By: Rebecca Chelli
10 weeks ago, I began the adventure of a lifetime- yes, I travelled New Jersey. For 40 hours every week, I dedicated my efforts to coordinating with clients of the Legal Services of New Jersey based in Edison, New Jersey. Being a Jersey-girl myself, I began my internship confident that there was nothing in my area to see, at all. Yet, somehow, New Jersey surprised me.
I walked in my first day ready to accept my cubicle. If you asked me before I started working what my ideal workspace is, my immediate response would be an open space where my coworkers were easily accessible. That was before I had my own office! I walked in, closed the door, and spun around in my own office chair in front of the double-monitor computer set up on my desk. And then, the work started coming in. From my first day, I was tasked with interviewing clients to assess their needs and the level of services our organization could provide. I worked specifically with the Legal Assistance to Medical Patients Project (LAMP) where we partnered with hospitals to provide legal help to low income patients. I travelled to different Social Security buildings to advocate on behalf of our clients, to the Camden County Surrogate Court to observe a hearing, and to the offices of our hospital partners to meet with clients in-person. Who knew New Jersey offered so much to see?
In reflecting on the theme of my cohort-Bridging Theory and Practice- I witnessed the millions of decisions each day that provide such a link in the help low-income patients receive. In an ideal world, low-income residents would receive the same level of civil legal help as anyone else. However, financial limitations exacerbate the burdens in each area of an individual’s life. Especially with our medical patients facing civil legal problems, their legal burdens are affecting their health which creates an overwhelming cycle of need, often with no support to help navigate through the challenges. As a nonprofit, I learned that there are varying levels of service we offer because there is no “fix-all” method. Each client deserves a holistic approach to their situation. The different ways of assisting may not always include direct representation, and the clients may not always follow the advice given, but in the end each client has to choose how they move forward. To be able to provide that choice is the best advice we can give.
So, New Jersey may be a little humid and the people can come off as opinionated, but after 10 weeks I have travelled in ways I could not imagine. I saw people in my community with needs that I never would have realized before. I saw beyond my limited and privileged perspective of this world to learn of inequalities I never knew of. I saw my ability to help those around me, and I am so grateful for my time at the Legal Services of New Jersey.