Catherine Piwowarski is a former employment litigator who now works from home in New Bern while raising her children. Catherine was called to action to help her community in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence: “So many people were left so badly off that I felt like anyone here whose home and possessions were not destroyed should help those whose were,” says Catherine. After the hurricane, she joined a crew organized by Samaritan’s Purse to clean up homes badly damaged by the storm. “The homes we went in (and under) were stripped down to the framing and sub-flooring to dry out and washed with an ammonia solution to kill mold,” says Catherine. “It was necessary, hard, dirty work.”
Catherine’s disaster recovery work transitioned into legal pro bono work when she heard that the NC Pro Bono Resource Center was coordinating pro bono attorneys to help at the Craven County FEMA Disaster Recovery Center. “I joined a group of attorneys and paralegals that met with people every Friday until the center closed,” says Catherine. “I found it equally, if not more, rewarding than mucking flooded houses because here I could use the special skills that I had as a lawyer. People presented with varied storm related legal needs, but they had in common that they had been through a stressful time and suffered major losses.”
After the Disaster Recovery Center closed, Catherine volunteered at the first FEMA Appeal and Restoration Clinic in New Bern. At the clinic, Catherine was one of twenty attorneys who served forty-nine clients who had received FEMA denials and needed assistance filing appeals or seeking reconsideration. “I felt such camaraderie with the people that I have worked with on this and other disaster legal services efforts, and it was especially gratifying that we were able to provide assistance to so many people,” says Catherine.
Catherine is motivated to do pro bono work because she recognizes the immense need for free legal services that exists and the vital role that her specialized skill set and legal education play in addressing that need. She stresses that pro bono not only serves a critical role to those in need but can also enhance one’s own life. “Pro bono work is part of our professional responsibility and reflects well on you, your practice, and the legal profession,” says Catherine. “However, ‘selfish’ reasons for doing pro bono may be the most compelling. Many lawyers have difficulty striking a healthy work/life balance and might fear that pro bono work weighs against the ‘life’ side of that equation, but volunteering is grounding, satisfying, and increases our quality of life. My guess is that most lawyers would happily provide pro bono services once they had a chance to try it. “