Guest post by Dale Bellitto, law student at University of Michigan Law School, who participated in MHAS’ Spring internship program in May. The students assisted MHAS attorneys at our monthly free legal clinic, completed research on housing and benefit issues, and provided advocacy and intake support.
Interning at Mental Health Advocacy Services (MHAS) this past May was a uniquely challenging and valuable experience. Mental health issues have had impacts on my life and the lives of my relatives and close friends, making my time at MHAS that much more meaningful and personal. Mental health issues are often overlooked, and when they are recognized, they often come with significant stigma. MHAS makes sure that people who are experiencing mental health challenges are not overlooked by providing them with useful legal resources, while emphasizing their autonomy.
Interacting with clients was by far my favorite part of the internship. I appreciated the variety of ways in which the staff at MHAS encouraged us to engage with clients. For example, we participated in a legal clinic in Pasadena, attended a Mental Health Month celebration in Hollywood, and completed intakes at the U.S. Vets residential community in Long Beach. At the U.S. Vets community, I met a client who suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was in a helicopter crash while serving in the Air Force. He had a traffic citation that he was unable to pay due to his low income. MHAS provided him with the legal aid necessary to resolve this issue. It was a rewarding experience being able to help someone who fought and sacrificed for our country. While talking with clients, I learned how grateful they are for the services that MHAS offers. Seeing what a valuable resource MHAS is to the Los Angeles community was inspiring.
My time at MHAS has helped me fine-tune several skills that will surely be helpful in my future law career. Specifically, my legal research and writing skills improved as I completed memos about various topics for the supervising attorneys. Additionally, I learned a lot about the value of collaboration from working with the other interns in my cohort. They came from a diverse range of backgrounds and offered different perspectives. I also felt like I was truly part of the MHAS team because the senior attorneys seemed to genuinely value my legal input and insight even though I had only just finished my 1L year. Overall, the thing that stands out to me the most is that I felt good about what I was doing everyday – advocating for a very vulnerable population.