Chicago-Kent Students Spend Winter Break Assisting Domestic Violence Victims



By Tad Vezner
Chicago-Kent College of Law Ascend Justice

A half-dozen Chicago-Kent College of Law students decided to spend their winter break tackling one of the toughest pro bono jobs out there: helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault file emergency protective orders.

“A lot of students don’t get to see difficult cases like this…They don’t realize the emotional aspects of working with clients,” says Morgan Puckett (LAW 3rd Year). “It’s an invaluable experience as a law student. Really you can’t anticipate or appreciate the emotional aspect of meeting face to face with a client.”

While interning for Chicago-based nonprofit Ascend Justice, the six students interviewed clients, helped them complete court documents, and wrote affidavits for the Circuit Court of Cook County. Ascend Justice officials noted the majority of their “winter immersion” interns this year were from Chicago-Kent. They volunteered anywhere from one to three weeks.

“Winter immersion is so crucial for us being able to provide services,” says Danielle Ruffatto, managing director of Ascend Justice’s family law and protective orders division. “And [the Chicago-Kent interns] did great. They were able to work independently very quickly, and performed high-quality work.”

The interns included first-year Chicago-Kent students Blythe Pabon, Noah Ramirez, and Sylvia Durlacher; second-year student Alicia Mancio; and third-year students Shannon Cottrel, Jaylin McClinton, and Puckett.

The students typically helped clients who were experiencing abuse at the hands of someone with whom they were or had been in a relationship. They also assisted elderly clients, or people with disabilities that prevent them coming into court.

“I was very impressed by their enthusiasm for this program,” adds Kimberly Washington, Ascend Justice’s director of volunteer services. “They engaged in training, asked great questions, a number of students wanted to do more than one week, and checked in during the program to see if there was anything else they could do.”

Unlike many internships, due to the fact that the students were filing emergency orders, they were often able to witness direct outcomes related to their work.

“I did get a lot of closure, and a lot of clients are very appreciative,” says Puckett, who has interned for the organization multiple times. “I really found this work rewarding; it wasn’t something I was initially interested in. A lot of people don’t go in because it’s not as lucrative and it’s very hard. But it’s very important work.”

In addition to their winter immersion program, Ascend Justice offers internships year-round and during spring break as well.

The organization will be honored as the Ronald W. Staudt Public Interest Partner during Chicago-Kent’s upcoming Public Interest Awards on April 27, 2022. The award recognizes organizations that make outstanding contributions to public interest law and provide opportunities for Chicago-Kent students to gain meaningful experience in public interest practice. It was named after Chicago-Kent Professor Ronald W. Staudt to recognize his commitment to public interest.

Ascend Justice was selected because of their “important work, empowering individuals and families impacted by gender-based violence or the child welfare system,” and the many opportunities they have provided to Chicago-Kent students throughout the years, notes Michelle Vodenik, senior director of Chicago-Kent’s public interest law and pro bono initiatives.