April 15, 2012
Kelly Marie Fay Rodríguez (’12) recalled one of her most memorable clients from the Economic Justice Project (EJP) as a “brilliant Latina student at LaGuardia Community College, who lived with her partner and four children in a one-bedroom apartment.” When the student did not receive a questionnaire that was supposed to be completed and returned in order for her to continue receiving public assistance, her benefits were cut. Fay Rodríguez worked with the client to develop a theory of the case and prepare for the hearing; she ultimately convinced the City’s representative to withdraw the termination of benefits.
“Maneuvering the New York City public benefits system is an experience that nobody should have to endure alone, especially not a student who is trying to support herself while finishing her degree,” Fay Rodríguez said. It was in that spirit that she joined EJP.
Representing fellow CUNY students, who would then educate other students about welfare policy and reform, was what drew Fay Rodríguez to EJP. “I was particularly interested in working with grassroots advocates, like the Welfare Rights Initiative, from my community that were taking on this incredible challenge.”
Although Fay Rodríguez is now considering several options after law school that could put her legal training to use, she wasn’t always convinced that law was the right means for her to use in supporting her community.
After several years as an immigration paralegal at a New York City nonprofit and labor assistant at the State Attorney General’s Office, “I sometimes felt demoralized and limited in how I could actually change things,” said Fay Rodríguez. But several CUNY Law alumni, including Jennifer Breaton (’02), Carmen Torrent (’86), and Pico Ben-Amotz (’86), helped her see the impact she could have as a social justice lawyer. “I began to understand the range of opportunities law offers for meaningful social justice advocacy,” she said.