CITI PROJECT WORKS TO IMPROVE
UNITED WAY INFORMATION SYSTEM
The Community and Information Technology Institute (CITI) at the School of Information Studies and United Way of Central New York are piloting a unique web-based information system that will enable the agency and community organizations to better meet the needs of people living in Central New York.
The new system is being tested by several United Way agencies working in partnership with teams of students from the School of Information Studies and United Way staff. The goal is to have the system available to all United Way member agencies sometime this year, says Valerie F. Williams, United Way senior associate.
| mike prinzo|
Last July, United Way began a competitive funding system that awards funds to social and human services programs that best address community needs. This shift in focus requires agencies to provide United Way with more information than previously required about the programs’ effects on target populations, Williams says. The new computerized system is designed to streamline this reporting. It will provide an integrated, community-wide database to be used by United Way and member agencies to help identify the most successful programs, as well as community needs that are not being met.
Work to develop the system began more than a year ago when a team of graduate students from the School of Information Studies and CITI staff met with United Way staff to identify the type of system needed, the reporting processes involved, and the technology required to meet the agency’s needs. Last spring, a second team of students used the information to begin working on a prototype. A third team of students, led by Shahzad Kahn, a telecommunications and network management graduate student, is implementing the system and training staff to use it. “Technology is a wonderful tool,” Kahn says. “If you put the right information technology solution in place, you can help a lot of people.”
The solution CITI developed will connect community organizations and United Way through a web server. The software selected for the project is being provided by Microsoft, free of charge. Agencies will be able to access reporting tools and the resulting database via the Internet. “Clients need only a computer and a web browser to work with the system,” says Wayne Miner, associate director of CITI. “We’re trying to make the process as easy as possible for community agencies.”
Katie O’Brien, director of administrative services for the Salvation Army, says information gathered with the new system will be invaluable. “We will be able to clearly track the people we are serving through our programs on both an agency level and a community-wide level,” she says.
STUDENTS TAKE ON SOCIAL JUSTICE CASES THROUGH PUBLIC INTEREST LAW FIRM CLINIC
A state prison inmate suffers from a serious disease while officials deny him appropriate medical care. Native Americans are prevented from practicing their traditional spirituality in prison. A Vietnamese refugee fights deportation.
College of Law students are taking on such cases through the Public Interest Law Firm II clinic, learning their profession while providing valuable public service. “We see what problems there are in the community and try to get a legal handle on them,” says Sarah B. Fuller, the New York Interest On Lawyer Accounts Fund (IOLA) Senior Social Justice Fellow, who heads the clinic. “We use real experiences to teach the practice of law.”
Up to 10 law students per semester enroll in the clinic, and are admitted to practice under the state’s student practice law. The students handle cases under the supervision of Fuller and IOLA Junior Social Justice Fellow Rob Geyer. They meet once a week in class to discuss what they are learning from their experiences. “The students learn all kinds of lawyering skills,” Fuller says. “They interview and counsel clients, draft pleadings, negotiate settlements, conduct discovery and investigation, conduct trials, write and argue appeals, argue motions, and so on.”
Fuller says the cases also provide students with an opportunity to reflect on questions of professional responsibility, ethics, and personal morality that arise when representing a client, and give them a good look at the institutions in which they will litigate. A number of cases deal with prison conditions; a lawsuit the clinic brought several years ago against Onondaga County, New York, alleging overcrowding and poor conditions at the county jail ultimately resulted in construction of a new facility. In a current case, an inmate was put on a disciplinary diet of bread and water for violating prison rules. He was kept on the diet for three years, periodically taken off only long enough to regain weight so that he could be put back on. The man also had a painful shoulder injury that was aggravated by guards’ insistence that he be handcuffed behind his back whenever he was transported. The clinic amended a suit the man had already filed, alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as cruel and unusual punishment. “We’re claiming that his shoulder injury was a disability that should have been accommodated,” Fuller explains. “They could have controlled him just as easily with a front-cuff order, and we agree that the ADA requires them to accommodate his disability.”
Social justice fellows are funded at four law schools throughout the state by IOLA. In recent years, after Congress prohibited federally funded legal services programs from representing class-action suits, welfare cases, immigrants, and prisoners, IOLA began funding alternative programs to provide such services. Fuller notes some obvious advantages for both IOLA and the law schools with which it partners to provide legal services. “Law schools have many resources,” she says. “At the same time we hope the students will come away with a commitment to practice public interest law when they graduate.”