Alex Meyer, Maria Rodriguez, Candelario Saldana and Thomas Voracek
Instead of laying on South Beach this spring break, Miami Law students chose to give back to their communities and build practical skills. Funding provided by the Law Activity Fee Allocation Committee enabled four law students to travel to Jackson, Mississippi to spend a week working on legal advocacy projects with the Mississippi Center for Justice. Locally, nine law students volunteered with Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. to assist in their work to preserve affordable housing.
MCJ hosted four Miami Law students, Alex Meyer, Maria Rodriguez, and Miami Scholars Candelario Saldana and Thomas Voracek, all 1Ls, as interns for the week. The experience allowed the students to learn alongside MCJ attorneys, practice their advocacy skills, and experience what public interest law is all about in the Hospitality State. “I wanted to go on this trip as a way to gain exposure to public interest law,” said Rodriguez. “I also wanted to spend my break applying myself to causes I think are important.”
With offices in Jackson, Biloxi, and Indianola, MCJ is a public interest law non-profit devoted to promoting healthy communities and a just society throughout the state of Mississippi. With attorneys working on consumer protection, education, healthcare, disaster relief, and other areas, MCJ practices direct client advocacy and engages community leaders in making life better for every citizen of the state.
“Throughout the week, we worked on a wide array of projects, including research into SNAP food-stamp benefits in the Jackson community, research into legal guardianship options for children of local, undocumented citizens being detained in recent ICE raids, a rally for public education funding in the state, client interviews on issues of consumer protection law, and data collection and observation regarding citizens’ experience of local Justice Courts,” said Voracek.
“I learned so much from the fantastic attorneys at the Mississippi Center for Justice,” said Voracek. “Going on this trip reminded me why I came to law school: to make a difference in the community. Thank you to L.A.F.A.C. for making this possible.”
The staff at MCJ agrees that the week was a success. “We appreciate all of the work that each member of the University of Miami intern team provided to Mississippi,” said Charles Lee, the Consumer Protection Director of MCJ. “The generous gift of [their] time during Spring Break 2017 will not be forgotten.”
Miami Law students also volunteered with LSGMI to survey residents in mobile home parks and to speak to mobile homeowners about their right to form a homeowners association. Former Miami Scholar Nejla Calvo, JD ’15, the supervising attorney at LSGMI for the project said that “[s]tudents gathered crucial survey data to better understand the financial situation of mobile homeowners and the conditions in mobile home parks throughout Miami-Dade County. The data gathered by students will help LSGMI better understand the client community's needs and will also be compiled into a public report to use in affordable housing advocacy efforts throughout Florida.”
1L Miami Scholar Cecilia Criddle volunteered with LSGMI on the project. “I was glad to take time out of my break to get to know a part of the Miami community I had never experienced and to work with LGSMI, which I'd heard a lot about. I really enjoyed the opportunity because I had a chance to work with students and legal professionals whose interests paralleled mine, and because I got to talk to some really kind and interesting people at the mobile home park,” said Criddle.
Miami Law hopes to grow their alternative spring break programming in the coming years and will continue to collaborate with community agencies locally, nationally and internationally to provide much-needed service. Students interested in upcoming opportunities should email Miami Law’s Public Interest Resource Center at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support alternative break initiatives, please consider making a donation here.