Ten Years After
For almost 10 years I have had the privilege of calling HRI my second home. This job has seen me through a lot personally- becoming a mother (times 3), the loss of a parent, my own health issues, and multiple scary career changes by my spouse. This job has made me thankful for my life every day. When you hear firsthand from someone about their spouse beating the crap out of them for speaking their mind it makes it much easier to not snap when your husband leaves his shoes in the middle of the living room for the umpteenth time. When you meet with a parent whose child was raped you can’t help but silently thank God for not having to experience that pain. This job has delivered daily gratitude for the things I have, we all have taken for granted- the ability to feed myself and my family, drive to work with a functioning vehicle and valid driver’s license and insurance, and see law enforcement and not register justifiable fear.
HRI has also allowed me to grow professionally. Not many careers continue to challenge you ten years in. Although the Immigration Law part of it has become much easier (and I have become one of the few people who can rattle off sections of the INA on demand, which I am hoping will become a fun bar trick) the counseling portion continues to challenge me. With the new administration I attempt to calm people daily- sometimes unsuccessfully, but often with laughter. Early in my career at HRI there was a woman I confronted for not disclosing to me that she had been raped. I thought I was going to catch her in a lie like on an episode of Law & Order. She hadn’t told her husband and when I pressed too hard she broke down and told him in my office in front of me. It was one of the rawest human reactions you can imagine. They will both always have a special place in my heart. That experience taught me to give people space to tell their story at their own pace, when they are ready -not when I’m ready to hear it. Looking at my clients and telling them that I will advocate for them, knowing that the world has often turned its back to them is one of the best feelings in the world.
What I take away from ten years on the job, aren’t the victories, the wins, the ego strokes. Instead it’s each client who has suffered through tragic events, the ones I could not help. Perhaps it was because there was no legal remedy available to help or because I doubted my own ability to win. In hindsight, I wish I had taken on some of those cases that seemed pointless, like we were guaranteed to lose. But it’s those same cases that drive me forward now. I am leaving the 9-5 life, but I will continue to volunteer. I will continue to take those uphill battles on. Being part of someone’s life in crisis, helping them rebuilding is an amazing phenomenon I’ve witnessed countless times. The human spirit is implacable. The will to live and laugh when in crisis is what I carry with me.
I am nervous about leaving the HRI family as a staff member. I know I will never find another boss like the great Bill Holston. I get asked frequently if he really is as cool as he comes off. He’s actually cooler. He is a leader, mentor, advocate, and sounding board for me and countless others. Our staff is all really great- no drama, no fights, and no tension. The agency has twice the staff as when I joined. Each year we are able to help more people than the year before. To the staff of HRI, I hope you remember you are amazing and to trust your instincts. To quote Maya Angelou, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” These past ten years have been more than I could have ever hoped for. Cheers to this next season and all of the pro bono cases I’ll take on.
-Melissa Weaver, Women’s & Children Program Attorney