WORTHINGTON — Less than a month after being named a finalist for an Initiators Fellowship offered through the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation, Worthington lawyer Erin Schutte Wadzinski has been named a fellow.
In an announcement released Wednesday, the foundation’s vice president for entrepreneurship, Jeff Wig, said all 15 finalists had “tremendous social enterprise ideas that hold so much community- and business-building potential for Greater Minnesota.”
Each finalist was evaluated on leadership potential and the strength of their social enterprise idea, with seven fellowships awarded. Each fellow will begin a two-year program through the foundation in January, and receive an annual $30,000 stipend.
“I’m honored that the committee believes in me enough to invest in my vision for expanding immigration legal resources in southwest Minnesota,” said Schutte Wadzinski, whose fellowship proposal is to establish an immigrant-focused law firm in Worthington. She will now work to make that dream a reality.
“A private law practice specializing in immigration law is a much-needed resource in our area, and I am grateful to have the Initiative Foundation's support in this new venture,” she added.
During the two-year fellowship program, Schutte Wadzinski will receive mentorship, training and guidance, as well as a monthly stipend to support the establishment of Kivu Immigration Law PLLC.
The name for her office, Kivu (pronounced KEE-voo), is named after an African lake located on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“My visit to Lake Kivu in 2016 resulted in some deep reflection on how I wanted my personal values to help guide my career goals,” Schutte Wadzinski said. “To me, career fulfillment is found in making a positive impact in the world around me.”
For the past year, Schutte Wadzinski has worked as an immigration attorney in Worthington for the nonprofit Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. Over the next few months, she will transition to working full-time at her own firm, to be located downtown. The grand opening of Kivu Immigration Law PLLC is anticipated to take place in early spring.
At this time, Schutte Wadzinski plans to employ one bilingual staff member, with hopes to expand in the future.
“We will assist clients with naturalization and citizenship, lawful permanent residence, DACA renewals, family-based immigrant visas and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for unaccompanied minors,” she said. “In the longer term, I hope to offer legal representation for detained immigrants with removal orders and asylum seekers.
“My goal is to be a nimble firm able to react to new immigration policies and adapt to shifting trends in the local immigrant and refugee communities in the region,” she added.
Schutte Wadzinski is a 2008 Worthington High School graduate. She attended Yale University and earned her law degree from the University of Connecticut. She and her husband, Tyler, moved to Worthington a year ago to pursue their careers. He is a chemistry teacher at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
“When I became interested in practicing immigration law, I made the deliberate decision to move back home to Worthington so that I could use my skills to assist an underserved community that I know and love,” Schutte Wadzinski said. “Even though one-third of Worthington’s residents are foreign-born immigrants (the highest percentage anywhere in the state), there are no private law firms in southwest Minnesota that practice immigration law.”
Kivu Immigration Law PLLC will address the current shortage of immigration services in southwest Minnesota so people won’t need to travel to Minneapolis or Omaha, Neb., for legal assistance, she added.