Four Moritz Students Receive Prestigious 2006 Equal Justice Works Grants
Melissa Will '06, Tracy Simmons '06, nominator Prof. Katherine Hunt Federle, Director of the Justice for Children Project, Cybele Smith, Director of Public Service and Public Interest Programs, Rachel Shapiro '06 and Lori Turner '06
Founded twenty years ago by law students, Equal Justice Works (EJW) is dedicated to "working for equal justice on behalf of underserved communities and causes." Every year, EJW provides summer and postgraduate public interest opportunities to more law students nationwide than any other organization. The four students chosen this year from Moritz College of Law will use their EJW grants to work with low income and special needs clients.
Rachel Shapiro, Tracy Simmons and Lori Turner have all chosen to focus on the special needs of children while Melissa Will plans to work with those at risk of becoming homeless. Instrumental in helping these four students through education and application processes were Professor Katherine Hunt Federle, Director of the Justice for Children Project, and Ms. Cybele Smith, Director of Public Service and Public Interest Programs.
Rachel Shapiro's decision to work in the field of special education law was solidified after her internship with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. During her internship, she worked closely with juvenile delinquents, their guardians and caseworkers. This coupled with her undergraduate work with autistic children made Rachel realize that students with special education needs, especially those with delinquency issues, who come from low-income families often face a lack of access to free and appropriate education. Rachel's two-year project, funded by the Chicago Bar Foundation, will focus on providing legal representation for children that have unmet special education needs in Cook County, Ill.
Tracy Simmons decided to work to provide legal advocacy for low-income families after an experience while student teaching in college. A young girl asked Tracy for help; the girl was being physically abused by her mother's boyfriend. After spending the day helping the girl meet and speak with the proper authorities, Tracy was disheartened to learn that the police decided to send the girl home. Because the boyfriend did not officially reside at her home, protocol dictated that the situation be monitored and they could not remove the child from the home. Tracy walked away from the situation wanting to be an advocate for children. Tracy's project will involve her working in conjunction with the Child Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. Tracy will provide legal advocacy for low-income families who are facing custody relinquishment. In 2004, more than 900 parents relinquished custody of their mentally ill children in order to gain access to mental health care services in Franklin County. Tracy hopes to help "ensure that the educational and medical needs of children with disabilities from low-income families are met."
It was Lori Turner's experiences in a Compton, California classroom while working for Teach for America that led her to law school. While there, Lori saw first hand the overcrowded conditions of inner city public schools. Classes that were meant to address special needs children in fact did not address any of their needs. One large makeshift classroom was set up in an auditorium where a chaotic atmosphere prevailed. Little if any learning was happening in these "individualized instruction" classes. Often children were coloring or watching a video, many of whom still did not know their ABC's despite being in the fourth grade. For Lori's project, she will work with the Children's Initiative of the ACLU of Illinois. There, Lori hopes to leverage existing agreements to petition the Illinois Department of Child & Family Services to design and implement proper initiatives to better meet the education goals of children in state care.
Melissa Will's background in volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens spurred her desire to work with social service organizations to better assist the homeless population. While working at "The Other Place," a homeless shelter, it became apparent that social workers are not always aware of the resources available for legal assistance. Melissa will work with the Ohio State Legal Services Association to create "a tool for preventing homelessness." She will develop a series of training programs for employees of social service organizations. These programs are aimed at helping the social workers to better recognize the legal problem(s) a client may have and how to start the legal aid referral process.
These four students would be eligible to receive further assistance thanks to the Moritz Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP): a new initiative launched in December 2005 designed to assist students seeking full-time public interest jobs.
For more information about LRAP, Equal Justice Works or any of our four recipients, please visit www.moritzlaw.osu.edu/communications/erecord/2005-06/0116/ejw.html.