Sunday, April 14, 2013

United in Mind and Heart

As I sat comfortably on the sofa during the first day of orientation, the Director announced, “You have all been afforded the opportunity to serve this year. And you had better believe it is an opportunity--you are all extremely lucky to be sitting here today.” I remember being taken aback for a second. It was probably the first time I had begun a service experience where I was not simply being reaffirmed of my good nature or thanked for committing myself to the betterment of others. Though I may not have realized it at the time, that was exactly what I needed to hear going into this year.

Indeed, back when I was beginning my last semester of college, I considered attending graduate school, taking a full-time job, or pursuing a year of post-graduate service. I eventually chose to dedicate myself to the Augustinian Volunteers. Service has always been a large part of my life, and during this time of life transition, a year of post-graduate volunteering seemed like the best avenue for growth. Going into the program, what I knew for sure was that I would be serving full-time at a legal services agency and I would be living with two other volunteers in “community.” At the time, I did not realize all that the term community could encompass, but I can now say with confidence that it is much of the reason that I more fully understand what it means to desire to live a life in pursuit of justice.

In the Augustinian tradition, community is where people unite in “mind and heart.” Each night my community members and I share dinner, stories, and life experiences. We serve as volunteers in different organizations, but what binds us together is our commitment to create a more compassionate world. The idea of community is not only exemplified in my home life; it is embedded deeply into my service site as well. Each day, I work as a homeownership pro bono case manager for the LawWorks Team at Philadelphia VIP, one of the largest pro bono legal services agencies in the country. When I first joined the office, I was surprised to find that there are only about fifteen full-time staff members. Despite so few employees, however, thousands of clients are assisted each year. It helped me realize that the work that I am doing can--and does--have a momentous impact.
Sometimes that impact manifests itself on a very basic, human level.

For instance, during a recent conversation with a client whose mortgage payments were being refused by her lender, I explained that I was not an attorney and thus could only offer her limited legal advice. She sighed, and while I prepared myself for her disappointment, she actually replied, “You’re listening to me, and that’s all I can ask for.” I was instantly reminded of that first day of orientation. This was the kind of opportunity that was afforded by our service--the kind of opportunity we are fortunate to have.

During my time in service thus far this year, I have constantly been inspired: by the stories my community members share, by my coworkers’ commitment to justice for the under-served, and by the work that our volunteer pro bono attorneys do on a daily basis. They give countless hours of their time to assist low-income clients who otherwise would go without necessary legal representation. This is the reason I want to enter into the field of public interest law. I want to join a community of lawyers who are trained and skilled, yet passionate about combating social justice issues that challenge so many peoples’ access to legal aid services. This year has afforded me an opportunity to unite in “mind in heart” with my community members, coworkers, clients, and volunteer attorneys – and I am truly blessed to be able to experience this sense of community on a myriad of levels.