AUWCL Alumnae Making a Difference in Human Rights and Community Advocates 

Open City Advocates: Bridging Gaps and Empowering Communities 

Awards check
Pictured from left to right Penelope Spain, Kyla Woods, Open city Advocates Board Member, Mary Ellen Taylor, Impact100 Chair of the “Family Committee.”

Penelope Spain, a 2005 graduate of American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL), has dedicated her life to working in the field of International Human Rights and actively involving herself in the communities she resides in. Her passion for making a positive impact led her to cross paths with Whitney Louchheim, also a 2005 AUWCL graduate, who she met during the dean's welcome speech on her first day of law school. 

Inspired by her experience shadowing a public defender at the Public Defender's office in Washington, DC, Spain recognized the need for improvement within the legal system and knew that her calling lay in addressing this gap. Determined to make a difference, Spain and Louchheim joined forces and established Students United, a student group aimed at tutoring and mentoring individuals in need of assistance, with a particular focus on engaging first-year law students. 

Over time, Students United underwent a transformation and evolved into Mentoring TODAY (To Develop the Aspirations of our Youth). With an even broader vision in mind, the organization eventually rebranded itself as Open City Advocates, with a goal to provide holistic legal defense and advocacy for marginalized youth in the DC juvenile justice system, while driving systemic improvements locally and nationally.  

To sustain their impactful work, Open City Advocates relies on funding from a combination of public and private grants. The organization was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from Impact100 DC, a women-led group that channels both their personal voices and financial resources to establish meaningful connections with others and effect positive change.  

Spain emphasized the significance of these funds, as they will be utilized to train attorneys specializing in legal representation of youth after sentencing.  

"While the DC Court compensates these attorneys, community outreach and the dissemination of information about individual rights are vital components that support their work," she said. "Open City Advocates ensures this by providing an attorney helpline and listserv and raising awareness within the community, especially among children who need access to such knowledge." 

Spain expressed her excitement about the collaboration with Impact100, highlighting the alignment between the Open City concept and the group's philanthropic endeavors. 

"The timing of this grant is particularly crucial for our organization, coinciding with the third phase of a project to implement a landmark court decision on the right to legal representation of children after sentencing," she noted. "Collectively these women are making a difference. There is a synergy between the Open City concept and this group of women bridging philanthropy to help others. All of these women who contribute personally through Impact 100 show the power of individual relationships accomplishing a collective mission."

Story by Liz Newton.