While the focus of my Irmas Fellowship project is young children, I have also been fortunate to participate in a community-based partnership that enables me to provide much needed advocacy when the systems have failed older students. This part of my fellowship, LawWorks, is a school/legal partnership with Learning Works, a charter school serving disenfranchised youth in grades 6 through 12 who have been pushed out of traditional schools. Through this partnership, I conduct monthly on-site clinics at the two Learning Works sites, Pasadena and Homeboys East Los Angeles. I provide legal support on matters that pose barriers to graduation, employment, and overall independence.
This part of my fellowship has put into sharp focus the results of school district failures to provide appropriate services to students early in their educational lives and reinforces for me the importance of the advocacy work I do with families of young children. I can see that often the disenfranchisement my LawWorks clients have experienced in their educational journeys might have been avoided if they had received the services to which they were entitled earlier in their educations.
One of my LawWorks clients, Janet*, is a parenting youth who attends Learning Works. She requested legal assistance after being issued a traffic ticket that was impossible for her to pay. As a result of my advocacy, one of Janet’s traffic offenses was dismissed outright and she received community service in lieu of the remaining fine. Now Janet can focus on finishing her remaining classes and receive the credits she needs to graduate on time.
The gratitude I receive from my clients provides a constant reminder of the importance of my work at MHAS. Most of our clients feel helpless as they attempt to navigate an unfamiliar legal process. They are desperately looking for someone to provide them with some direction. There is no way my fellowship can reach everyone, but I am determined to provide direction and positive outcomes to all those it can reach.
*Name changed to protect client’s privacy.
Nicolas Muñoz, USC Gould Irmas Legal Fellow