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First-year law students embrace Vincentian tradition of service

The Vincentian tradition of service and social justice was alive and well recently, with more than 60 first-year law students spanned out across the city of Chicago to serve the poor and reflect upon the issues facing impoverished communities.

The student volunteers participated in the College of Law’s second annual 1L Service Day, which was organized by the Pro Bono & Community Service Initiative and co-sponsored by the Center for Public Interest Law, Office of Law Admissions and University Ministry. Students were accompanied by a team of dedicated site leaders, which included second- and third-year law students, as well as law staff and faculty. 

1L Service Day volunteers organize a 9th grade classroom library at Legal Prep Charter Academy in West Garfield Park.
Site leader and College of Law Chaplain Tom Judge praised the service day as “DePaul at its best; as a community going out into the city to serve. But, not just serve, we tried to engage with people, share a little of ourselves with them, and learn about the issues they face.”       

The student volunteers worked hard at five different sites including Pacific Garden Mission, Legal Prep Charter Academy, Cornerstone Community Outreach, Catholic Charities Nutritious Food Program Warehouse, and West Communities YMCA. Among other things, their jobs included making beds and preparing and serving meals at a homeless shelter, organizing books for a classroom library, sorting clothing donations, packing nutritious food boxes for low-income seniors and children, and cleaning locker rooms and a child care space. 

In addition to providing the students a chance to engage in hands-on volunteer work, the service day was an opportunity for incoming first-year students to build community and relax before diving into classes. First-year law student Guadalupe Perez found a respite through volunteering: “After two hectic days of orientation, the 1L Service Day provided an informal and fulfilling way to meet other law students who place the same importance on community involvement as I do. Not only did I meet new students, but I also learned about a neighborhood and an organization that I would not have necessarily gone out of my way to see or learn about. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the event.”

Michelle Cass, a 3L Site leader who was assigned to the Catholic Charities Warehouse, felt similarly: “It was fantastic to work as a team of law students and be reminded of how wonderful the experience of service is both intrinsically and for the good of others. We had moments of reflection, laughter, and community. I was inspired by the turnout of the 1L class, and it made me feel proud and confident in our DePaul community, and excited for what may come from the future stewards of the legal profession.”

1L Service Day volunteers take a lunch break while volunteering at Pacific Garden Mission.
The service day was also a way to introduce students to the array of pro bono and community service opportunities at DePaul in hopes that students will continue to engage in service while law students and beyond.  According to 1L Tim Bingham, the service day accomplished this goal: “I really appreciated the dedication to service that the DePaul staff showed while working with us 1Ls. It made me feel like they cared about the community DePaul was a part of and now I want to continue working with the law school on service and pro bono projects for the next three years.”

The service day was also an important learning experience for the volunteer site leaders, many of whom gained insights about nearby communities and the agencies that serve them.   Haley Guion, a 2L who was assigned to Legal Prep Charter Academy, enjoyed working with books to help promote literacy for high school students:  “Volunteering as a Site Leader for the 1L Service Day at the Legal Academy brought perspective to the hectic law school routine.  That day, I stepped into another person's shoes.  I was able to see a day in the life of an English teacher and of a student at the Legal Academy.  It was very grounding.  The most rewarding part of volunteering was that I left knowing I had set in motion a path for a student to take (reading a book found in the Classics section) that they otherwise would not have taken.”  Allen Moye, Director of the Law Library, gained new knowledge about Pacific Garden Mission, a homeless shelter in the South Loop.  He noted that: “My experience volunteering at PGM was very enlightening and rewarding. It is a very well-run organization, providing nutritional and spiritual nourishment to men, women, and children who have fallen on difficult times.”

The 1L Service Day was an inspirational and thought-provoking day for all who participated and was just the beginning of a long and meaningful journey of service for the Class of 2016.