by Alexis Maguina
Alexis is serving as Legal Clinic Coordinator at Bread for the City in Washington, DC.
Washington DC is on the rise—kind of. Luxury apartments are quickly replacing public housing, and gourmet restaurants and coffeeshops are taking over the locations where old “hole-in-the-walls” used to be. In many ways, DC is the envy of other municipalities with its budget surplus and allurement that brings approximately 1000 new residents per months within its jurisdiction. The Greater Washington Area is constantly ranked among the wealthiest in the nation. After decades of struggling with high crimes rates, low employment, and an arguably suboptimal social sphere, the US capital can now compete with its European and Asian counterparts. Sounds great, right?
Well, it depends on who you are.
My service as Legal Clinic Coordinator for Bread for the City (BFC) has shown me that things are indeed great in DC, as long as you are in the “winner’s circle.” It has given a humane aspect to the hundreds of pages about gentrification and income inequality that I read as an ungraduated. One thing is reading about how homelessness has increased since the 2008 economic collapse; but what do you do when a mother of three calls you just as you are leaving the office and tells you she was just evicted and has nowhere to go? Theoretically speaking, there are shelters. Realistically speaking, they are full. She and her children will have to spend the night out in the streets and there is nothing I can do.
In retrospect, I started my year with BFC overly confident. Having majored in Public Policy and Economics as well as having written a thesis on the decay of public benefits in the US, I was sure I could manage the job. Like my would-be clients, I have experienced adversity but was lucky enough to escape it. I foolishly (and egotistically) dismissed the warning of the Loretto Volunteer who held this position before me about the steep learning curve and emotionally taxing encounters that would be in my future. With a diploma in my hand and law school in the near future, I was ready to save the world – or so I thought.
The reality is that over the past few months Loretto and Bread for the City have deepened my understanding of the world. BFC is not only a charity that provides comprehensive services including food, clothing, medical care, legal and social service (all under one roof!); it is also an institution that organizes the community to change its fate. Like Loretto, they see the power in the individual and the strength in the community. The staff at BFC works tirelessly to assist everyone who comes through the door, in one way or another. However, we are transparent with our clients and acknowledge our limitations. More than once a client has given me a piece of information that was essential in solving a non-related issue. At the end of the day, they can be the experts in navigating a Kafkian bureaucracy day-in-and-day-out.
I look forward to continuing this personal growth as I serve the DC community in the coming months. I understand I cannot change the world, but that does not extinguish my responsibility to improve it.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.