Fighting Poverty with Passion
Last week marked one month since I began my AmeriCorps VISTA term at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit law office that defends the right of children in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system to fairness, dignity, and opportunity. It has been, overwhelmingly, a month of learning.
In my first two weeks at LCCR, I read and reread our written materials, all to get a sense of the language and tone used by the organization. As the Communications and Development Coordinator, a significant part of my job is to produce original content for our monthly newsletters, social media pages, and external communications. It is important to me, and to the organization, that our messaging be consistent, especially with the recent rebranding efforts that accompanied the merger of LCCR and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL).
I also had the opportunity to sit with several of our key staff members, including the executive director, policy director, one of our social workers, and several of our attorneys. I learned not only about their individual work, but also how each of their roles fits into LCCR’s larger mission and goals around juvenile justice reform.
And the organization is tackling reform from several angles. On the policy side, LCCR’s impact litigation arm – JJPL – works to transform the juvenile justice system by keeping more youth out of the system and, when they do fall into it, ensuring that they receive the proper care and support that they deserve. On the direct service side, the organization employs a holistic defense model; clients are supported not only by a public defense attorney, but also by a social worker and youth advocate who help them address both the causes and repercussions of contact with the justice system.
It has also been a month of doing. I hit the ground running with GiveNOLA Day on May 5th, a city-wide day of giving organized by the Greater New Orleans Foundation. With social media posts and email blasts throughout the day, we were able to raise over $11,000 – almost three times as much as LCCR raised last year. I also compiled our May newsletter and, in doing so, familiarized myself with our website and donor database software. An editor at heart, I was pleased to review several of our grant application drafts as well.
While I am excited about all aspects of my work, I am looking forward to one project in particular, initiated by my VISTA predecessor, Sarah Edwards. In October, LCCR and our partner, the Joan Mitchell Center, will be hosting the Juvenile In Justice exhibition by artist Richard Ross. Ross has spent years researching and documenting the American juvenile justice system through photography and interviews with youth in juvenile facilities nationwide.
The exhibition will open on October 23rd with a kick-off event, followed the next day by a town hall in which Ross, local artists, activists, and young people will discuss the intersections of art and social justice in New Orleans. For the time it is open, the exhibition will also serve as a meeting space for community members and nonprofit organizations working to transform the juvenile justice system and empower New Orleans youth and their families. Organizations will be invited to host events ranging from Know Your Rights workshops to panel discussions. We will also be compiling a resource guide for those impacted by the juvenile justice system.
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the work of these individuals and organizations and, in doing so, better understand the landscape in which LCCR operates. I hope the project will serve as a space for non-profits, community members, and other stakeholders to share resources and ideas, and to identify where their work may overlap or leave gaps in services.