The Women’s Law Project has had many interns from the Bi-Co over the years, and this summer is no exception. Currently, there are three Haverford students interning at the WLP for the summer.
Today, Lizzy and I went to the Academy of Music and got student rush tickets to La Fille Mal Gardee. It was Lizzy’s first time going to the ballet, and she really loved it. It was also very easy to get student rush tickets, something I had never done before.
We also walked around near City Hall while waiting for the doors to open. I had never seen City Hall up close before: it is quite a cool building. Currently, the centre courtyard is under construction, and they have hidden the work behind murals.
One of the things I like about living in Philly, I’ve decided, is the huge variety of things to do in our spare time. I think the real problem is getting to do them all!
Over the last two days, I have spent my mornings at Family Court. It is quite an overwhelming experience. People are dashing back and forth waving papers. The court officials are trying to be heard over the general din of people. At one point, an official was reduced to bellowing in order to get the attention of the waiting room.
All of the court staff were super friendly and welcoming when I introduced myself as a student coming to observe court. Also, I spoke to several lawyers in the waiting room who were equally friendly.
It was a good job that everyone I met was obliging. The thing that struck me the most was how complicated the whole process seemed. I have no idea how plaintiffs or respondents navigate Family Court without help. Yet, the vast majority do not have representation: they have to work it out somehow by themselves.
Philadelphia’s Family Court is certainly very different from what criminal courts look like on TV and in the movies.
I began my second day of counseling in the same manner as I did yesterday: I returned calls, asked for additional information, and then talked to my supervisor before I gave the callers information. So far, so good.
In the late afternoon, I took my first Priority 0 call. A call denoted 0 means that the caller is facing an emergency situation in which she is facing real danger.
I knew before I returned the woman’s call, this would be a hard conversation. I perhaps, however, underestimated the difficulty. As the caller’s story unfolded, it got worse and worse and worse. I’m not sure what part got to me more: the fact that the justice system had failed this woman time and time again or her quiet dignity when talking to me about the whole terrible situation. She was so grateful that I was even willing to listen to her story.
As I scribbled a note asking for help and passed it to the Telephone Counselor sitting next to me, the WLP staff sprung into action looking for resources for my caller.
Once I got off the phone, I realized that I had a huge surge of adrenaline. I was angry at everyone and every institution that had failed our caller. I was upset by the caller’s story. I felt that the responses I gave to the woman’s questions could never be sufficient. When she asked me why the justice system had failed her, I hardly had the heart to tell her what she already knew: this is sometimes just the way things work out. It is not right, but it is the way it is.
Hopefully, what we told the caller will help her ameliorate her problems. Maybe it won’t, but the best I can do is hope it will.
(After reading my post, my supervisor responded by saying that my “having listened and devoted so much time to this caller may be the one beacon of light in her darkness; it surely helped her to feel a little bit better. We hear this time and time again from callers. They feel less alone after talking to our counselors.” As well as making me feel better, I think her words reminded me that an important part of this job is to simply stand witness to our callers’ struggles and let them know that someone hears them.)
Today, my supervisor told me that I was ready to make my first call. Honestly, the first thought that ran through my head was an inarticulate, panicked “woah, not ready.” Then, my second thought was that I had to start somewhere and I would be starting with a lot of oversight.
Usually, when a Telephone Counselor contacts a caller, she can offer the person information in the same call. Then she talks to her supervisor to check the completeness and accuracy of her counseling. When a Counselor-in-Training makes her first calls, she talks to the caller first and then does not offer any information without first verifying it with her supervisor. That is what I did today.
The issues raised by my callers today ranged from custody to divorce to domestic violence. The problems my callers faced were fairly typical of the majority of those who call into the WLP. However, this made them no less hard to listen to.
My initial worry about counseling had been about the information I could provide. My apprehension was that what was I, as a young college student, doing offering advice to mature women who were dealing with some issues that I have been privileged enough to have never encountered? This fear was soon, mostly, alleviated. After perusing the vast manuals the WLP has written, listening in on other calls, and talking to my supervisor, I quickly began to get the hang of what kind of information to offer each caller. The Telephone Counselors provide callers information drawn from the years of experience among the staff members at the WLP; the individual counselor has access to a much greater body of information than their own personal knowledge.
The hardest part, I soon came to realize, was the emotional aspect of the calls. The callers ranged from angry to upset to resigned. Some of the callers thanked me profusely at the end of the call for giving them information. Whilst I am very glad that they felt more empowered by their new knowledge, I also felt a little guilty for not being able to offer them the “right answer” to their problems. All I could offer them were potential options; sometimes none of them were particularly good.
