Legal Fellowship Proves to Be Eye-opening Experience

November 14, 2012 | By Abigail Townsend, Class of 2013, Recipient of David L. Boren and Molly Shi Boren Public Service Fellowship and Marjorie P. Maute Fellowship

I never imagined that I would spend a couple hours of my afternoon riding around in a 15-passenger van with my co-workers looking for strip clubs and brothels. I never thought I would visit a medium security prison with no air conditioning in southern Texas. And I never imagined that I would get to touch Beyoncé’s father’s beach house. Lucky for me, I had all of these experiences and many more as a law fellow at the nonprofit organization Children at Risk in Houston, Texas.

I applied for a legal fellowship with Children at Risk through Equal Justice Works, and I interviewed at the EJW Conference in Washington, D.C., which I was able to attend thanks to Students for Access to Justice. When Dawn Lew, the senior staff attorney at Children at Risk, called and offered me the fellowship, I was so excited I immediately accepted. Only after I hung up did I remember that the fellowship was eight hours away in Houston, where I knew no one and where I had never been. Although I had a little trouble securing a place to live, I was very grateful to receive both a Boren Fellowship and a Maute Memorial Fellowship to help pay my rent, transportation costs and living expenses while I was living and commuting in Houston.

Children at Risk is an organization that promotes change for children in Texas through data collection, research and educating legislators, service providers and the general public. The organization works on issues like education, child hunger, parenting, juvenile justice and human trafficking. Legal fellows and summer interns go on site visits to Texas juvenile courts, detention centers and homeless shelters. As a legal fellow at Children at Risk, my focus for the summer was on the sex trafficking of domestic minors (DMST) in the United States and the rehabilitative housing and services available to these victims. I knew almost nothing about human trafficking before my time at Children at Risk, but through working with the extremely knowledgeable and passionate staff, I have grown to care greatly about this issue.

Along with four other legal fellows, I worked on developing an online survey that went out to safe houses nationwide in order to create a set of core components for organizations looking to open safe houses to serve DMST victims. We used the information gathered from the survey, research on current law and juvenile justice systems, and phone interviews with service providers to write a publication outlining safe house core components and the needs of DMST victims. Children at Risk will distribute this publication to Texas legislators, organizations and members of the public to inform them about the needs of the DMST population.

Working at Children at Risk was such an amazing experience. I learned so much about human trafficking, public policy, data collection, legislation, and generally about working at a nonprofit with a fantastic staff. Each staff member was talented, hardworking and passionate about helping children. It was an honor to work alongside them and with nearly 30 other interns to better the lives of children in Texas and nationwide. I am so grateful that I was able to live in Houston and afford food, gas and rent thanks to the Boren and Maute Fellowships from OU Law. Without these generous gifts, I would not have been able learn and grow so much and use my legal knowledge to truly help individuals in need.

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