2020 PFIG Recipient Marlena Becker
JOURNAL ENTRY #1
This summer, I am working at the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) as a Housing Advocacy and Fundraising Intern. I originally learned about the internship through a friend who had worked there last summer and was immediately drawn to their mission of breaking down the systemic barriers that keep low-income Virginians in poverty. I have always known that I want to use my major in Public Policy and Leadership in the Batten School to work with low income and underserved communities and was excited to learn more about how VPLC uses education, advocacy, and litigation to serve low-income families across the state.
Because of Covid-19, all of VPLC is working remotely so my internship is entirely virtual. However, I am very grateful to have regular check-ins and meetings via Zoom with my supervisors and other staff members. My internship is split into two main aspects. The first is housing advocacy, where I work with the housing attorneys at VPLC on their Eviction Legal Helpline. The helpline was created by VPLC to provide legal advice to people who are being evicted. As an intern, my role is to assist with intake, this means gathering all of the necessary information from people who call the helpline so that when an attorney calls them back they can give informed legal advice about the situation.
The second aspect of my internship is fundraising, and I have worked on various different projects with my supervisor, who is the Director of Development at VPLC. So far, I have created a donor survey that will clarify the best way to communicate with current and potential donors, so that we can ensure our supporters have all the information about VPLC that they need. I have also written multiple client stories, that are sent out to VPLC’s supporters. I find it really rewarding to write the client stories because it personalizes the impact of the work VPLC does and provides an opportunity to learn more about important issues such as access to Medicare and SNAP and TANF.
One of the most positive parts of my internship has been how supportive everyone on the staff is. I can tell that they all want to provide opportunities for me to learn and focus on what I am passionate about, which means a lot to me. I am also excited to get to know more of the attorneys because the internship has made me consider law school more seriously. I love my internship at VPLC so far, and am very grateful to the Parents Fund for their support.
JOURNAL ENTRY #2
I have spent the summer interning at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. This summer has been far from ordinary, and by now it’s clear we are living through historic times. As our country protests unjust police killings and fights against systemic racism in all of its forms, for many of us this has been a summer of recognizing and reckoning with our own privilege. During this reckoning, we are driven to take action. We sign petitions, attend protests, and call our elected officials, looking to take concrete steps to create a more just world. Because of this, I am immensely grateful for my internship at VPLC. I am surrounded by people who know what it means to take action, and who have been standing up for Virginia’s most underserved populations long before it was trending.
As an intake volunteer with the Eviction Legal Helpline, I talk to people who are experiencing the most challenging times of their life. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking to see the ways in which our political systems leave poor people behind, especially during a global pandemic that has placed the largest burden on the most vulnerable populations. However, working with the helpline has also shown me the huge difference that quality legal advice can make in someone’s life. I think of Sam Johnson*, a disabled father of two, who called when he received an eviction notice from the sheriff. After losing his income because of COVID-19 and with nowhere to go, Sam was distressed and scared. Fortunately, a VPLC attorney referred Sam to the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, which will represent him and fight the eviction in court.
Each call to the helpline is as important as Sam’s, and as evictions increase as a result of COVID-19 the need for legal advice will only grow. The Eviction Legal Helpline is just one of the ways VPLC’s housing advocacy team fights for all Virginians’ right to a safe place to call home. As an intern, I sit in the housing meetings in awe of each of the attorney’s energy and drive when it comes to advocating for low-income Virginians, whether it’s in local courts or on the floor of the General Assembly. I am incredibly grateful for the time I have spent working with the housing advocacy team at VPLC. I’m leaving this internship more passionate than ever about advocating for low-income families everywhere, and with countless role models who have shown me what it looks like to fight for justice and equality every day.
*Name changed to protect the client’s privacy
JOURNAL ENTRY #3
I am so grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my internship from this past summer, because it was such an amazing experience for me and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life. Not only was I grateful to intern at the Virginia Poverty Law Center because of the importance of the work they do but also because it was enlightening for my career path. Before this, I was interested in going to law school but I didn’t know if I could really picture myself as a lawyer. Since interning at VPLC and working with lawyers every day I know it could be a very good career match for me. I have always looked for a job where I could find a balance between affecting change on a large scale, while also forming personal relationship with the people who I am helping. Working at VPLC has shown me that I could find that balance as a legal aid lawyer while representing low income clients while also advocating for policy change in the general assembly.
I also know that I am very fortunate to have this internship at such a historic moment. One of my main responsibilities was doing intakes for VPLC’s Eviction Legal Helpline and sitting in on the housing advocacy meetings. Our country is currently facing a huge eviction crisis due to COVID, and while it was absolutely heartbreaking to watch this occur first hand, I felt honored to watch some of the most experienced experts in the state devise a strategy to confront the crisis. One aspect of watching this crisis unfold that I have found especially interesting and unsettling is the ways in which courts and judges seem to side with the landlords in every dispute, even when the law instructs them to do otherwise. This is discouraging because it shows us that the power dynamic between landlords and tenants is so ingrained in our society, that even as policy leaders attempt to protect tenants during COVID these policies aren’t effective.
The other aspect of my internship that I want to reflect on was how encouraging it was to work in an environment where every single lawyer and staff member believed so deeply in the mission of the organization and were so passionate about the work they are doing. Every staff meeting made it clear that the lawyers at VPLC are there because they want to be and that this is so much than just a job for them. The other day I heard a podcast that said “working at a nonprofit is hard work, but it is never lonely work”, and that was extremely clear during this internship experience. I know if I can work in an environment where all of my co-workers are as driven and passionate as the attorneys at VPLC I will always be able to stay motivated no matter how hard the work is. My internship at VPLC was a life changing experience, and I am so grateful to the Parents Fund for making it possible.