Working at GJP for the past eight weeks, there has been no shortage of new experiences for me, and most of them have left a lasting impression. On our very first day, I recall our supervisor Dominque sat down with the undergrad interns , looked us in the eyes, and said, “Never cut someone off when they’re explaining their situation to you. There are ways to get to the information you need by redirecting them, but you should never just cut them off. This may be the first time in the system that someone actually listens to what they have to say. Even if they walk away from this conversation and we’re unable to help, we want them to feel heard.” As someone who values efficiency pretty highly, the idea of not trying to assert myself to get back on the relevant thread of conversation was a little strange; it seemed counterintuitive at first. However, once I started handling more direct phone calls, I realized how right she was. So many of the potential clients we interact with have had their lives completely upturned. They’ve taken one hit after another, leaving them feeling cheated and ignored, not only on a large scale by the system itself, but also on a personal level by the people within it.
Working with directly impacted people over the phone, it’s been genuinely heartbreaking to hear the stories of different people, many of whom are coming to us as a last resort after having been treated as lesser-than every prior step of the way. No individual story could do this unique struggle justice, especially not one watered down by an intern in an essay, but hearing the experiences of potential clients first-hand adds another gritty layer of realism to what I already knew was a very flawed system. There’s a lot that needs to be done for these people. However, if the most personally impactful thing I can do right now is to make anyone I speak to feel seen, heard, and appreciated for their innate human dignity, then that is a skill I want to take with me into the rest of my life.
Gabby Valencia, 2022 GJP Summer Undergraduate Intern