Kathy Lenzmeier: Honoring the First Recipient of the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award

Kathy Lenzmeier, The Advocates’ Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award Recipient

Kathy Lenzmeier, a longtime volunteer and former board member of The Advocates for Human Rights, is the first recipient of the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award. The award was created as a legacy to Marlene and honors individuals who represent the gold standard of excellence in volunteerism, philanthropy, and advocacy.

For the past decade, Lenzmeier has been devoted to the mission of The Advocates and her commitment is evident through the impact she has had locally and internationally. Lenzmeier is currently retired from her work in the commercial insurance industry and, today, devotes a great deal of time and energy to working with The Advocates in protecting human rights. This month I had the opportunity to speak with Lenzmeier about her work with The Advocates and was amazed by her long-term devotion to serving her local community and its organizations.

Ten years ago, Lenzmeier became involved with The Advocates through their project supporting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in Nepal. Lenzmeier became interested in Nepal when trekking in the mountains with a friend and so when she saw that The Advocates was involved with a school in the Kathmandu Valley, she immediately wanted to help. The Advocates partners with Educate the Children-Nepal to provide impoverished Nepali children in the Kathmandu Valley with a free education, daily meals, and health care check-ups. Lenzmeier first visited the SPCS in 2012 and has visited four more times since. It was a “very rewarding experience,” Lenzmeier said when describing the positive outcome of her volunteer work there: equal access to education regardless of background, gender parity, and a continued partnership with the school. During her trips to Nepal with The Advocates, Lenzmeier interviewed school leadership, teachers, and students about their experiences at the school and was able to spend time with community members. Lenzmeier’s most recent visit to the school was last fall: “One highlight was being able to see the alumni who came back to visit. There was a nurse, someone working in hotel management, an engineer and a teacher.” She added that she was moved by the fact that “many of these alums were traveling for their jobs to other countries as professionals rather than laborers.” Lenzmeier relayed to me that “today, the school has around 340 students enrolled… and that it only costs $250 to educate one child.”

In addition to her work on the Nepal project, Lenzmeier served on The Advocates’ Board of Directors for nine years, serving on the Development Committee and the Executive Committee. Kathy is currently chairing a committee focused on increasing the sustainability of the organization and the reach of its work. Beyond her work with The Advocates, Lenzmeier also contributes her time to multiple other Minneapolis-based organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and active in the local art scene.

Before ending the interview, I asked Lenzmeier if she had a favorite part about volunteering with The Advocates. She immediately responded that her favorite part of volunteering was the chance to work with the staff. “When I was on the board … I was most impressed by the staff – there isn’t turn over, they are so committed, they are so qualified.”  She then added that she admires “how careful [The Advocates are] with their money. How they can stretch a dollar so far in defending human rights throughout the world. And doing it locally, nationally, and internationally – it is very impressive.” While Lenzmeier admires the staff and the work done at The Advocates, The Advocates are beyond grateful to her and for her work.  

Thank you, Kathy, for all of the work that you do with The Advocates and in your community. The Advocates are excited to present to you the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award for your continued commitment to human rights and social impact.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

Angela Liu: Celebrating the Work of Our Volunteers

Volunteer attorney for The Advocates For Human Rights, Angela Liu, at the United Nations

Angela Liu, a Chicago-based lawyer at Dechert, is one of the many inspiring volunteers that make the work of The Advocates for Human Rights possible. While Liu is a partner in Dechert’s Trial, Investigations and Securities team, she also has an impressive pro bono practice, devoting hundreds of hours a year to helping those in need. I had the opportunity to speak with Liu earlier this month about her work as a volunteer with The Advocates, which has not only had a tremendous impact on the lives of others but also significantly impacted her own life as well.  

She shared that when volunteering for The Advocates, you might go into a project wanting to help other people, which you do, but you leave the project personally gaining much more than expected. For the past several years, Liu has participated in a number of projects for The Advocates, including a 2015 domestic violence monitoring mission to Montenegro and a 2017 United Nations Study-Advocacy Tour to Geneva.   

Liu participated in The Advocates 2015 domestic violence mission to Montenegro, where she was a part of a team that carried out fact-finding to monitor and document the Montenegrin government’s implementation of domestic violence legislation. While in Montenegro, Liu spent a week interviewing judges, doctors, mediators, police officers, and victims to better understand the current condition of domestic violence in Montenegro, all of which were used to serve as a basis for final report published in 2017. As Liu noted, The Advocates generated a “very detailed report in terms of how many people lacked the education about what domestic violence was.” She then added, “we wanted there to be more training on domestic violence with different NGOs and we wanted amendments to the criminal laws to make sure that the victims were actually protected.” One of Liu’s most memorable moments of the trip was an interview she conducted with a mediator: 

“We were just asking about the mediation process and they told us that ‘domestic violence is a style of communication between the parties and that the victim is choosing to be communicated in that way – through violence.’ And that really just struck me so horribly because he was just explaining it in the most normal way.”

During her travels to Geneva for The Advocates’ United Nations Study-Advocacy Tour, Liu lobbied members of the Human Rights Council regarding the death penalty, domestic violence, religious freedom, and discrimination issues. She also made an oral statement to the Human Rights Council regarding conditions in Eritrea. Reflecting on her time at the United Nations, Liu told me she got “a sense for how fragile things are,” particularly when considering how the system must work to protect the many around the world whose civil and human rights are constantly under threat.  

When I asked Liu what she liked about volunteering with The Advocates, she had endless praise for their work:

“First, I love the people and I love how knowledgeable the attorneys are there. I cannot even imagine the breadth of what they do. I think, for me, I had done a lot of volunteer work prior to law school but I had never had the exposure on the international scale, but … seeing on an international scale how you could effect change was incredible … It is really empowering to do, what I consider to be pretty small things, like an interview, but then see that it can affect change on such a large scale … I don’t know of any other organization where you can really do that.”

She then told me that she feels that she has grown so much as a person through the volunteer work that she has done with The Advocates. She left me with this final thought: 

“Just because you are a big law lawyer doesn’t mean that you can’t do this kind of work. We have the responsibility to do this type of work. Particularly for myself as an Asian American female at a large law firm, I feel a responsibility to help people through the judicial system, and to break different barriers for so many different generations.”  

Thank you, Angela, for all of the work that you do with The Advocates. Your enthusiasm is infectious. You might feel that you have benefitted from being a part of this community, but this community has definitely benefited from you being a part of it.  

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.