Vanessa, from San Antonio, Texas, compiled a fine record at Princeton as a History major with a certificate in Latin American studies. She had an obvious passion for public interest law, which motivated her choices of internships while at school and led to her Fellowship project.
The city of San Antonio was consolidating all of its homeless shelters into Haven For Hope, a central "onestop" homeless center, providing not only the necessities (food, shelter and clothing) but also a variety of supportive services. Texas Rio Grande
Legal Aid ("TRLA") wanted to help the homeless in matters such as landlord-tenant issues, public benefits and bankruptcy, but had never had an employee to
fulfill that position.
Vanessa’s project was to set up a network of legal and other services that hopefully would be sustained by TRLA beyond the year of her fellowship. Vanessa, as a
"born-and-bred Texan," wanted to serve that community and help the homeless project achieve its mission of having a lasting impact on South Texas.
For its part, TRLA, like so many non-profits, was facing tough financial times. The presence of a ReachOut 56/81 Fellow provided the staffing to start up this new project and (in TRLA's words) "will be essential to laying the ground work for our
long-term commitment to expanded services to the homeless."
The Executive Director of the Tennessee Justice Center (for which Vanessa previously interned) described her as "an extraordinary person … her intellectual gifts and qualities of character well qualify her to achieve any goals she sets for herself.” And the Princeton professor who was her thesis advisor recommend her "most highly"
and describes her as "smart, energetic, and highly motivated… independent-minded….Vanessa is a great delight and will inject any milieu with her energy and thoughtfulness."
Class of 2009
Vanessa believes that “assistance to the homeless should be more proactive then providing temporary solutions, such as food, clothing and shelter,” and she formulated an ambitious agenda of services “to ensure that the homeless achieve long-term
stability.” Given her plans for a J.D. as well as an advanced degree in education, she hoped that “the Fellowship will be a stepping stone to a long and productive career in public interest law.”
In response to our request for updates, Vanessa wrote: “The first is that I will be attending Columbia School of Law this fall. I still plan on practicing public interest law. I look forward to attending the fellowship selection interviews in 2012.
“The second update is in regards to Street Speak SA. We are proudly approaching our one year anniversary by looking back at what the Editorial Board has accomplished and looking forward to how we can improve. On any given night in San Antonio, approximately 3,580 men, women, and children are homeless. 25% of requests for emergency shelter could not be met. Street Speak SA serves as a vital link between social services and people experiencing homeless, whether they are able to find space in a shelter not. Slowly, but surely, we have built up a small cadre of volunteers, which has grown to include more homeless and formerly homeless contributors. Our hard work was recognized when the paper was recently nominated for a graphic design award. A social worker from Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid will take over my position as Managing Editor when I leave to attend law school in the fall. My sadness at leaving is mitigated by the knowledge that I am leaving the newspaper in capable, passionate hands. Until I pack my bags in August, though, I will serve on the Editorial Board. My latest task has been surveying more than San Antonio thirty non-profit homeless service providers as well as people experiencing homeless to explore how the newspaper can better serve the low income communities targeted by our mission statement.
“I want to thank the ReachOut 56-81 (and now 06) for providing the financial backing that allowed me to work for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. Legal Aid funding is facing huge cuts at the national and federal level. In the midst of hiring freezes and possible lay-offs at many legal aid offices, I was able to open a Legal Aid satellite office and spread additional resource information through Street Speak SA. Neither project would have received the necessary manpower without the creation of my position."