It’s taken me over 25 years to discern that my professional and personal journey has been leading me to pursue a degree in law. My passion for justice began as an undergrad, followed me to Ecuador, Alaska and Maine, and back to New Jersey, as a youth minister and mom of a special-needs teenager.
In 1994 as the Director of Women’s Issues, I worked with the Boston College administration to provide better safety on campus, enhance services for victims of sexual assault and create a more inclusive community for LGBT and multicultural students. That winter, I spent part of my winter break in Ecuador. It was here that I learned the reality of the world outside the cushion of American capitalism. I was forever changed. Consequently, after college graduation, I volunteered for a year in Fairbanks, Alaska as a counselor at a domestic violence shelter. There, I performed counseling sessions, intake assessments, wrote preliminary protection orders, and worked in the hospital as a rape advocate.
When I left Alaska, I continued my work with vulnerable populations. From a group home for teenage girls, to children and families in the foster care system, I continued to fight for justice. As a caseworker for the State of Maine, I worked to reunite children with their biological parents. I wrote case summaries for the court system and unfortunately, at times, terminated parental rights. As a case manager at a therapeutic foster care agency, I supported families and children, setting up treatment services and being the liaison for the foster family and the state guardian. Finally, at an international adoption agency, I filed naturalization paperwork with the US Immigration Services for children adopted from Korea and the Philippines.
Fast forward through graduate school and the birth of my three children. For six years, I was the Youth and Family Minister at a local church. Here, I still focused on justice: feeding and hosting homeless families and leading teenagers on a work-based trip to repair homes in impoverished areas of the US. So, as my professional career pointed me toward a degree in law, so did my personal life.
In March 2015, in a school social worker’s office, I used my arms to restrain my 10 year-old-son. Experiencing severe agitation as an adverse side effect from his new ADHD medicine, he was unable to calm down, screaming and crying, trying to hit me. And while restrained, he bit me, bit me so hard I cried. I sobbed not only tears of pain, but tears of disappointment. Years of going to therapists, developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists never gave us a conclusive answer.
Unable to return to school until cleared by a new psychiatrist, and upon a recommendation, we took our son to the Child Study Center in NYC. The psychiatrist there finally gave us the reason as to why our son behaved differently than other children. He was in fact, on the autism spectrum. This answer would now allow us to seek the proper course of treatment and education for our son, including an out-of-district special education placement.
Throughout my son’s education, I have remained a constant and passionate advocate. He is the reason I feel called to pursue a degree in special education law. As a lawyer, I want to provide families not only emotional support, but tangible solutions to their child’s educational needs. I am beyond confident that Rutgers Law School, especially with its Education and Health Law Clinic and dedication to social justice, will provide me with the education, experiences and tools needed to be a successful attorney.