Outreach and Advocacy: Caroline Critchfield
Caroline Critchfield works in our Clarksburg office at Legal Aid of WV (LAWV), where she is a paralegal and dedicated advocate whose work spans multiple areas of our services. She came to West Virginia by way of New York—the Bronx—which is why, she explains, she is not afraid to stand up for herself or for anyone else.
Caroline came to LAWV in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, from the medical field. She was working in Morgantown, commuting from Clarksburg, and her commute and work schedule were demanding and difficult. She decided it was time for a change and has always had a heart for advocacy for marginalized folks in her community. She quickly became a part of the LAWV family, like she had never been absent.
Like many LAWV paralegals, Caroline’s work is not limited to one area, and she serves a broad swath of counties in northern West Virginia. She helps people apply for benefits like SNAP, Medicaid, IDD waivers, and social security. She also helps with issues like overpayment, driver’s license reinstatement, re-entry for incarcerated individuals, and often researches issues depending on clients’ needs.
“I do what I can to help people,” says Caroline. “I collaborate with LAWV staff. I have LAWV mentors who help me, and I’ve had many cases where I did well for my client because of that mentorship. I am grateful to Legal Aid for taking a chance on me. I found my calling here. I love my job. I love what I do, and words can’t describe how dedicated I am to my work.”
Reaching Out to Community
A crucial role in positions like Caroline’s is outreach to community partners and client groups—a job Caroline jumped into headfirst.
“I’m not afraid to put myself out there,” she says. “I love advocating and reaching out to my community and have always done it; that’s where my heart is.”
Caroline has been nominated multiple times for Hometown Hero, both in Morgantown and Clarksburg. She is a staunch advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community and has a reputation as someone who will help wherever needed, as she was once looking for help and resources herself.
Caroline’s son, Michael, is trans. As a teenager, his dysphoria was overwhelming, but Caroline’s acceptance helped him, and their relationship became stronger.
“I didn’t know much about the LGBTQ+ community until my son came out as trans. I had to teach myself. I asked if I could attend meetings at the WVU LGBTQ Center, and I learned a lot of information and was so excited to share what I was learning. It was important to me to learn how to advocate for the LGBTQ population because of what they face, and I particularly wanted to focus on suicide prevention. I make myself available to talk to trans kids and their families anytime. I let them know they are important, loved, and they are needed here. And I try to refer them to other resources like therapists.”
Caroline attends PRIDE events in her community, along with her son, when he can make it. Since she started working for LAWV, she takes information about resources available and has become a dedicated and involved member of LAWV’s Diversity Task Force, focused on ensuring West Virginia’s marginalized communities can find services in a safe environment when they come to LAWV.
Caroline also attends community dinners, library events, and works with groups like United Way and HOPE, Inc. (a domestic violence shelter serving northern West Virginia).
When West Virginia American Water announced Clarksburg residents were at risk for lead contamination in their water, Caroline sought out more information for the safety of her family and pets. As a result, Caroline and her Clarksburg colleagues began distributing information about getting water tested for lead as far and wide as possible. She still attends meetings on the topic to make sure she’s up to date on information.
“Whenever there’s an event in my community that I think could reach LAWV’s potential clients, I invite myself,” laughs Caroline. “It’s important to get the word out; a lot of people don’t know we’re here.”
A Story from Caroline’s Client
Amos applied for help from Legal Aid of WV, and his case was assigned to Caroline in 2021.
Amos received disability benefits, and shortly after he started getting them, Amos took custody of his grandson, whose mother was not in a position to care for him. Now with his grandson living with him, Amos received some benefits to help cover the cost of caring for a child as part of the WV WORKS program.
One day, Amos got a phone call from the Social Security Administration (SSA) office, asking him about his finances, specifically what he had in the bank, and he answered honestly, not thinking anything of it.
“They came back and said, ‘You have too much money,’ The next month, they just shut off my benefits. They didn’t tell me ahead of time or anything,” says Amos. “I decided to try to make it until I was old enough to get my social security benefits.”
But six months later, things changed again.
SSA reached out to Amos and told him he owed the agency $10,970.00 because they overpaid him. Amos immediately jumped into problem solving mode and saw he had 60 days to appeal, so he went straight to Legal Aid of WV.
“For me, I get a phone call. I tell them the truth, and they yank my benefits, no questions asked,” he says. “So I came up here to Legal Aid because I needed help.”
Caroline worked to reach out to SSA multiple times, but the pandemic limited her ability to get in touch with staff, who were working remotely and not as responsive. It took her months to get through to someone who was willing to review Amos’s case, but she finally got an interview set up to review his case.
After the interview, it was clear Amos’s termination of benefits was a misunderstanding, and within days, his full benefits were reinstated, with some back pay.
“Caroline always kept me informed and returned my calls,” says Amos. “She never left me hanging. She did everything for me. I don’t know where I would be without her help. I should really take her flowers or out to dinner—I owe her so much.”