2018 PFIG Recipient Katherine Cantone

Katherine Cantone

Journal Entry #1

My first week was much more exciting than I anticipated. I did something different every day, which I think served as a microcosm of the rest of the summer. My first morning, my boss introduced me to the entire staff of the Virginia Poverty Law Center--lots of names, acronyms and positions I'm already struggling to remember. Although I'll be working specifically with the LA VIDA center (Legal Assistance for Victim Immigrants of Domestic and Sexual Abuse), everyone at VPLC works collaboratively toward community goals. I got to know the two LA VIDA employees with whom I'll be spending the majority of my time: Simón, LA VIDA's bilingual client advocate, and Vanessa, the attorney. I worked with Simón translating affidavits and birth certificates from Spanish to English. Later, I sat with Vanessa and she spent an hour of her busy day explaining all about LA VIDA's legal work: the different types of visas we help clients apply for and why, as well as broader immigration policy and processes. I was shocked that she took so much care to fill me in on my first day. The best part of Day 1 was that when I asked what they needed help with, both Vanessa and Simón asked me what it was wanted to get out of the internship experience. I made it clear that I was more than happy to scan files into the online system or complete other tasks that take up time they should spend meeting legal deadlines, but they insisted that I should help with work that would benefit me in some way or help me learn. Incredible.

Day 2 was another fresh experience: due to lucky timing, my boss was co-leading a daylong training session with the Systems Advocacy Coordinator from the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. The training focused on the unique challenges faced by immigrant men and women who experience abuse, as well as the importance of trauma informed advocates and organizations. It was a privilege to be able to participate in this training and hear questions and stories from experienced abuse advocates who work with various organizations and shelters throughout the state.

Day 3 spiced things up even more. In addition to translating Spanish documents and editing the English translation of a client affidavit, my boss assigned me a long-term research project to provide more resources for advocates at the next training session. I'll be creating informative materials regarding the application process, requirements and potential end results of each type of visas we work with clients to obtain, as well as compiled lists of the public benefits that recipients of each of visa are eligible for based on their immigration status. This project will be a challenge for me because I'm very much a box-checker, so having work that is intended to transform and build upon itself throughout the summer and not be finished in two days will stretch my task-oriented tendencies. I'm looking forward to personal growth in this area, as well as having the opportunity to create materials that will enable advocates to better address the needs of the victims with whom they work.

Week 1 has me really excited for Weeks 2-10. I can't wait to become even more integrated in this organization and learn from people who focus not on their admirable accomplishments in the social justice field, but on how they can promote change and serve vulnerable populations within our greater community.

Journal Entry #2

Today marks the start of month 2 of my internship! As I’ve become more acquainted with the way things operate around here, I’ve gained independence in my day-to-day work. For example, my supervisors have tasked me with calling Spanish-speaking clients to ask questions or update them about their cases. This has been an awesome opportunity to test my Spanish skills over the phone, which I find so much harder than speaking in person; there are no visual cues, the person on the other end could be managing another conversation simultaneously, and connection is unpredictable. I’ve also conducted meetings in person with clients.

I’ve been working with Vanessa to create a master index of all of LA VIDA’s clients that will keep us up-to-date on the status of cases. Based on the type of visa, some cases have a 6-month deadline to be filed, but with an ever-changing caseload there’s a danger of clients slipping through the cracks. I’ve reviewed every existing open file and categorized it with key information in our online system. Hopefully this will help my boss more easily close cases.

LA VIDA has a weekly meeting each Thursday, for which I’ve become the official note-taker. This sounds like a menial task, but I learned after receiving GLOWING feedback on my first round of notes (“They’re like a transcript!!!”) that it’s actually incredibly helpful to have a meticulous written account of what we discuss taken by a third (in this case, fourth) party. I then upload notes about each individual client to their online profile in our database. This skips three or four steps in finding information about the status of a case. I’ve always loved taking notes, so this is basically a dream.

In addition to our weekly department meeting, VPLC has an all-staff meeting once a month, which I attended at the end of June. I got to hear updates from every subset of VPLC: Economic Justice, Family Advocacy, and Healthy Communities. Each of these departments has smaller specializations, so this meeting provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the various facets of social justice. After getting to know many of the employees at VPLC, as well as advocates from our partner organizations, I’ve gained important insight into my career path and have decided to pursue a Masters in Social Work in graduate school. This is beyond exciting! Coming into this internship, my only future plan was a vague consideration of law school. Hearing about the degrees people have and what types of work they have been able to pursue has given me the sense that an MSW would best suit my skills and interests.

Most recently, I got to tag along on a trip to the US Center of Immigration Services in Norfolk. Simón and I brought two clients for their biometrics appointments. The process itself was very simple, but it was interesting to observe the way USCIS runs and the interactions between our clients and government officials. Most importantly, It was a privilege to get to know these women. I gained a more holistic perspective of what an abuse survivor can look like—domestic and sexual violence can truly happen to anyone. Spending time with these clients gave me an important reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the vitality of building trust among the people with whom you work.

Journal Entry #3

The diverse learning opportunities of this internship skyrocketed during my last month. Most challenging was my increased level of work with clients' affidavits; Most challenging was my increased level of work with clients’ affidavits; I began translating the original copies of clients’ personal statements on my own. These statements narrate the history of the sexual and domestic abuse clients have suffered, which in most cases spans multiple years, if not decades. Translating their stories included challenges like deciphering handwriting, lack of punctuation, spelling errors, and colloquial slang, requiring extreme attention to detail and contextual awareness in translation. A completed “first draft” translation usually required reading through certain paragraphs a dozen times trying to make out what a particular line was trying to say. After the initial translation, I passed them off to my coworker Simón for review and later helped with multiple rounds of revisions to clarify confusion and identify where we needed more information from the client.

Additionally, I began attending client meetings with Vanessa to review and edit their affidavits. These meetings were intended to be the final review of clients’ visa applications, and Vanessa gave me the task of reading them the most updated translation of their personal statements. This entailed reading the English version off the page and simultaneously interpreting it aloud to the client in Spanish. Some of these documents were longer than ten pages. Being thrown into this experience offered unbeatable on-the-spot training in interpretation. In addition to testing my Spanish skills, this process also required emotional stability and empathy. The personal statements LA VIDA handles vividly detail physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered by the client being addressed, so their responses to hearing these stories read aloud can be intense. Many clients showed physical symptoms of PTSD, so I was grateful for what I had learned during the two trainings I attended about trauma-informed care.

The third significant shift in the type of work I tackled was a renewed focus on the research project my boss had assigned me on my first day of work. The purpose of this project was to create informational resources for VPLC’s clients and their advocates. I was tasked with creating two materials. The first was an extensive chart that included the details of the application and acceptance processes for several immigration statuses. The second was a guide to the public benefits for which various classes of immigrants are eligible. I also made a supplemental facts sheet for the public benefits guide with important details that wouldn’t fit on the first pamphlet. While researching, I conducted a meeting with four VPLC employees who work with public benefits to ask questions and learn from their wide breadth of experience. I created these materials on Canva, an editable template that will enable future employees or interns to update them as public policy regarding immigration status changes.

Two and a half months later, tears were shed on my last day. This internship exceeded my expectations in every capacity. I absorbed more knowledge than I thought possible and felt strongly that I am called to this type of work—a conviction that was reinforced by the encouragement of my coworkers. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity granted me by the Parents Fund and am so excited to see where the social work field takes me.