by Alix Roy ’07
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
For Sara Gagné-Holmes, the newly appointed executive director of the Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP), working as a lawyer is all about helping those in need.Through MEJP she is able to do just that, reaching out to Maine residents in need of health care, food assistance, shelter, and educational opportunities.
A native Mainer herself, Sara has long been aware of the issues for a state in which 72,000 people are uninsured and 30% of the population is considered low-income. Growing up in a middle-class household with five siblings, Sara was the first in her immediate family to attend college and recalls her mother’s struggle with health care and other issues. After graduating from Bowdoin, Sara traveled to all corners of the country, settling briefly in Seattle and making a trip to Europe but eventually returning to her native state where she feels her services are most needed. “I don’t think people understand [Maine],” she says, “it’s a very rural state and a very poor state where poverty is a label that is almost being condemned.”
In fact, very few visitors to the tourist-filled coastal towns will see any visible signs of poverty among the shops, restaurants and ocean views.The mission of MEJP is to provide low-income Mainers with access to the tools they need to “live with dignity and economic security.” MEJP works closely with the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods (MAIN), a statewide consortium made up of low-income individuals and groups concerned with the issue of poverty in Maine, to identify the concerns of Maine families and advocate change by organizing conferences and working with state legislation to protect and improve the resources that many low-income residents rely on such as MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program.
Before coming to MEJP, Sara worked for Preti Flaherty, a full-service law firm with offices all over New England, and later served as Assistant Legal Counsel to the governor.Although she found her work in the state house “really engaging,” Sara admits, “there were times when I felt I could be more effective if I was on the outside.” At MEJP, “we affect the people of Maine directly because we are advocating with them and on their behalf.” Her work allows Sara to give back to a state she has long felt indebted to: “I owe Maine a lot,” she says, “I love my job and the people I work with. When I hear Bowdoin mention the common good I think, ‘they must have meant this.’”
For more information on Maine Equal Justice Partners visit www.mejp.org.
Posted February 01, 2007