Not everyone gets inducted into a hall of fame.
But that’s where Robinson & Cole senior associate Alaine C. Doolan finds herself these days. The honor isn’t directly related to her work as an intellectual property attorney. Instead, it’s for her efforts to provide better lives for young people who are at risk of dropping out of school because they are frequently absent.
Last month, Doolan was inducted into the Connecticut Corporate Mentoring Hall of Fame for her work with the Truancy Project of Connecticut, an initiative in which volunteers from the legal community work with frequently absent students several hours per month for one year, serving as legal advocates, problem-solvers and role models.
Doolan has not only made a long-term commitment to mentoring, but she’s launched a program that provides backpacks stuffed with school supplies to students being aided by the Truancy Project.
Asked about her motivation for getting involved in the program based in New Britain and New Haven schools, and Doolan has a simple answer. "I always wanted to be a teacher," said Doolan, who got involved with the project four years ago and is currently mentoring her third middle school student. After working with difficult legal issues all day, "it’s really nice to work with kids."
But it’s not easy. "It’s challenging," Doolan said. "There are communication issues, and it’s hard to get them to trust me."
All three of the 13- and 14-year-old students Doolan has mentored have had to grow up fast. Many of the truant students come from single-parent homes, where the one parent is seldom present. As a result, it often falls on the oldest child to serve as a caregiver for the others. "They have a lot of responsibilities other than going to school," said Doolan. "So it’s hard to get them motivated to go to school because they are already acting like adults in a sense."
While there are similarities in home environments, each girl has her own story to tell. "I had one [student] that was always late to school, and so were the siblings," said Doolan, "because they didn’t have an alarm clock and their mother was already at her work shift."
Doolan said after talking to her students, other mentors and volunteers at the Truancy Intervention Project’s New Britain office, she found a common excuse for students missing class during the first week of school was a lack of school supplies. "I wanted to eliminate at least one excuse for them not to go to school," she said.
Working alongside the Connecticut Bar Association and her firm’s R&C Cares Program, which organizes volunteer activities for employees, Doolan coordinated a drive last summer to collect backpacks, supplies and monetary donations for a project she initiated and named "B.E.E. the Best," standing for "Backpacks for Excellence in Education."
With the help of donations from friends and Robinson & Cole employees, Doolan provided 25 new backpacks — generously stuffed with pencils, pens, notebooks, binders and paper, erasers, dictionaries and calculators — to the Truancy Intervention Project. Mentoring lawyers presented the backpacks to their students during the first meeting of the school year.
"After seeing the kids and how they come to school not having anything, I can’t help but think back to when I was a kid going [school] shopping and how exciting it was," said Doolan. "These kids don’t have that — and many times, their parents don’t have enough. Sometimes they get hand-me-downs, but that’s just not the same."
The backpacks are an exciting material gift for the kids, but even more important is that they send the message to students that someone cares about them. "There is a bond between mentors and students," said Doolan. "Sure, we’re their attorneys, [but] it’s very rare that they get to court [on truancy issues], and it’s a great feeling to see when they’ve succeeded."
Doolan first mentored a sixth-grader, who seemed unlikely at first to make it through another year of school. Doolan ultimately went to this student’s eighth grade graduation ceremony, and she recalls how rewarding it was to know the girl would make it to high school. "I get as much out of it as they do," Doolan said.
In addition to Doolan being inducted into the Connecticut Mentoring Hall of Fame last month, the firm of Robinson & Cole was also recognized by being placed on the Corporate Mentoring Honor Roll.
Doolan was recognized because the backpack initiative was such "a creative effort," said the Truancy Intervention Project program director Yolanda Preysner. "She is a warm-hearted and charitable volunteer, and she takes it very seriously."
Preysner and Doolan both intend for the backpack program to continue and expand.
The goal, said Doolan, is to get another 25 backpacks for next year and to obtain enough supplies so that when the students run out each quarter, they can refill their bags. She also plans on adding an alarm clock in each bag for the upcoming school year. •
For more information on attorney Alaine Doolan’s program that provides backpacks and school supplies to at-risk students, see the "B.E.E. the BEST" tab on the Truancy Intervention Project’s website at www.tip-ct.org.