CCH’s legal staff asked our summer law interns to reflect on their work this summer.
Their short essays follow.
By Harry Chipeta, Jr. (John Marshall Law School)
During my time at the coalition this past summer, I had a great experience helping homeless individuals as well as learning just how the law can help better shape the lives of people in unfortunate situations. My first lesson was understanding just what the term “homeless” truly means. It is not just the person sleeping on a street corner or someone asking for money on the train. Homelessness also includes students whose families live doubled-up with others to avoid living on the street or in shelters, those who do live in shelters or motels as well as those living in their cars or other public place or in temporary foster care.
Working with students was the most rewarding part for me this summer. From helping them with school fee waivers that they might not have known existed to helping students affected by the closing of Talent High School transition into other schools, I felt my summer was productive and made a difference in a lot of students’ lives.
As I worked with my fellow interns, I often wondered just how much of a difference we were making in the communities we were serving. I received my answer at an STLS training session that one of our supervisors (Beth Cunningham) was a speaker. While there, a lady in charge of STLS told a story of how the staff members of the coalition stood outside Philips High School and passed out fliers regarding fee waivers. As a result of this presence, Philips ended up paying for STLS student’s fees to attend prom. I was so happy because I was part of the staff that went out to various schools giving out this information. She also mentioned that the coalition scares CPS so they need to be honest with STLS students about rights that they have in order to avoid dealing with us. This reassured me that the law does indeed make a difference in people’s lives and I could not wait to come back to school to continue my studies so that someday, I can continue to effect this difference.
I would like to thank Rene, Beth and Patricia for helping me and my fellow interns enjoy this life changing experience. I would like to thank the rest of the staff members at the coalition for making the place feel like family, especially with those Monday morning all-staff meetings.
By Ashley Varnado, Public Interest Law Initiative (St. John’s University School of Law, Queens, NY)
I had a once in a lifetime experience this summer interning with the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. What I enjoyed most about my experience is that there was no ideal day. On Monday I might be on Lower Wacker Drive looking for a client, on Wednesday passing out brochures on the city’s West Side to students and parents about their educational rights, and on Friday conducting legal research.
While I have always wanted to work in education law, I had no idea how vast the area of law focusing on the educational rights of homeless students was. Even though the laws are on the books, I quickly realized once my internship began that the very people who the laws were tailored to protect have little to no idea of their existence. During my time with the Law Project I was able to change this. I participated in a number of community outreach programs where I was able to inform Chicagoland residents about legislation that was passed to ensure that their children had equal access to the same education as their housed peers. I helped a number of families waive fees that they were unfairly charged, apply for better schools after their children were the victims of school closings, and enroll students in preschool programs. With every brochure I passed out in front of a school and each parent I was able reach by phone, I made a difference.
This summer reaffirmed for me that I want to practice education law. As I stated above, the laws are there but strong lawyers must work to enforce them. If I was able to help such a large number of people during my three month internship, I can only imagine how many people I can reach throughout an entire career.
By Nicole M. Scott (John Marshall Law School)
It has been an absolute privilege to be able to work at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless this summer. As a Law Project intern, I was able to learn, in much detail, about the McKinney-Vento Act and about the rights afforded to homeless youth who are seeking to obtain an education.
The most exciting experiences for me this summer have been between working with the families of Chicago Public Schools students who were in the Students In Temporary Living Situations (STLS) program at the Talent Development High School (now closed).
I also enjoyed working with the staff at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. We worked on a policy for schools to implement that will assist expectant and parenting students in finishing school and help assist them in receiving similar educational experiences as regular students.
Through working with the STLS students in particular, I was able to build bonds with families, while being able to educate them on the rights afforded to them while being homeless. I was further able to assist them in getting their child(ren) into the schools they desired and out of schools that they were thrown in as a result of the school closings.
All in all, my experience this summer has been life changing. No matter where my legal career ends up, I will always make sure to give back to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, as this organization’s mission is one that is much needed in today’s society.