status without even looking them up. “I make sure I’m 150% attentive to the people here in front of me.”
She also loves the opportunity to work with so many case types, rather than just being pigeon-holed into one area. “I have gotten to learn so many different things,” Cathy says. From immigration cases, to Social Security Disability, to adoption, to expungements, her experiences are varied. At times, such flexibility leads the Ft. Wayne office to accept some particularly difficult cases. "Desiree knows that they’re not going to get help anywhere else," Cathy says. "We are their last place to try and she’s got a great big heart.”
Cathy worries sometimes that people are nervous about going to a place like the Legal Clinic for advice, but she hopes those in need can get past their fears. “Anybody that thinks they might have legal issues, don’t be afraid to come and ask,” she says. “A lot of people wait a really long time and we’re not capable of doing things on an emergency basis.”
At times, the pressure of helping so many people in dire situations can be exhausting for Cathy. “I really feel like when I leave work some evenings that I’ve run a mental Olympics marathon,” she says. But she has a method for combating this kind of fatigue. “I have been consciously paying attention to having gratitude…just to be grateful for the ability to work with these people and help these people. That by itself is a blessing.”
Even if she never imagined this is where she would end up, Cathy is so happy with her work. “The people and cultures that I have gotten to know and to be exposed to—it’s just unbelievable that I get to do this actually,” she says. “I wake up every day and I’m excited.”
To learn more about Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic’s Ft. Wayne office and upcoming events, please visit ourwebsite.