Friday, April 23, 2010

Whitworth political science alumna reflects on internship at the Center for Justice

Holly's story appeared in an article by Tim Connor, "The Importance of Being Holly," which first appeared on the Center for Justice's website in June 2009

The first week of June was like most other weeks at the Center for Justice. We heard about new cases we're developing, got some welcome news about a grant we'd requested, and welcomed Suellen Pritchard back from her trip to see family in Kansas. We even got a remarkable piece of fan mail from a state prison.

But then Tuesday came and the voice and laughter of Holly Fauerso, '07, were missing.

Conspicuously missing. Missing like the way you'd miss the smell of croissants if you lived upstairs from a French bakery that had closed for a holiday. Missing like the way you'd miss a son or daughter, or brother or sister, leaving home with most of their belongings in tow.

In most of his public talks about the Center, Breean Beggs makes a point about what makes the Center for Justice different. It's not just what we do, it's also who gets to do so much of it. There is a conventional path to a legal career where you could, eventually, cut your chops in an important case. At the Center, young law and social work students and interns are thrown willingly into the fray of important cases all the time.

Holly's role was different. She wasn't a law student, and she wasn't looking to do a practicum in social work when we urgently recruited her in the summer of 2007 to, well, help run the place.

She was 22 at the time, and had just graduated from Whitworth where she'd studied under Julia Stronks, a distinguished professor of political science at the university. Professor Stronks sends lots of terrific young people our way, but what stood out to her about Holly, in addition to her "agile mind and terrific work ethic," is how engaged the young woman from Spokane Valley was in community involvement and social justice.

"The Center for Justice seemed to me to be a perfect place for Holly to see others committed to doing justice in the community," says Professor Stronks. "Often students think they can best serve the world by volunteering in food banks and at shelters. Holly seemed ready to make the next step and start to think through institutional ways to fight for justice for others."

In addition to basketball and track, Holly pursued community service work while she was a high school student at Valley Christian School. She got deeply involved in volunteer work, through an Explorer's program, with the Spokane Police Department. At Whitworth she was part of the Murdock Lives of Commitment project that encouraged students to explore and think about issues of citizenship and justice.

Thus, by the time Holly came to work at the Center, she'd already had remarkable learning experiences, including trips to Washington, D.C. and Indianapolis. In D.C. she'd gotten to see and hear then-Senator Barack Obama. In Indianapolis, she'd gotten to examine the economic and social justice aspects of gentrification.

But her most vivid experience, by far, was a month-long visit to South Africa during which she got to study the political and social history of the country. Her visit included home stays in the black townships created during the years of apartheid. She spent a day in Soweto and visited the Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of the 20 years he spent behind bars prior to becoming President of South Africa in 1994.

It was after the South Africa trip that Holly applied and interviewed with Suellen Pritchard, the Center's Community Advocacy coordinator, for an internship at the Center for Justice. The interview went very well. But before the Center could make its decision on who would fill the position, Holly got another offer to intern at a local affordable housing agency, which she accepted.

But Suellen didn't forget the interview. She'd been deeply impressed and, months later, the Center took advantage of an unusual opportunity which arose when the Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs (SNAP) found itself with an extra Americorps/Vista position. The Center asked for the position, which is limited to organizations that address poverty, and with SNAP's approval, set out to fill it.

Suellen knew the person she wanted and, this time, she wasn't going to let her slip away. The immediate problem is that time was short and Holly was in Manhattan, staying at a hostel, where she was helping friends with the offstage work on a remarkable social and musical project. It was the heralded reunion concert of the indie band Dispatch which had gotten back together for a Madison Square Garden concert – "Dispatch: Zimbabwe" – to raise money for charities working to fight disease, famine and social injustice in the failing African country that borders South Africa to the north.

So there Holly was in Manhattan, being urgently recruited on the phone by Suellen. who, as Holly and so many others can attest to, is hard to say no to. Within days, she was back in Spokane and then quickly off to Utah to begin her VISTA training. She would join the Center the following month as our Outreach Coordinator.

"Holly has an amazing energy," says Suellen, "and she had amazing energy in the community. I mean she was the perfect person for the outreach position because she's easy to talk to, and related to the clientele. She understood, without judgment."

Which is all true. And when Holly recounts her hiring and entry process from her perspective she punctuates the story with her signature laugh and an array of Holly Fauerso facial expressions in which her eyes work like the old Smother's Brothers comedy team.

A good chunk of Holly's early work was to do a community needs assessment that was and still is being used to guide the Center's community outreach and service activities. But there were also countless support tasks, primarily for Community Advocacy, that required the traits that Julia Stronks had noted about Holly: her "agile" mind and work ethic.

"Even at the housing agency," Holly says, "they'd hired me to work on marketing. I get there. I'm not working on marketing. I'm working on mortgages, or I'm helping the mortgage loan broker. So, it was the type of thing where I didn't really have the choice. So you can be upset or frustrated, or you can just go along with it. And I learned a lot about credit. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do if, say, you're trying to buy a house and you're a little bit below the income guidelines. Different things like that, and how to work with people, and how to organize open house events so people can find out about our services."

At CFJ, two of Holly's major projects were the free legal service program, "Street Law," and the Justice Clinics where the Center goes out to community centers to serve low-income residents who need legal advice.

The pace of the work is a constant challenge, but Holly says she'd developed an appreciation for the "transformative process" of the experiences she'd worked so hard to facilitate.

"I think in some ways the essence of it is to try to look at each person as a new person, and every problem as a new problem," she observes. "The concept is to be holistic, to respect people's dignity regardless of whether we can help them. That's how I understand Community Advocacy."

Suellen and Holly shared an office back by the Center's main conference room and it was hard to miss the interplay between their two personalities. Suellen has an unmistakable velocity, and Holly a natural patience that is inherently calming.

"It just helps when we can keep each other in check," Holly told me when I asked about their obvious good chemistry. "Sometimes Suellen will get stressed out and I'll say, 'Suellen, you have the stress face. What's going on?' Or I'm saying to her, 'The world's not going to crash just because you're desk is crowded with all these clients and all their issues. You need to take a step back.' And she'll ask, 'Am I?' And I'll say, 'yeah.'"

Suellen, for her part, was dreading coming back from Kansas, knowing that Holly would have already left for Portland, Ore., where she's starting a new job this month.

"She's just been a ray of sunshine in my office, seriously," Suellen says. "She's just good karma, plain good karma. She's so willing to do the right thing and make a difference in her community and in her own world, in her family's world, in her work world. She's just willing to do the right thing."

As she was saying her goodbyes, I asked Holly what she thought her life would be like in 10 years and, of course, her first instinct was to roll her eyes and look at me as if I'd asked her to paint a picture of extraterrestrial life in the Triangulum Galaxy.

"I want to be helping people," she said, once her face came to rest. "I'm not sure how that's going to look, but I know it will be on some type of social justice issue."