Above and Beyond: A Client Story

186H (1)Sui Tlang* was first referred to the Clinic through several different partner agencies that were already working with her. As a young girl living in Burma, she was orphaned and grew up in a refugee camp near Thailand. While in the camp, she received little education and never learned to read or write in her native language. No one ever even tried to teach her English. When she got older, she was married and had two sons, but was soon widowed.

Finally, she and her two boys were resettled in the United States. But the transition proved quite difficult for Sui and her family. On top of the language barrier, Sui was also diagnosed with several mental health disabilities that prevented her from seeking employment.

Due to her inability to pay for housing, Sui was forced to move multiple times, which only exacerbated all of the other existing issues. She was denied Social Security; she didn’t know how to reapply for Food Stamps and her coverage lapsed. The situation seemed hopeless. But that’s when her caseworker at Visiting Nurse & Hospice, who was referred to her by the Health Commissioner for the Allen County Department of Health, brought her case to the Legal Clinic.


Ft. Wayne Office Staff

Attorney and Director of our Fort Wayne Office, Desiree Koger-Gustafson, handled Sui’s appeal for Social Security benefits, which the judge eventually granted. Throughout the whole process, Desiree was moved by how committed everyone was to assisting Sui, although it was such a difficult case. Various volunteers worked many, many hours, offering to give Sui rides as she needed them. The Burmese translator who made communication possible worked extra hours as well. And the various partner agencies and visiting nurses were not willing to give up on Sui. “I’ve just never seen everybody work together quite like this,” Desiree says.

Fort Wayne Paralegal & Volunteer Coordinator, Catherine Warney, echoes this sentiment. “It is miraculous how many individuals came together in assisting this particular client. The Spirit of the Lord is working through us all,” she says. “I am particularly thankful to those individual caseworkers who have gone out of their way time and time again to make sure the client makes it to her appointments, ensuring the client is properly taking her medications, and just being there for her when she needs them.”

Desiree and the Clinic don’t shy away from difficult cases. In fact, Desiree considers it part of her duty to help those clients. “A lot of times people overlook the cases that are hard because they’re going to take more time,” she says. “Good or bad, a lot of times those are the clients, those are the cases I seek out because no one is going to help them if I don’t.”

To learn more about Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic’s Fort Wayne Office, please visit our website.

*Client name has been changed