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Attorneys find fulfillment helping orphans

Marilyn Odendahl
December 19, 2012
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One is a tax attorney and the other is a litigator. One works for a large national firm and the other is in solo practice.
 

helpingcrop-15col.jpg Nelson Vogel, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in South Bend, helps make concrete at the Pwoje Espwa orphanage in Haiti. (Submitted Photo)

Nelson Vogel, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in South Bend, and Scott Weathers, attorney in Indianapolis, have never met, never crossed paths in a courtroom. Yet, both lawyers readily give their time and attention to youngsters who live in impoverished countries and mostly want just to talk and play with someone.

One is teaching baseball to orphans in Haiti, the other shoots hoops with orphans in Romania. Both return home enriched.

Manual labor

Twice a year, Vogel finds himself stuffed into a van with nine other people and their luggage rumbling over the roads to the southern peninsula of Haiti. The trip begins with an hour and a half flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Port-au-Prince then progresses to the five-hour van ride.

At the end of the journey, he and the other volunteers arrive at Pwoje Espwa, an orphanage housing hundreds of children in Les Cayes. When Vogel steps from the van, he is known as “Mr. Nellie,” and he is put to work doing anything from painting to building a new kitchen.

“What I enjoy the most is going down there, spending a couple of weeks and doing some manual labor,” Vogel said.

The focus of his trip and the underlying reason for his service are the children. He likes being around kids and he has long harbored a desire to help youngsters in third-world countries. Although he has difficulty articulating what draws him to do such work, he traces it back to the values his parents instilled in him and to his realization of how fortunate people in the United States are.

Vogel searched for several years to find a way to help before a colleague directed him to Pwoje Espwa and its sister charity in the U.S., Free The Kids. The orphanage was founded in 1998 by the Rev. Marc Boisvert. It began as a small house for “street boys” but has since grown into a campus that includes housing for the children, schools, an agricultural center and a small medical clinic.

Some of the orphans are true orphans – their parents are either dead or missing; others are economic orphans – their families could not afford to care for them.

“The kids are happy kids,” he said, noting they are fed three times a day, they sleep in a warm bed, and they are being taught skills so they will be able to make a living as adults. “And they’re loved which is the most important thing.”

For the 10 days Vogel is there, his daily routine begins early (the morning may include Mass at 6 a.m.) and winds down about 5 p.m. when he and the other volunteers congregate around the kitchen before dinner.

Among the jobs he has been assigned was helping to build a new girls’ dormitory. Everything was done from scratch and by hand. Instead of cutting open bags of cement, the crew made the concrete by mixing dirt and sand.

Punctuating the days are the children who, Vogel said, just glob onto the volunteers. He and another volunteer from California have taken on the task of converting the youngsters from soccer enthusiasts to baseball players.

The kids all love to take a turn at bat, but when a ball lands in the outfield, it quickly becomes a pseudo soccer ball and the kicking begins.

In addition to the baseball equipment, Vogel also once lugged a couple of Creole-to-English dictionaries for the students at the orphanage to use.

From trip to trip, the children remember him, and as he packs to leave they want to know when he will be back.

 “The smiles on their faces,” Vogel said, “it’s just really rewarding.”

Spending time

For at least a month after Weathers returns from one of his mission trips to Romania, he has a difficult time getting angry enough to quarrel with another attorney. Leaving the U.S., breathing the air of the different place, and meeting new people have become the antidote to his hectic profession.


helping-weathers-15col.jpg Attorney Scott Weathers (in van), is pictured with (from left) Jack and Karen Ellett, Romanian Pastor Iosef Pop and his wife Alida Pop and Diana Fultz on a mission trip to Romania. (Submitted Photo)

Weathers has taken two 10-day trips with Zionsville Presbyterian Church. He was inspired to become more involved and take a mission trip after reading the book, “Radical.”

The church has an active outreach program and offered him the option of going to South America, Egypt or Romania. He chose the Eastern European destination because that trip was focused on relationship building, which is much of what he does in his practice.

Weathers first went in 2011 and signed up again for the 2012 trip.

“The reason I like going, it’s like our job as lawyers can sometimes bring out the best in us and sometimes, at least for me, bring out the very mediocre in me,” Weathers said. “Getting out of the obsession of the law and seeing the world helps me have a better perspective so my mediocre side comes out less often.”

Joining a small group from the church, he visited seven to eight sites. The stops included an orphanage and a gypsy camp.

He had a private room in the orphanage and remembers watching the youngsters go to school each day. Because the country has few teachers and classrooms, the children went in shifts with the elementary students in school from 8 a.m. to noon followed by the high school students from 1 to 5 p.m.

When school was out, Weathers played basketball with them, sometimes took them shopping, and even had a pizza party.

“You want to take some kids back with you,” he said.

At a youth camp he visited, the teenagers peppered him with questions about what life is like for American teenagers. They also played ball and sometimes brought out a guitar to accompany a sing-along.

The orphanages are no longer the squalid places they were under the former Communist regime. However, the conditions in the gypsy village were deplorable. Cardboard houses and unclothed toddlers with flies covering their bodies are the images Weathers remembers.

His group provided food and clothes, and encouraged the children, particularly the girls, to go to school. Gypsy girls as young as 13 are getting married, and it is not unusual for some to become grandmothers by their late 20s.

Planning for the October 2012 trip began in February. On his calendar, Weathers just blocked out the time as if the trip were a trial, and in the weeks leading up to the departure he crammed more work into his daily routine.

Yet, he admitted, when he returns his desk is full and he briefly wonders why he ever left. Then he looks around with a new perspective and finds little to get angry about.

“The kids just want you to come,” Weathers said. “They want to see hope. They appreciate the different organizations in the United States giving support, but they just want to spend time with you.”•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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