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First-year law students begin the year with community service
Before they ever stepped foot into a classroom or cracked open a textbook to read about contracts, members of the Class of 2013 at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University performed their first acts of community service as part of orientation.
The first-year law students had a variety of opportunities to choose from on Aug. 16 at the second annual Public Service Project Day, a mandatory activity instituted by Dean Paul Schiff Berman. The event dovetails with the emphasis Berman and the College of Law place on a legal education that imparts the necessity – and reward – of giving back to society.
“Serving the community is part of the professional obligation of lawyers, and we want to instill that duty literally from day one,” said Dean Paul Schiff Berman. “In addition, working in the community allows new law students to get to know each other in a setting outside of class.”
The students chose to garden and work with refugee farmers and youth who are resettled by the International Rescue Committee, prepare and serve meals to residents of Andre House, restore bicycles donated to St. Vincent De Paul, sort clothing for Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, which helps displaced women restart their lives, prepare food boxes at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, exercise shelter animals at the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, and make gift bows of Harkins film as a fundraiser for Free Arts of Arizona, which helps abused children.
Second-year law student David Blackledge organized and participated in a painting event at a safe house for victims of child sex slavery, which is operated by StreetLight Phoenix. The nonprofit organization provides safe housing, and produces an environment for life transformation to the children and prevents further risk of their exploitation.
“This service event helped us focus on the real opportunity and promise of a legal education – that the law should be for people and not just those that can afford it,” Blackledge said. “The day proved to the students that pro bono work is not just a ‘check-box’ to work through to meet the letter of professional responsibility, but a real-world need that can make a big difference to groups that need help.”
Blackledge also is a board member of “13” - Advocacy Against Sex Trafficking, a student organization at the College of Law that brings awareness to the community about the sex-slavery epidemic. So named for the average age that a child is sold or stolen into prostitution in the United States, “13” partners with StreetLight, other similar organizations and law enforcement.
At the StreetLight community service event, about 25 students listened to compelling stories about law enforcement’s progress in freeing child victims, learned more about the program and toured the safe house. The students then helped prepare the house for a move-in of residents this fall.
“The students and coordinators had extremely positive things to say about the event, both this work specifically and the community service day generally,” Blackledge said. “The biggest take away from StreetLight was that the vast majority of trafficking is now done through the Internet, so we need to raise awareness that this is occurring in our neighborhoods, and that victims need legal support from the entire legal community.”
In a note to the students, Alexandra Ostasiewicz, Early Childhood & Youth Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee, said they did amazing work at the youth garden, readying it for the fall planting season.
“I am not sure how it would have gotten done without your help,” Ostasiewicz wrote.
Scott Seymann, a 2009 alumnus of the College of Law, also pitched in at the StreetLight event. “I was glad to be invited and to help,” Seymann said. “I really miss the community service aspect of law school. It seems like the student organizations are bigger and better than ever.”