When Melissa Wong stepped into Law School in California about a decade ago, she envisioned herself working in a private or government firm, never for a non-profit.
But that didn’t happen. After graduation, she found herself back in Hawaii and without a clue which path to take. A friend suggested applying at Legal Aid. It was an easy decision for Melissa, having interned here as a Summer Law Clerk.
“What I do is very rewarding and meaningful. I’m glad I followed my friend’s suggestion. I’m grateful that God had a different path for me,” shares Melissa, now the Senior Staff Attorney in the Public Benefits Department at Legal Aid.
“I know that every day I come to work I can have a big impact and make a difference in someone’s life.”
That someone could be a jobless father, a food-insecure mother, an abused child, a financially strapped kupuna, or a homeless family.
Thousands of people seek Legal Aid’s services every year. Melissa directly supports families get back on their feet and those who face barriers to obtaining the social service benefits they need to help themselves.
It has been five years since she started; Melissa’s passion to help has not wavered. She is a staunch advocate for education, constantly encouraging her clients to be pro-active.
“I try to empower them that they could make a difference especially if they experienced injustice,” says Melissa. “They have a powerful voice.”
One client that stands out is a woman who has been claiming social security benefits since 2017. Her physical and mental a disability would certainly qualify her for social security, but she kept getting denied. Melissa stayed with her, appeal after appeal, until they were granted a hearing. In July this year, after four years, the woman finally got approved.
“We both cried when we found out,” says Melissa.
This September, Melissa won another appeal for a client whose GA benefits were terminated by the Department of Human Services. DHS had refused to qualify her based on her physical or mental disability. Melissa strongly argued for the case, and they won.
With these success stories, and many more, Melissa admits she couldn’t see herself working anywhere else. She loves her work and the clients that she serves.
“When I come home after a day’s work, I feel satisfied. There’s a special satisfaction you feel knowing that you helped someone.”