Each year millions of refugees make the difficult decision to flee their homelands in search of a safe place to call home. For Adam Varro, an associate in our litigation practice, volunteering his time on the Board of Directors of Adam House to help refugees establish new lives in Toronto has been a rewarding experience. Adam House is more than just a shelter. The sense of community and friendship the envelops anyone who walks through their doors is shared by the staff, volunteers and residents – many of whom come back as volunteers themselves.
Tell us how you got involved with Adam House?
I was looking for a summer job in my first year of law school. My church’s young adult Facebook page posted an ad for a Volunteer Summer Teams Coordinator with Adam House through the Canada Summer Jobs program. It looked like a good opportunity to get involved with an organization doing good work for vulnerable populations. I applied and got the job. The following summer I worked for Adam House on a part-time basis, and then I was asked to join the Board of Directors in 2018, where I have served since along with eight other board members.
In your volunteer role on the board, what are your activities and what do they involve?
As a Board member, I attend quarterly board meetings to discuss all matters relating to the operation of our properties (we now have three). Projects that the Board has discussed this year include the acquisition of our latest property (Booth House) and planning out a renovation project on the main property. I also assist in between meetings on sub-committees to provide strategic advice. I also try to stay active with Adam House simply as a member of the community. I attend their events throughout the year, including World Refugee Day, the Scotiabank Charity Challenge Run, and Friday night socials. I have gotten members of my church involved in these initiatives as well.
Given your busy schedule what motivates you to stay involved?
It’s the people that keep me motivated to stay involved. It can be difficult to set aside the time for my volunteer commitments, but I always feel fulfilled when I turn to my work with Adam House. Everyone on the Board is committed to helping Adam House thrive, and many board members have been serving for many years. Beyond the Board, I love seeing and interacting with the residents of the house, the staff, and the volunteers. There is a certain bond we all share in that we’re working toward the same goal of helping refugees and making the transition to Canada easier for them. I’ve gotten to know various refugee families and individuals, many of whom have transitioned into comfortable and successful lives in Toronto and the GTA. Knowing these people have endured such hardship in their country of origin and seeing them approach life here with such positivity helps me remember how important this work is.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does? Adam House gives refugee claimants more than a place to live, but a sense of community in an otherwise isolating and stressful time. Adam House supports refugee claimants financially, socially, and spiritually, addressing needs and meeting them. This requires time, patience, and creativity, and I am fortunate to be a small part of that good work.
What advice would you give to a new lawyer who is looking for an opportunity to give back to their own community?
Think about the causes you’re passionate about and how to leverage any community involvement or networks you already have. You may not realize your unique skills and knowledge could be very helpful to an organization. You sometimes just need to ask if they need help. My primary sources for volunteer work are my church and the connections I made through my law school extracurricular activities. Keeping an open mind and staying in touch with people you enjoyed working or volunteering with can sometimes lead to really interesting opportunities. That is how I remain connected to Adam House, the Fair Change Legal Clinic, and Pro Bono Ontario.
Does this experience with Adam House give you a different perspective, which you can bring to your law practice?
It helps me understand the specific needs of non-profit organizations from the perspective of a client. I see how important legal advice is to Adam House’s everyday operations, such as a compliant employee manual, and larger scale things like acquiring a new property and Building Code compliance. It helps me bring a greater sense of duty to my practice when I’m advising clients on the best way to move forward in their disputes. While many of Adam House’s matters can be dealt with by the organization’s staff and directors, many require legal assistance, and that can be invaluable in resolving issues in a timely manner. Most of the subject matter I deal with through Adam House does not relate to my litigation practice at all, but I have been able to assist fellow board members and staff on a preliminary basis with certain legal questions. I often realize that I am maybe the only lawyer that some people know.
To learn more about Adam House visit www.adamhouse.org