Dwyer Arce – MICAH House
Q. What made you decide to get involved with MICAH House and what exactly do they do?
A. MICAH House is a family emergency shelter in Council Bluffs, Iowa, housing a number of families and single parents. MICAH House just finished renovating its second floor to house about 25 single women. The program I’m involved with is called the Buddy Program. Parents at MICAH House are required to take classes about financial planning, interview skills, and the like, from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. While they’re busy, their children go to the Buddy Program where volunteers interact and play with them, and help distract them from the stress of living in a homeless shelter.
I became involved after I saw an Omaha World Herald article about the program in May 2017. I signed up to volunteer and thought I’d go once a week, but I ended up going three days a week. Then the executive director asked me to join the board of directors, which I did in September 2017. Since then I’ve been appointed the chair of the board’s governance committee.
Q. It seems there are two sides to your involvement at MICAH House—the pro bono work and the community service. What does the pro bono work involve?
A. Kutak Rock recently reviewed construction contracts related to the construction of the second floor and the construction of a permanent health center for the residents as part of a $3.6 million capital campaign. We were involved in reviewing the construction contracts and reviewing the lease for the organization that is going to provide the health services to the residents. We’ve also been involved in reviewing and revising the bylaws and other corporate documents as part of my work on the governance committee.
I think it’s important to try to help those people who haven’t had the same advantages as I have had. And I think it’s important to go out and actually do something about the things in the world that could be better.
Q. It’s a 501(c)(3), correct? That’s a separate area of law?
A. Yes. There are some attorneys throughout the firm I’ve leaned on for assistance with that aspect. Lucy Newberry in Scottsdale is very familiar with 501(c)(3) organizations and she was kind enough to provide assistance with the bylaws. The commercial lease for the health provider wouldn’t have happened without Margot Wickman here in Omaha, who provided substantial time and expertise in drafting and revising the lease over a period of months as the lease was negotiated. Jeremy Fitzpatrick played a critical role in reviewing the contract for the construction of the second floor space and the health center, and Matt Enenbach has provided his expertise helping avoid the types of liability issues places like MICAH House often face. It’s been a collaborative effort across multiple offices and practice groups.
Q. Was there a specific reason you began volunteering?
A. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never had to face the types of issues that people staying at MICAH House deal with every day. I think it’s important to try to help those people who haven’t had the same advantages as I have had. And I think it’s important to go out and actually do something about the things in the world that could be better. So many terrible things happen every day—entire families become homeless, people go hungry, children are abused and neglected—it can seem hopeless and overwhelming. But it only seems that way if you think, “How am I going to change the whole world?” The only thing you can do is go out and do something—anything—to solve a problem, even one as seemingly small as, “Who will look after my children while I learn how to make a budget?” I think a lot of people who are concerned about the world’s problems fail to realize that solving a problem like that is changing the world for an entire family.
Q. You said you’d been back in Omaha for a few years. Where were you before that?
A. Before I moved back to Omaha, I lived on St. Croix and clerked for the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands for almost four years. My dad worked for the railroad before he retired last year, and as part of his job we moved several times when I was younger, living in places like Texas, California, and Idaho. But most of my childhood was spent in Omaha. I finished my undergrad at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, went to law school at the University of Pittsburgh, and then began clerking in the Virgin Islands after I graduated. Then I moved back to Omaha when Kutak Rock offered me a position.
Q. How many pro bono hours have you completed this year?
A. I’ve completed just over 120 pro bono hours so far this year, in addition to 160 hours volunteering with the MICAH House Buddy Program. I have two pro bono clients, MICAH House and the Virgin Islands Bar Association. The Virgin Islands Bar Association is another nonprofit that was involved as an amicus curiae party in a case in the Third Circuit where the Third Circuit had to decide whether it could hear appeals from decisions of the Virgin Islands Supreme Court—the court where I clerked. As part of my representation, I traveled to St. Croix to argue before a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit, and later traveled to Philadelphia to argue before the full Third Circuit sitting en banc. The court ended up agreeing with our position and holding that it could no longer hear appeals from the Virgin Islands Supreme Court. This was an issue I had dealt with throughout my time clerking in the Virgin Islands, and I was very happy to have the opportunity to participate in the case that finally resolved the issue.
Q. Are you involved in any other volunteer activities?
A. In addition to volunteering at MICAH House, I’ve also been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands since March 2017, serving as a “Big” to a young man in the community. I also serve on the Practice and Procedure Committee and the Professional Enhancement Committee of the Nebraska State Bar Association, and on the Litigation Committee of the Virgin Islands Bar Association.