Legal Aid Society: Working with Low-Income Communities at the Height of the Pandemic

Change Was Happening at Legal Aid This Summer

Mae Flibotte ’22

My name is Mae Flibotte and I am a junior at Wheaton College this year studying Anthropology and International Relations. This summer, I served as a Development and Communications Intern at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland in Cleveland, Ohio. Originally, I was supposed to go to Cleveland to spend the summer and stay in the dorms at Case Western Reserve University. While I was unable to travel to Ohio for the internship as originally planned due to Covid, I was fortunate enough to participate in this program virtually through the generous stipend provided to me through the Porter Cleveland Fellowship. Legal Aid and the Cleveland Foundation– an additional program that I was able to engage with as a result of the Porter Cleveland Fellowship– did a really fantastic job pivoting to an engaging, immersive, and highly educational virtual experience for their interns in just a few months that they had to prepare. As a low-income student myself, I was very drawn toward the work that Legal Aid was doing and was excited to get started and learn from them. I am eternally grateful for such a fantastic experience at the height of the pandemic when so many other students were not as lucky.

Working Remotely 

I worked five days a week at Legal Aid, and usually had between 2-6 meetings a day with the development and communications team, the others summer interns serving in a variety of different positions, or the larger staff. Each week I would get assignments that would be completed by certain dates including data upkeep for our donor list and researching the low-income communities within Cleveland that we wanted to reach out to to let them know that our services were available to them. All of these meetings took place via Zoom, so I had to learn very quickly what it meant to work in a virtual setting.

A big part of my time and something I was particularly invested in over the summer was working on Legal Aid’s “Change is Happening” initiative. The team had the idea of showcasing some of the services that Legal Aid is able to provide through video-recorded testimonials of different Legal Aid community members such as attorneys, Cleveland city council members, and board members. I really enjoyed this project because I really got to take a hands-on approach and help develop the best method for creating these videos. My previous experience with video-editing helped me a lot, as I was able to recommend a software that would help us achieve the look that we wanted and to make the videos look clean and accessible. It was really fantastic as well to have a tangible showcase of my work at Legal Aid at the end of the summer that was being shared on social media.

Interning In a Pandemic

I think the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement were extremely influential towards the work that I was doing over the summer. As I was learning about housing and unemployment laws through seminars taught by Legal Aid attorneys, millions of people were losing their jobs and were facing eviction as a result of Covid. As a result, even though Legal Aid had to move their operations almost completely online for the duration of my internship, they faced an unprecedented flux in new clients. It was also really fantastic to see how quickly a non-profit like Legal Aid reacted to the unjust murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and subsequent protests to incorporate more diversity and equity curricula in their programming and staff training. Legal Aid’s primary goal– to secure justice and resolve fundamental problems for those who are low-income and vulnerable by providing high-quality legal services– is inherently rooted in racial equality and it was fantastic to be working in an environment that was so responsive to the needs of its community.