My Summer of Service Brought Me Back Home

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Ana Laurel is a Fellow in our Disaster Recovery Legal Corps hosted by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. Previously, Ana served as a Student Fellow in our Rural Summer Legal Corps.

Photo of Ana Laurel

In 2018, you participated in our Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC). What inspired you to spend your summer serving rural communities?

There is a quote from “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros that guides me: “When you leave, you must remember always to come back for the others…For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you.” I was fortunate enough to work in the Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas. My family is from the Valley, so I felt at home. RSLC allowed me to return to my community and provide vital legal services after Hurricane Harvey.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges facing rural and isolated communities?

Rural and isolated communities suffer when those who are lucky enough to attain higher education leave to bigger cities to pursue more opportunities and do not come back. Our communities need help, and we need to return to our communities because no one else will know what our communities need more than us.

During your time in RSLC, you were hosted at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), where you assisted Texans with disaster recovery following Hurricane Harvey. Can you tell us a bit more about your project and what a typical day at the organization looked like for you?

There is no “typical day” when helping with disaster recovery. Initially, I was there to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but then the Valley experienced extreme flooding during the summer. My work evolved from assisting with projects related to Hurricane Harvey to serving in disaster centers where clients had legal issues associated with obtaining FEMA assistance. Specifically, I supported staff attorneys on post-disaster lock-outs, worked on Hurricane Harvey cases where clients faced legal barriers to receiving relief, researched legal issues related to disaster funding, helped potential clients at disaster relief centers, and participated in community meetings.

What was the most exciting part of your Student Fellowship?

The most exciting part of my Student Fellowship was making connections at TRLA. My peers inspired me, and I admired their positive impact on the community. I knew when I finished my summer with the RSLC that I had to return to work at TRLA. Now, the team that I worked with over the summer feels like a family.

After completing law school, you were selected as a Fellow in our Disaster Recovery Legal Corps, where you continue to serve at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. How did your experience in RSLC prepare you for this Fellowship?

My experience in RSLC ignited my passion for disaster law. Before RSLC, I did not even know disaster law was a practice area! It has been the perfect area of law for me because it is relevant to my legal interests and is an area of law that affected my life growing up on the coast. Now, as a Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps, my love for disaster law grows every day.

I am proud to be a part of an organization like Equal Justice Works that supports law students returning home and giving back. So many people in my program had the opportunity to gain experience providing invaluable legal services to lower-income people within their communities.

Finally, my experience in the RSLC prepared me for this Equal Justice Works Fellowship because it offered me a preview of what it feels like to be a public interest attorney. Working in public interest law is already difficult because we come into our clients’ lives at their most vulnerable moments. Practicing disaster law exacerbates these experiences because often, our clients have lost everything again, and we are trying to help them rebuild while also navigating the trauma they have experienced from living through a disaster. It is hard to relive that trauma with them, and it is heartbreaking when we have reached the end of the appeals process and realize there is simply nothing more we can do. My experience with RSLC gave me a network of other attorneys facing the same struggles. Through these connections, we share in each other’s wins and support each other through the heartbreaks.

Applications for the RSLC program are due at 11:59 p.m. EST on February 10, 2020. For more information about RSLC eligibility and requirements and to apply, please visit here.

After completing law school in 2019, Ana Laurel joined our Disaster Recovery Legal Corps. The Disaster Recovery Legal Corps has received philanthropic support from the American Red Cross, Bigglesworth Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Florida Bar Foundation, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

My experience with RSLC gave me a network of other attorneys facing the same struggles. Through these connections, we share in each other’s wins and support each other through the heartbreaks. 

Ana Laurel /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow