Public Service Voices
One Lawyer’s Path to Public Service
By Ruth Esparza
When I was six years-old, my mother, a single parent, decided to move our family from Mexico to Washington State. After we arrived, my uncle realized that his house was too small to accommodate my mother and five children. My mother, having nowhere else to go, tried to fix up an abandoned trailer. The trailer’s windows were broken and had no electricity, heat, or running water. My mother cleaned it up as best she could and used cardboard to cover the windows. The trailer became our home.
For me and my siblings things were fine, until winter came. With only a small heater running, we nearly froze throughout the night. I remember those winter nights vividly. Although, at the time, I didn’t understand the severity of the situation our family was in, now that I am an adult, I know that no child should have to live through what I experienced.
My family was able to make it through that first rough year thanks to a caring community. My community was able to give my family not only adequate housing and warm clothes to wear but also hope for a better future. By coming to our rescue, my community taught me the important lesson of giving back to others.
Because I have never forgotten my humble beginnings, growing up I always wanted to make a difference somehow and contribute by helping others. I knew, from the time I could understand the meaning of community that being involved in community actions was the path for me. This understanding drove me to make a difference and contribute to helping others by volunteering my time tutoring students, arranging Christmas baskets for the needy, baby-sitting during migrant program meetings, and organizing special Latino events in my community.
At age twenty, I took a job as an interpreter. My job required me to interpret for the legal and the medical field. One of my duties was to accompany nurses on home visits to those families who needed aid from a nurse. Although I got to see some very compelling cases, one stands out the most. The following case brought back memories of my childhood and changed my life by making me thankful for what I have and motivating me to go back to school and take action on my own for the sake of families such as the one I encountered.
When I met Maria, a single mother of three children, she was living in an old hotel (Bruce Hotel) that gives shelter to homeless families. The room she lived in was filthy. It had no furniture. In the corner there was a sink and a small portable stove. Maria was pregnant with her fourth child and was very depressed because of the situation she was in. Her three children were sick and were sleeping on the floor with only a blanket underneath them. After the visit, my heart was crushed. I wanted to cry. All I could think about was those children and my own childhood. I had a revelation. I finally understood what my mother had endured.
After several visits with Maria, I became acquainted with her and her children. Maria had been a victim of domestic violence several times in the past, and was at the time in another relationship, which I suspected was also abusive. Her oldest child had behavioral problems and a learning disability. One of her two girls had asthma and constantly visited the doctor’s office. I realized that Maria had made some poor choices in her life, yet she was a kind human being who deserved a good life.
I took it upon myself to help this lady. I gave her my home phone number and told her to call me if she needed anything. After that, I would give her rides to doctor appointments whenever I could and interpreted for her. At Christmas time, I took up a collection from my family to give Maria’s children some Christmas presents. When Maria’s fourth baby was born, once again I asked around and collected baby clothes for the baby.
Yes, I helped Maria, but I believe Maria and her children helped me become a better person and showed me that people can make a difference. I learned that if I can help one family, I can make a difference for other unfortunate individuals in my community. Maria and her family gave me a purpose in life.
My childhood, my experience with Maria, and the fact that I became a single mother, motivated me to attend law school and become a lawyer, not only for the sake of my own child’s future but for others in need.
Today, I value the importance of public service and it has been a very rewarding experience. I personally experienced how a community that cares can preserve the hope of those in need and make a difference in their lives. Because of my experience, I always knew I wanted to join a legal services organization. Fortunately for me, the Northwest Justice Project (NJP) has given me the opportunity to make a career of impacting people's lives. NJP is a statewide civil legal aid organization with offices in 11 communities in Washington. At NJP’s Wenatchee office I represent clients escaping domestic violence.
I am also an active board member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a local Latino organization and the United Way in my community. I have participated in most of the career fairs at most elementary, middle, and high schools in the region. This is one of the activities that I feel most passionate about. I find it extremely rewarding to connect with impoverished, underserved, minority children to encourage them to find their inner strengths to get a higher education. Informing my community about important issues by writing educational editorials in the local newspaper so that people can get different points of views as to the issues that affect us all is another means of serving my community.
My compassion and desire to help others are a direct result of the help and compassion that I received and continue to receive from my community.