The spring semester 2016 is coming to a close for the student attorneys at Northern Illinois University College of Law’s Health Advocacy Clinic (“HAC”). As this semester quickly comes to an end, I spent some time reflecting on my time at HAC.
During the semester, we are required to complete Critical Experience Assessments (“CEAs”) that act as an outlet for us, as students, to process the situations, people, and/or experiences we come across. Recently, I looked back at the first CEA I wrote, after my first week working with Hesed House, Aunt Martha’s and HAC and I wanted to share a portion of it with you.
“This CEA, I want to talk about my first week at the HAC. Specifically, my second day there – which included a tour of Hesed House. The tour started with a meeting in the Hesed House library, and then we went on a guided tour. During the tour we saw the PADS sleeping area, the locker section, the cafeteria, kitchen, and the Transitional Living Community (TLC) where many children stay at Hesed House. As we walked through, we passed by many of the guests – female and male.
That morning, getting ready for my second day at the clinic, I was mentally preparing myself to be very aware and conscious of what the tour might bring. I had expected that I would not be too surprised by what I saw – thinking that because of past experiences (such as volunteering at soup kitchens, working with homeless students at a prior internship, etc.) I would have been desensitized to the “shock” effect that a homeless shelter often has on people. During the tour, I found myself not desensitized as I had anticipated. Rather, I found myself very emotional. At one point I actually had to tell myself to hold back tears. That point came when we were in the “bright room” in TLC.
The “bright room” is a room intended for children to essentially gain a sense of what we consider “normalcy.” Our guide told us stories of some guests she had interactions with. After hearing her stories, I felt a sense of being overwhelmed combined with humbleness. My heart was broken for the children of Hesed House that were growing up calling the “bright room,” one small room, their place to grasp a sense of normalcy. I was overwhelmed by the sad truth that there is so much that needs to be done for the homeless community, and that people are often afraid of the culture or just repelled by it.
At the same time, I was humbled. I saw the mats that are the “beds” for the guests to sleep on. I saw the small lockers – where the guests are able to keep all their worldly possessions, if any. I saw the laundry room and the kitchen. During that tour, I was able to see what it might be like to be homeless, in very small sense. After hearing the story from our guide about a male guest – who after receiving a new pair of shoes, cleaned his old ones to give to someone else who could use them – I was so humbled. Humbled, but also ashamed of all the petty and selfish things I have complained about. I thought to myself – how fortunate am I to have more than one pair of shoes, to have clean clothes and a whole closet, a bed that I call my own, a kitchen for my family to use, and a warm house to live in and call mine.”
After writing this CEA, I really started to focus on why I had such an emotional response and where it had come from. My conclusion, after now taking part in the HAC for a full semester, was selfishness. Before I had started working at the HAC, I was focused on what I needed to do to get through law school. My plans revolved around me, my schedule revolved around me, my choices revolved around me. I had been so caught up in pursuing my career plans, that essentially I lost sight of the fact that the world does not revolve around me, and that there are so many out there who need help.
The HAC has constantly reminded me this semester to not lose sight of why I started law school. I came into law school passionate, wanting to make a difference in our world, but then lost sight of it as I became bogged down with school work, deadlines, a busy schedule, and grades. Being able to have the opportunity to work with the HAC, has not only pushed me to keep pursuing my dreams of becoming a lawyer but has also renewed my vision. The work we have done this semester with the guests of Hesed House and the patients from Aunt Martha’s has reset my focus. There is still so much that needs to be done in our communities, but it can be done when we partner together and strive to make this world a better place for one another.