Growing up, my career goals were always focused on public service. During my undergraduate studies at Mercy College, I jumped from major to major trying to find the tool I could use to help my community. It was not until my senior year interning with the District Attorney’s Office in Yonkers, New York, that I realized I could commit to a career in law. One attorney I shadowed treated every victim as an opportunity to bring them a voice. This was the most impactful community service I had witnessed and I knew this was my desired future.
After graduation, I returned home to Seattle, Wash. Although inspired by the court system I did see inequalities in prosecution rates. I wanted to use my time after graduation for public service and serve the families of the prosecuted. I spent the next year in AmeriCorps VISTA, working with the Children of Incarcerated Parents Program. I visited the majority of prisons in Western Washington and became close to the families and offenders. I realized that there were more victims outside of those represented in the courts.
I spent another term with AmeriCorps, working as a reading coach in Seattle Public Schools. In many ways the inequalities I saw in the court room were not far from those in a first-grade classroom. This time it was children who were being influenced, which only fueled my fire to make a difference. Becoming a Thomas More Scholar is an honor that has made these goals attainable.
I applied to Gonzaga Law School because of its strong public interest law program and emphasis on social justice and, as an older student returning to school, I was thrilled just to be admitted. Receiving a Thomas More Scholarship was an unexpected and extremely humbling honor, and I hope to use my law education to pursue my interests in disability law and labor law.
Since graduating from Reed College in 1999 with a BA in Psychology, I have worked with homeless men in a shelter, determined eligibility for Medicaid and Food Stamps for the elderly and disabled, and helped abused and neglected children as a Child Protective Services worker in both Oregon and Washington.
My exposure to disability rights has been in the context of helping my clients. I have carried specialized caseloads of mentally ill and/or developmentally delayed children in foster care, sought supportive housing for homeless and mentally ill adults, and utilized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to advocate for the educational rights of disabled children. Witnessing how the disabled – and specifically the mentally ill – are ignored by society and government agencies has frustrated me numerous times over the past eleven years, and it has led me to this path in becoming a more effective advocate.
Protecting workers’ rights has also been an interest of mine and I became involved with the union as a State of Washington employee. In 2008, I became an AFSCME shop steward for my office and, in 2009, I was elected to the Executive Board of AFSCME. I have participated in Demand to Bargain meetings to fight massive layoffs in my division, and in Labor-Management meetings to address blatant safety issues in my workplace. My involvement in the union also provided me with opportunities to lobby the Washington state legislature, including providing testimony to a House sub-committee regarding devastating cuts being proposed to child welfare services. I have seen how the efforts of a few people can keep the workplace safe, prevent unnecessary layoffs, and influence legislation, and this has also led me to seek becoming a more effective advocate.
I am extremely grateful to the Thomas More Program for the opportunity to attend law school on this scholarship. It is my goal to continue serving communities as a public interest attorney, specializing in either disability rights or employee rights.
While community service work has always been a part of my life, it wasn’t until I was an undergraduate at Boston College that I decided to dedicate myself to public service work. As a (fellow) Jesuit University, there was a strong emphasis on social justice, public service, and becoming “men and women for others” within the courses and the larger school community. As a sociology major, I was able to explore the intellectual theories and philosophies on many of the social issues facing our world today and my desire to find ways to address these issues deepened. During my undergraduate years, I was able to work with a school district in its day care program; in government-funded housing for formerly homeless, HIV-positive residents; in an agency in Cambridge offering assistance to people to help find shelter, jobs, or government assistance; and with Catholic Charities in their battered-women housing program, homeless shelter, and with their fundraising campaign for donations.
While I have worked with many different populations, I decided after graduation I wanted the opportunity help the senior population because they are so often forgotten yet are in great need of strong advocates. When I returned to Spokane after graduation, I worked as a social worker at an independent living community operated by Catholic Charities of Spokane. While I greatly enjoyed my time in this position, and working with this demographic, there were many situations where I wished I could do more for my residents than what I was able to.
Throughout my work with many different groups, it became clear that many underlying problems people experienced were rooted in relatively uncomplicated legal issues and yet it seemed there were not enough strong advocates with command of the justice system who were fighting for them. This is what made me decide to attend law school. I want to be an advocate for the people who need it the most and I am honored to be a part of the Thomas More program which will help me achieve this goal.
Since attending Oberlin College I have believed that to most effectively change the world, one must start at home. Toward that goal, I spent the past seven years teaching science and doing community organizing in my hometown of Port Angeles, Washington. I worked at the grassroots level with my community to improve our relationships to each other and the land. I engaged myself in movements for indigenous rights, immigrant rights, anti-racism, peace/anti-war, sustainability, watershed conservation, ecological restoration, climate justice, and democratic governance.
In particular, I worked on youth education in collaboration with the Elwha Klallam community through the Elwha Science Education Project. I am honored to have co-taught with Elders and educators who are sharing their traditional knowledge, in particular the Klallam language, with the future generations of their community. I hope that in the future I can continue to support the Klallam community by defusing the prejudice in my own community.
In working for social change through education, I saw limits to the emancipatory power of education created by larger social, legal, and economic systems. While I value the direct service of being an educator, I am more drawn to the challenges of systemic change. I decided the practice of law is the most powerful way for me to work toward social justice.
Learning the law is an incredible investigation into the governing mechanisms of our society. I intend to use the knowledge and skills I learn at Gonzaga, in combination with community organizing and teaching, toward developing a free, egalitarian, and ecological society. Doing democracy is a process of building communities of empowered people. Thus, I see my future work as not just progressive policy-making, but also creating a community where many people work to make social change.
Shortly after graduating from the University of Hawaii with a joint major in International Business and Finance, I spent several months studying and traveling in China. I was able to volunteer at an orphanage and worked with severely disabled children. This experience convinced me that my life needs to be spent serving those in difficult situations. What I have to offer, however small it may be, can benefit someone.
Following my time in China, I joined with two women and began teaching English in a refugee camp in North Africa. Our program focused on providing a place for young women to go to for an hour or two a day. Because of the societal norms for women in that culture and that fact that, for most, schooling stopped after sixth-grade, they spent the majority of their day at home working to care for their siblings, to cook, and to clean. My classroom provided a place for the girls to exercise their mind, socialize with their peers, and begin to realize that they can make a difference in their society.
My four teaching terms in North Africa reaffirmed my passion for serving and advocating for those in difficult situations. It also helped me realize and refocus how I could go about doing this. I hope to able to serve people through the law by meeting them in their difficult circumstances and providing excellent legal advocacy.