When Paralegal Odella Oliver began at Maryland Legal Aid, it was 1965 and Maryland Legal Aid's Baltimore City office was located in the Peoples' Court Building (now the District Court of Baltimore at Gay and Fayette Streets). This was a very exciting time for Odella, who transitioned from her role as an office manager to one of Maryland Legal Aid's first paralegals. In this new role, she began helping clients with issues including family law, consumer law, Social Security Disability, divorce, and unemployment. Odella worked in Maryland Legal Aid's Family Law Unit from 1971-1973 and then transferred to the former Mental Health Unit where she traveled to state mental health facilities and provided legal assistance to patients until 1979. During her time working in the Mental Health Unit, she earned her certificate in Paralegal Studies.
Odella worked as a paralegal in Maryland Legal Aid's Administrative Law Unit from 1981 until the day she retired on February 17, 2017. She successfully represented clients at
administrative hearings, obtaining Social Security benefits for adults and children, as well as medical assistance, unemployment insurance, and public assistance. She also was involved in cases where she secured waivers for clients in overpayments of benefits,
reinstatement of benefits, and resumption of benefits cases. Odella shared, "The work has been stressful, complicated, extremely challenging, and at times, frustrating." She recalled that on a few occasions, Administrative Law Judges would try to persuade her to come and work for the Social Security Administration as a writer of
judges' decisions. "But I was never interested in working anywhere else because of my desire to help as many clients as possible."
Conni Bright-Gordon, Chief Attorney of Maryland Legal Aid's Administrative Law Unit said, "Odella has successfully represented thousands of Maryland Legal Aid clients in social security and public benefits appeals. Her successful advocacy has made a difference in our clients' lives, between income security versus homelessness, food on the table versus food insecurity, access to health care, and the ability to clothe and shelter their loved ones. Many people do not know that Odella prayed for her clients and for a successful outcome before every hearing that she attended. She has helped train many staff attorneys in social security advocacy and she was relentless in her pursuit of justice for her clients. Odella has been the face of Maryland Legal Aid for many people for 50 years, and she has earned a lovely, tranquil, and long retirement. The Administrative Law Unit will always be grateful for Odella's leadership and guidance."
In 1997, Odella received the Charlie Award in recognition of her commitment to uphold Maryland Legal Aid's mission and values, and in 2010, she was selected as one of the keynote speakers at Maryland Legal Aid's Equal Justice Council's Managing Partners breakfast. She was also honored in 2011 among the 100 Human Rights Champions at Maryland Legal Aid's Centennial Celebration for her dedication to the fight for equal justice and her ability to make a difference in the lives of so many.
Odella shared these final thoughts before her reitrement:
The years have passed swiftly as I have loved and enjoyed the best job ever! I am amazed at my many accomplishments. I am forever humbled, thankful and grateful to my Lord Jesus for empowering me to give my best in representing my clients throughout the years. It has been a real pleasure working with such wonderful people who have shared the same aspirations for getting the job done. Legal Aid will forever be an integral part of my life as I hold dear many fond memories of great staff members, special events, and clients.
We are now facing unsettling times, and clients need legal services more now than ever. So be encouraged and stay in the fight for justice. I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to management for affording me the opportunity to serve our clients and my colleagues for their support.
Maryland Legal Aid wishes Odella a happy retirement and all the best in her future life adventures!