Posted April 14, 2011
As a senior Jessica Weaver '10 started mentoring with the women’s rugby team at Mt. Ararat Middle School. She wanted to see more relationship-building between the kids, a support net between them that could sustain itself without the mentors’ facilitation. With a few other students, Jessica founded the Bowdoin branch of a national curriculum-based mentoring program called WYSE, Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, as a student led service organization through the Bowdoin Volunteer Corps. The program focused on fostering individual mentor/mentee relationships and creating a space of support and safety throughout the community. Their curriculum included age-appropriate topics - pressure about sex from parents, friends, and the media, gender stereotypes, family planning, domestic violence, and college/future options. Creating a safe space for the girls to come and talk about these issues with people who weren’t expecting anything from them or judging them was a powerful experience, and more so was watching them interact and build trust between one another.
Jessica now works as a legal advocate for Greater Boston Legal Services, the primary provider of free legal services for low-income people in the Boston area. Her areas of focus have been housing, utilities, and public benefits, including welfare, food stamps, and disability benefits, but also extends into other realms of law such as immigration, special education, and domestic violence/family law. Initially she assisted a supervising attorney with her cases, but quickly Jessica assumed her own caseload and has worked to obtain reasonable accommodations from local housing authorities for the disabled, appealed terminations of food stamps and elderly/disabled benefits, and advocated against imminent evictions.
In addition to her one-on-one advocacy she has also lobbied at the state house in Boston on behalf of GBLS on issues such as the proposed changes to the emergency assistance (i.e. shelter) system and funding for legal aid. She represents GBLS at a monthly high risk assessment team of agencies that see victims of domestic violence.
Finally, Jessica is part of a statewide planning committee on human trafficking that seeks to raise awareness, do outreach, and foster connections across Massachusetts to combat this surprisingly local issue and most recently organized a film screening and panel discussion at Suffolk Law School. She is a member of the Cambridge Peace Commission, organizing citywide events and campaigns to raise awareness about global conflicts and also combat youth violence in their own backyard.
Note: This year WYSE is being led by Alexa Garcia '11 and Abby Snyder '11.
“At the beginning, my college student mentality led me to do every single thing possible for a client and return seeking a pat on the back. While efficient, this is not a particularly effective mode of service. Now when I work with clients, I partner with them and expect that they work, too, raising the level of respect in our relationship and hopefully saving them visits to our office in the future.”