#LVC17 Volunteer Julia Pilkington is serving this year in Baltimore at World Relief as an Immigration Legal Assistant (Clerk). Originally from Santa Barbara, California, Julia’s journey across the US took a stop in Northfield, MN where she attended St. Olaf College and graduated with a degree in English and a concentration in Environmental Studies (and a nearly completed a Political Science degree). Julia shared that “this blending of disciplines resulted in a desire to one day go into international law, working for the protection of human rights, refugee rights, humanitarian law, and the environment.”
Julia continues her movement to the East Coast with her service this year at World Relief, working in their Immigration Legal Clinic. World Relief is one of the nine refugee resettlement agencies in the US that can assist in initial resettlement of refugees. The mission of the organization is to stand “for the sick, the widowed, the orphaned, the alienated, the displaced, the devastated, the marginalized and the disenfranchised” through the partnership of local churches, with an ultimate goal to “end the cycle of suffering, transform lives and build sustainable communities.” World Relief lives out their mission by providing services that address disaster response, health and child development, refugee and immigration services, economic development, and peacebuilding.
As issues regarding immigration and refugee resettlement have been topics of such contention in the last year and a half, it’s compelling to hear the narrative of those who are doing some of the behind-the-scenes immigration work at nonprofits across the country. Julia spoke to this in her experience of her position at the legal clinic.
“Working as a legal assistant in an immigration legal clinic in a year when DACA and Temporary Protected Statuses are being dissolved or replaced has put me in a unique learning position – I don’t know that you can be in this position and not leave it changed. These changes on a federal level have immediate impact on individuals that I am in contact with every day – there is nothing left to the abstract. By being the point of contact for the clinic for clients and those seeking legal services, I hear the joys and the fears of many an individual, and I do the best I can to connect with the help they need. From my end, that ends up being mostly referrals, taking messages, and treating people with kindness (giving a smile, having them warm up by a space heater if they were caught in the cold, setting out crayons and paper for their kids…etc). I have learned that while my position is not one of large actions, sometimes what people need most urgently is kindness and love. It is a great lesson in humility, as well as the radical power of recognizing the humanity in someone facing a system that wishes to reduce them into a number, for the sake of efficiency.”
Sometimes our work can take over our emotional headspace even when we’re not at work. One struggle that Volunteers run into is finding ways to create safe boundaries between work and home – for some, the emotional baggage of work is difficult to just leave at work! When asked about what she has struggled with the most this year, Julia shared about how difficult it is to not burn-out emotionally. “To invest love into every action, especially when federal actions so often threaten to flip situations upside down for so many clients, can be exhausting. It can feel frustrating to not have the legal training to answer a client’s question. It can be heartbreaking to hear what has happened to a family in another country and what this country has done to them for trying to protect their family. Some of the things our clients have gone through is seemingly unimaginable and their resilience is undeniable. So the moments when we cannot help them can feel deeply disappointing… my housemates have been incredibly supportive and loving in letting me explain some of that pain and the complex systems at work that make immigration such a roller coaster.”
Even in the midst of struggle, there can sometimes be joy as well. When asked about where she found joy this year, Julia shared both about her work and her new-found Baltimore community. “I have found joy in many places- at work, there are also the moments of extreme joy, such as when someone gets approved. Beyond those celebrations, I have found joy in the work-family of our small team in the clinic as well as my housemates in my LVC family in Simunye House. I have found joy in small moments in interactions with clients, in walking around Hampden, in the congregation at the church next door, in social events with other LVC houses and other volunteer corps in the area… there are many opportunities for joy. Every day I try to begin by listing three things I am grateful for, and I think that has been helpful for keeping things framed in a grateful light.”
When asked about where she sees growth in herself this year, Julia said, “I cannot separate the internal work that takes place at work from the growth, enthusiasm, and love from my intentional community from the spiritual impacts of both, emphasized by simplicity and sustainability. For me, to look at the impact that LVC has had on my life already, is to see all three components.”
Julia lives this year with six other wonderful housemates in the Baltimore Simunye House. Julia enjoys reading, writing poetry, acting, singing, learning about wildlife, going for walks, and dancing. A list of her favorite things includes good books, cinnamon tea, the ocean, sunlight, butterflies, sunflowers, candles, and music by Coldplay or Hunter Hayes. One fun fact she shared about herself was that as a result of her ten years of ballet, Julia wrote a seminar paper on the feminist development of Shakespearean female characters upon their transposition into ballets. Ironically, she also sprained her ankle that year from dancing too much while on a walk in her neighborhood.