My Summer with the LA VIDA Program
Wednesday, October 10th, 2018
One of our Summer of 2018 interns, Katie Cantone, wrote the following about her experience with our LA VIDA program. Thank you, Katie!
I am a Spanish major at the University of Virginia, where I’m now entering my third year. Through my studies, I’ve felt pulled toward a career in social justice and have sought related work experiences to further explore what that could look like—but until this summer, one realm that I had never entered was that of domestic and sexual violence.
As an intern with the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s Legal Assistance to Victim-Immigrants of Domestic Abuse (LA VIDA) project, I’ve gotten the chance to learn about a wide breadth of topics: trauma-informed care, the diversity of experience within domestic and sexual assault, and the facets of the U.S. immigration system. I work alongside people who are skilled in various fields within social justice and public policy. The staff here come from totally different backgrounds, both in terms of their career paths and their upbringing, and every team member brings something unique to the table.
I got into somewhat of a rhythm after about a month here. Each day was built up of a panoply of tasks, never quite the same, keeping me engaged. I developed experience in legal work and got to practice Spanish. Most of what I helped with was behind the scenes; it sounds cliché, but some of the most vital, time-consuming work goes completely unnoticed in the greater scheme of things. But then I had an opportunity that completely changed my perception of the work done by LA VIDA and other programs of its kind: I traveled to the United States Center of Immigration Services in Norfolk, VA with one of my supervisors and two clients.
Upon meeting these clients and chatting with them throughout 8 total hours of travel, I realized that although I knew the stories of what they had suffered, I had become almost robotic in dealing with their cases. It can be easy for someone to be just another name in a heavy caseload, with deadlines and tasks to check off. But I learned that day that the most critical component of LA VIDA is the true relationships that are developed. We took music requests in the car and enjoyed a soundtrack of classic Peruvian ballads, contemporary Spanish language hits, and Flo Rida. We made a quick pit stop at the beach and discovered that it was the first time one client and her children had seen the ocean (cue waterworks, and lots of pictures). There were no mentions of client’s cases outside of the immigration center—not because we were avoiding it, but because there were many more engaging topics to discuss.
It was so important for me to get to know the personalities of our clients. My coworkers are not only familiar with the histories of clients’ abuse, but the key details of their day-to-day lives—their children, their jobs, what brings them joy. Observing the resilience and openness of these women (especially toward me, a complete stranger) was an important reminder that human beings are not just made up of the sum of the things that happen to them. The women and men with whom LA VIDA works are a great testament to the vibrant strength of the human spirit and the change that is possible when survivors of trauma are offered avenues to reclaim their voice.