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Encouraging Connections through Service

Story by
Nancy Joseph

When Law, Societies, and Justice (LSJ) alumni make a plan, they take action—quickly. Just months after a newly created LSJ Alumni Outreach Committee proposed organizing a service day, two dozen LSJ students and alumni spent an afternoon volunteering for the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), a Seattle organization that assists people who lack permanent housing.

LSJ Day of Service

Law, Societies, and Justice students and alumni gather for a photo before volunteering at the Downtown Emergency Services Center in Seattle's Pioneer Square.

The volunteer event captured what the law, societies, and justice major is all about, says LSJ director Steve Herbert. “We’re interested in law in action—the extent to which legal processes result in justice,” he explains. “We try to bring to light populations that are often marginalized and the role that law might play in that.”

Having learned about the Downtown Emergency Services Center in the course of his own research, Herbert felt the organization would be a good fit for LSJ’s first volunteer event. Half of the 24 volunteers helped clear out the DESC facility’s basement storage area, which will be reconfigured for workshops and mock interviews for people entering the job market. The other half spent time with residents of the Union Hotel, DESC’s longest-standing permanent housing facility. Following an afternoon of volunteering, the two teams of volunteers reconvened for happy hour at a restaurant nearby.

“I must have had seven or eight volunteers come up to me at different points during the day and say that we need to do this again,” recalls Herbert. “It warmed my heart to see one of the oldest alums of the program working side by side with a student who recently decided to major in LSJ. It was encouraging to see that the interest in helping stretches across the history of the program.”

LSJ senior Munish Bharti welcomed the opportunity to give back. “It’s easy for society to look the other way at homelessness, but it takes heart and courage to say enough is enough and put yourself out there to make a difference,” says Bharti, adding that “the collaboration between undergrads and alumni was fantastic.”

As hoped, the shared experience led to conversations that might not otherwise have happened. While LSJ invites alumni to campus to speak to students about careers, Herbert noticed more relaxed career conversations taking place during the service day’s happy hour. A student considering law school chatted with an attorney alum; other alumni represented fields ranging from social work to retail store design. “I know of two students who have already followed up with alumni they met at the event,” says Herbert. “One is hoping to line up an internship.”

As for future events, Herbert suspects there will be many. “There’s a very strong sentiment among this crowd that we should do this again,” he says. “We were thinking once a year, but given the response, I suspect it will be more like once a quarter.”