In 2009, the Women Everywhere: Partners in Service Project (“WE”) will be celebrating its first decade by again doing what it has done so well since its founding in 1999: sending women and men volunteer attorneys and legal support staff into community service agencies on a specified day to provide legal and labor-intensive assistance to agency staff. Additionally, since 2002, on another specified day each year, WE has hosted groups of Chicago Public High School girls and their teachers on visits to our Cook County civil and criminal courts and to our federal district courts. The Project began as a collaborative initiative of numerous women’s bar groups committed to supporting public and non-profit agencies that serve women in need, especially in the areas of domestic violence prevention and achieving economic independence. Following years of success and continued growth, WE incorporated in 2004.
Partners in the WE Project, from its inception and more recently, include the BWLA, the CBA Alliance for Women and its YLS Women in the Law Committee, Hadassah Attorneys Council, the Hispanic Lawyers Association Latina Lawyers Committee, the ISBA Standing Committees on Women and the Law and Minority and Women Participation, and the WBAI. For 2009, WE has scheduled its day of court tours/educational programming for April 24, and its community service day for June 12. In what has become an annual tradition, the Cook County Circuit Court’s Chief Judge Timothy Evans generously and graciously helps WE launch the year’s Project by hosting a March judicial reception which reinvigorates veteran voluneers and draws new volunteers from the judiciary so the Project can expand its reach to students.
Each year, an increasing number of judges do participate in the program by opening their courtrooms to the student groups, who are eager to observe court in session, meet the judges and court personnel, visit chambers, and, on occasion, ‘perform’ in mock trials based upon fact patterns provided by our energetic and entertaining judiciary. Those visiting our Appellate Court are greeted by WE volunteers who prepare them for mock appellate arguments before panels of Appellate Judges, including some volunteers from our own federal district court. As the years have progressed, WE has also turned its focus to enlightening and empowering the young women through educational programs presented by elected women officials, women leaders in the legal and business communities, and media professionals. The speakers invited to address the girls at early morning or concluding luncheon events are asked to direct their remarks to that particular year’s ‘theme’. Past themes have included “Inspiring Women,” “Women Leading Women,” and “Celebrating the Past, Strengthening the Future.” For 2009, WE has selected “Women Survivors” as its theme, believing it to be especially relevant during these times when news of international violence against women and children and stories of trafficking in women and girls have been so prominent and distressing.
In 2007, WE instituted a college scholarship program available to those students who attend the educational program. Since then, WE has awarded two scholarships to college-bound young women. Each year, a required component of the application is a written essay about a special woman who fits within the theme for that particular year. In keeping with our theme for 2009, we are asking all scholarship applicants to write about a woman survivor to be chosen from among three categories:
1. a woman within your community or within the school community who has had a positive impact on that particular community because of her special courage, survival through hardship, or commitment to accomplishing a challenging goal for herself and perhaps others as well, despite significant barriers; or
2. a woman from the following list of names: Susan B. Anthony, an early suffragist who fought for the right of women to vote, and endured substantial suffering with her fellow suffragists to win that right; Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India who fought to bring democracy to her country and was jailed for opposing British rule; Antonia Novello, the first Hispanic and female U. S. Surgeon General; Rosa Parks, the inspiring and determined African-American seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, who helped fuel the Civil Rights movement in 1955 by refusing to sit in the back of the bus; Mother Theresa, who was born in Albania and devoted her life to alleviating poverty through her missionary work in the slums of Calcutta, India; author and memoirist Isabella Leitner, a Hungarian Jew who lost her mother and younger sister in the Auschwitz concentration camp but was one of the first Holocaust survivors to make it to the USA—with two of her sisters; Dr. Mae Jemison, who served in a Cambodian refugee camp, volunteered as a medical officer in the Peace Corps, and became the first African-American woman astronaut entering space, on the 1992 Endeavor flight; and Immaculée Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan genocide, in which her entire family except for one brother was murdered, immigrated to the U.S. to work for the United Nations, wrote the best-selling book Left to Tell, and now raises money to help Rwandan orphans and children across Africa; or
3. a woman in the broader public arena who is not listed in category 2 above.
To encourage independent research, we suggested a number of Web sites in the third category that, in addition to naming specific women, provide further resource material.
In response to our scholarship program, we in the WE organization are anticipating a set of inspiring essays. YOU, our readers, are no doubt also seriously impressed by these amazing women of courage and thus tempted to submit essays of your own. WE will gladly accept and read your submissions, and perhaps even publish one or more of them in The Catalyst or elsewhere, but don’t count on any gift from WE except for a very thoughtful thank-you note. More importantly, WE would also be grateful for returning and new volunteers for the community service day and the educational-court tours day. You are invited to sign up through the Web site form.