Public Interest Work and the Era of COVID-19

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By: Austin Mann

This summer, I was fortunate enough to find a summer fellowship placement with the New York Crime Victims Legal Network at Empire Justice Center in Rochester, New York. This network helps connect victims of crime with agencies and service providers that can help them resolve their civil legal needs. Additionally, through the Crime Victim Legal Network’s website, crime victims can access readings to help them better understand their rights.

I was able to do this work through a summer fellowship sponsored by the University at Buffalo School of Law. Although not initially planned, I was quickly assigned duties and research assignments that centered around COVID-19. Because the Network website, entitled New York Crime Victims Legal Help. This website has always featured information regarding housing, employment, domestic violence, and personal finances. We quickly found that the information on the site was no longer accurate because of multiple executive orders and recently passed legislation responding to current developments. The state and federal governments quickly reacted to the impacts of COVID-19 with new guidance and laws. In order to provide accurate and detailed information, I was tasked with reviewing changes in the law and creating plain language excerpts for the website.

image2Despite the many fallouts of COVID-19, I was fortunate enough to be able to work remotely and still provide meaningful services to crime victim advocates. Our team created webinars and shareable resources so that these advocates could stay up-to-date on the changes in the law due to COVID-19. This meant that I would spend countless hours at my dining room table, with my dogs laying at my side, pouring over executive orders, statutes, and memorandums, to figure out exactly what protections were put in place to help those impacted by the fallout of COVID-19.

Besides learning about the law and crime victim advocate programs, throughout the course of my ten-week fellowship, I was actually surprised at how much I also learned about myself. Working from home is hard! I found that on bright, sunny days I struggled to stay focused and sometimes I had to take walks with my dogs in between meetings. This helped me burn off some of my extra energy so that I could concentrate and work through my assigned duties.

This summer was an amazing experience and I am exceptionally grateful to have received the Catalyst Public Service Fellowship funded by The New York Bar Foundation. This award made it possible for me to work with the Crime Victims Legal Network and provide resources and referrals to crime victims and their advocates.

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Name: Austin Thomas Mann

Name of Fellowship: Catalyst Public Service Fellowship

Placement: NY Crime Victims Legal Network, Empire Justice Center

Location: Rochester, New York

Important Lesson: “One important lesson I have learned from my fellowship is that you always have to be adaptive because you never know when things will change!”