This year’s Mary Philbrook honoree began helping others create change in public interest long before she earned her law degree at Rutgers in 2002. In 1988, Jodina Hicks created the StreetLeader program as part of her work with UrbanPromise. The teen employment and leadership initiative has resulted in employment for 2,000 Camden teens and has since been replicated in 18 cities and countries.
Later, as a part-time law student in 2000, Hicks joined Public/Private Ventures, where she helped plan and launch the Amachi children of prisoners initiative and the Ready4Work national reentry model; both of which were highlighted by the White House in State of the Union addresses. Both programs also led to the creation of new federal funding streams replicated in every state.
Now, Hicks is the President of Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania, where she leads more than 180 staff in helping vulnerable populations to achieve health and housing equity.
Hicks was honored for her lifetime of public interest work at the 38th annual Mary Philbrook Celebration on October 25 at the Rutgers University-Camden Campus Center. Nine current students and a recent alumna were also recognized as exemplary members of their respective classes for their pro bono and public interest contributions. Approximately 100 people attended this year’s event.
“Words are insufficient to thank you for the absolute honor the Mary Philbrook experience was for me,” Hicks said.
The awards ceremony capped off a week of student-led events marking the American Bar Association’s national Pro Bono Week. Students held a donation drive for the Anna Sample House which yielded three bins of personal hygiene items; a panel discussion on reentry; a pro bono clinic to support VolunteerUp on a policy project related to individuals who are incarcerated and have child support obligations; and a fireside chat and lunch with Hicks.
“The embrace and love from the student community was remarkable,” she said. “The conversations I had with students left me feeling so seen, loved and appreciated. This was an experience beyond anything I’ve ever had.
Jill Friedman, associate dean of Rutgers Law School’s Pro Bono and Public Interest Program, said, “Jodina Hicks is the perfect model for students of what a lifetime of service looks like. She uses her legal skills and, more important, her deep compassion and empathy, to advocate for people experiencing life’s most difficult challenges, the people society wants to hide or throw away. Jodi’s work has impacted children living in deep poverty, people who are homeless, people in prison, people trying to reintegrate into society. Not only did she detail what it takes to change systems—including great challenges--but she also described the profound personal satisfaction her work continues to provide. Through their weeklong array of activities, the student organizers did a great job of animating Jodina’s work for their classmates.”
The celebration is held in honor of Mary Philbrook's life, legacy, and impact. Philbrook was a prominent leader in the campaign for women's suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment as well as the first woman admitted to the New Jersey Bar. She was instrumental in the formation of New Jersey's first statewide legal aid society and the adoption of the equal rights provision in the 1947 New Jersey state constitution. She also worked in the settlement houses of slums, educated immigrants, organized workers, and attempted to reform prison and the juvenile justice system.
The celebration was co-sponsored by the Rutgers Law School Camden Alumni Association, Association for Public Interest Law, Women’s Law Caucus, the Social Justice Scholars, Rutgers Law School, and the Camden County Bar Foundation.
Associate Professor and Philbrook Celebration Founder Ann Freedman closed out the ceremony. "It's a safe space to be a bleeding heart and have some fun,” she said before the reception.
Michael Bauder ‘24
Thomas Boisvert ‘24
Lindsey Eveland ‘24
Allison Jones ‘24
Haajra Mirza ‘24
Emily Schurr ‘23
Rachael Tavani ‘24
Kassidy Tirelli ‘24
Morgan Walsh ‘24
Rachael Wolfram ‘24