This training process has opened my eyes so much, and the learning curve has been huge. I think it will continue to be hard, but hopefully my callers will benefit from the information the WLP can offer them.
During the last week, I have been settling in at the WLP. As part of my training, I’ve had to do quite a bit of reading. The WLP has very thick training manuals covering family law, no-fault divorces (in its own separate binder), employment law, welfare services, and much more. I’ve also read nearly every resource available to the public on the WLP’s website.
The materials are all really interesting and I’m learning about topics in which I have no previous background knowledge. What is even more educational is listening in on the calls the trained counselors make. As part of every Telephone Counselor’s training, she has to listen in (with the caller’s permission) to an experienced counselor giving information to a caller. Each caller has his or her own story and set of questions that the counselor tries to address. Counselors follow-up with callers later to see how their situations are progressing. Some people seem to have hopeful resolutions to their problems, others do not. (All of the calls to the WLP are confidential, so I can’t write any specific details about the service on this blog. If you’re interested to know what information the WLP does provide to its callers, you can read about the service on the WLP’s website.
As well as being trained for telephone counseling, I have also begun work on the WLP’s Outreach program. Currently, I am working with some of the other interns to identify neighborhoods that might benefit from WLP going out into the community and distributing information about the services it provides and talking to people individually. I’m crunching through spreadsheet upon spreadsheet of data to try and identify key neighborhoods. I haven’t come up with much yet, but I have started to memorize Philadelphia’s different zip codes!
[Written June 4th]
After receiving several disparaging comments about the cooking skills of myself and my roommates following my last post, I feel the need to reassure people that we will not starve this summer.
In fact, we’re starting to learn our way around our peculiarly stocked kitchen. We have two saucepans (one missing a handle) and three lids, none of which match the pans. Last night, convinced that the presence of three lids meant we had three pans, I spent 10 minutes rooting around for the hypothetical third pot, to no avail.
The thermometer on the oven, as it turns out, bears no relation to the actual temperature in the appliance. I haven’t worked out the exact difference yet, but I’m fairly convinced it’s about 100 degrees off. Nevertheless, I have managed to conjure up something in the oven.
We also do not own a rolling pin; a fact I discovered in the middle of trying to roll out dough today. Luckily, a Nalgene bottle appears to have fairly decent rolling pin functionality.
Thus, I feel like I can safely assure everybody that we will be able to sustain ourselves this summer.
Oh, and I will be posting more information about my internship soon. Since the WLP deals with a lot of confidential information I have to be extra careful that I don’t breach confidentiality and need to be attentive to this when drafting posts. I will, however, talk about my first exciting week soon!
Today was my first day interning at the WLP. It is about 13 blocks from our apartment, which is an easy walk in the morning. (In the afternoon, it is a very hot walk back).
I met most of the staff today and one of the other summer interns. After receiving my schedule for the summer, I spent the day doing background reading on the various topics I will need to be familiar with as a Telephone Counselor. Digesting all the material about Family Law will certainly occupy me for a while –the binder the WLP gives to its trainees that briefly covers the topic is huge!
Meanwhile, on the apartment front, Lizzy and I are settling in. (We had much better luck with the Drain-O last night). Every day we’re learning a few new things about living by ourselves, mainly through trial and error.
During dinner tonight we made a few mistakes. I won’t name names, but I will say that one of us spent half an hour scrubbing the oven out after dropping her dinner upside down in it while it was hot. The other person had to scrub out her pot after burning her rice pilaf. She also irrevocably reshaped one of our brand-new measuring spoons.
We now know, however, how to get melted plastic off a metal pot.
It’s in the low 90s today in Philly and I’m very glad our apartment has A.C.
Yesterday, Lizzy and I met up with our friends who are living and working at Haverford this summer for dinner. We ate at a diner on South Street, which was very yummy but had gigantic portions.
Little did I know when I applied for this internship that I would also be learning practical life skills, such as unclogging a drain. Last night, Lizzy and I stood in our very small bathroom reading the Drain-O bottle and debating what the instructions intended for us to do. We had finally worked out the instructions and had successfully poured the liquid down the drain when Lizzy dropped her toothbrush in the sink. After confirming that Drain-O is indeed toxic to humans, I gave her a new one.
Today, I walked around Philly with some friends. As it is Memorial Day, the city was filled with tourists looking at all the sites.
After a hot, but fun, first weekend in Philly, I am excited to start my internship tomorrow.