Southwestern Student Wins Prestigious Fellowship
Graduating day student Maria Guiza has been awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship, in which she will implement her "One Family" Program in the Antelope Valley. During the two-year Fellowship, Guiza will work for Neighborhood Legal Services and help underserved families in the Antelope Valley who are fighting to keep their Section 8 status, which provides rent-control. More than 300 law students from around the country applied for the Fellowship in 2009 and Guiza is one of 48 students who were selected.
"I specifically designed the One Family Program for the Fellowship but it's based on work I've done for a very long time," said Guiza who has volunteered and worked for nonprofit organizations such as Neighborhood Legal Services since she was 16 years old. "This is something I'm very passionate about because I grew up with rent control and there's no way we would have survived without it." Guiza appreciates the experience she gained working with Southwestern's Children's Rights Clinic this semester because it cultivated her interviewing and counseling skills, especially with children and their families. "Even though I won't be dealing with disciplinary and educational background, my work with the Clinic taught me about what can lead to the pulling of Section 8, which is a very complex system."
Under the one strike policy, if a family member is involved in a criminal act in or around the house it is cause for eviction under Section 8. The problem, Guiza explained, is that this policy is interpreted very broadly. The second problem is that children's acts are not criminal by definition.
During the Fellowship, Guiza will provide legal services to low-income families in the Antelope Valley, an area chosen because it is the furthest reach of Los Angeles County, and although it has tremendous need for these kinds of services, few are available. Funding for this program has been provided by Munger Tolles & Olson, a civil litigation firm which has its own pro bono department that typically deals with housing issues concerning rent control and Section 8.
Professor Julie Waterstone, Director of Southwestern's Children's Rights Clinic, is not surprised that Guiza was awarded this prestigious fellowship. "Maria is smart, hard working, and, above all, dedicated to serving the low income community," she said. "Her passion for helping those who are unable to help themselves is prevalent in all that she does. While a student in the Clinic, she was constantly assessing how we can better serve our clients. She provided suggestions for ways we can improve our office organization and connected the Clinic with organizations so that we are able to reach a broader audience. In addition, Maria is a strong, effective advocate. Neighborhood Legal Services, with the support of Equal Justice Works, is very fortunate to have Maria on their staff."