Alameda County
Bar Association

Volunteer of the Year (Non-Attorney) Cindy Elwell 

JFA Vol non-attorneyElwell_CindyWe are pleased to present a Q&A with Cindy Elwell, CEO/Founder of the Divorce with Dignity Network, Inc, recipient of the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC) award for Volunteer of the Year (Non-Attorney). Cindy will receive her award on May 22, 2014 at Justice for All: Celebrating Pro Bono, VLSC’s annual volunteer recognition and fundraising event. A reception, and always exciting auction, will precede the dinner program and awards presentation.  You may buy tickets to the event and see the full list of award recipients by visiting the ACBA website, or by contacting Whitney Ward at We hope you will be able to join us to celebrate Cindy’s service to the community!

Why do you volunteer with VLSC?

I volunteer for several reasons.  For one, I believe in giving back and contributing to any community in which I am involved, and actually feel that it’s an honor that I can volunteer and contribute to the Alameda County legal community.  I also really enjoy volunteering and helping people who just don’t have the resources to hire legal support.  In addition, I find this a great opportunity to learn.  Family law is always changing and I learn so much from the judges, attorneys and even the clients whenever I volunteer.

Do you have a particularly memorable VLSC client? 

Well, there are so many and some of them are just so complicated that I just wish we had more resources to help them even more.  One client who stands out is a woman who was trying to reestablish custody of her children.  She had been a drug addict, living on the street, and the children were awarded to her mother, who would have nothing to do with her.  She had been clean and sober for a couple of years, and just kept coming back to the  General Family Law Clinic at the Bananas Center in Oakland every year or so to try to establish custody of her children.  It was a difficult battle, and very sad, as she believed her children were being abused.

What other community activities are you involved in? 

  • The California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA):  I’ve been a member of this organization since 1995 and stay quite involved. I recently taught a class on the forms used in beginning a Family Law Dissolution case. I also used to volunteer in the Oakland Law Library one night a month through a venture with CALDA and the Law Library.
  • The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
  • Wednesday Morning Dialogue (WMD):  a women’s organization I’ve recently become involved in since I moved to Marin County
  • Organizing for Action (OFA) in Marin—I volunteer occasionally
  • Unity in Marin

What are you listening to on your iPod now?

Well, I don’t have an iPod but I do listen to motivational recordings on my iPad.

What is one thing that you wish people knew about VLSC? 

I wish people knew that in most family law cases, the client has to be their own advocate and really try to understand their legal matters.  They truly represent themselves, so they must look for their own solutions.  It’s difficult and complicated to depend on the court to resolve everything when you’re representing yourself.  The court does a really good job of trying to help, but the client has to take each step, so it’s very important to understand each of those steps.  I think a lot of times, clients come to the clinics thinking that they can just hand over their problem to the VLSC volunteers, and get frustrated when they find out they can’t do that and really have to be involved in handling their own case.

I also wish that people were more aware of VLSC and what it does for the community.

 For more information on volunteering with VLSC or to donate, please visit the VLSC page on the ACBA website.