New JD Students Give Back at Annual "In My Back Yard" Public Service Day

JD orientation week is filled with tours, sessions, and receptions to acclimate new students to the opportunities at American University Washington College of Law.

Before orientation begins, new students have the chance to join faculty, staff, and upperclassmen for “IMBY” or the “In My Back Yard” Public Service Day. IMBY is an annual event dedicated to improving the neighborhoods that members of the law school community call home.

Participation in IMBY counts toward the law school’s Pro Bono Honors Pledge Program, which recognizes graduating students who have completed a minimum of 75 hours of pro bono legal assistance and community service.

One hundred and eighty-six students (pictured right) participated in this year’s day of service at organizations such as Bread for the City, Capitol Area Food Bank, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, Martha's Table, Rock Creek Conservatory, Sasha Bruce Network, So Others May Eat, Take Back Your Home, and Washington Parks and People.

“In My Backyard exposes law students to some of the distressed communities in DC where people are in dire need of legal services," said David Steib, assistant director for the Office of Public Interest. " The day inspires students to return to those communities to do pro bono service or public interest work with the skills that they will learn in law school.”

“It was my first day in D.C., and it’s exciting to have this experience as my first impression.”

For 1Ls that participate, IMBY allows 1Ls to see the city while connecting with established members of the law school community.

One group of 1Ls, led by rising 3L Mary Bonventre and Professor Andrew Pike (pictured left), spent the day at Martha’s Table, an organization situated near the U Street corridor—a stone’s throw from D.C. Landmarks like the Lincoln Theatre.

For nearly 30 years, Martha’s Table has been dedicated to alleviating the immediate effects of poverty in the D.C.-area by providing nutrition, education, and family support services through workshops and a clothing operation.

Shortly after arriving, students and staff donned hairnets and rubber gloves and got to work. They sliced and diced countless boxes of produce—tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots—to be used in preparing meals for children in the organization’s school programs. They bagged and packed peanut butter sandwiches and desserts to be distributed as part of the grocery program. They carried deliveries of donated books and even helped with computer work in the office. The law students were greeted by little waving hands and sent off with many “bye, bye, byes!” when delivering milk and lunches to Martha’s daycare kids.

“I was really impressed by Martha’s Table,” said Henrissa Bassey, a 1L who recently finished her master’s in public health. “I haven’t seen many non-profits that were so adequately able to meet the holistic needs of their community. It was my first day in D.C., and it’s exciting to have the experience at Martha’s Table as my first impression—that the organization exists and that the community can be supportive of that. It’s also great to know that other students care about public interest and volunteering.”

“Every year, we reaffirm through IMBY that our students, faculty, and staff care about giving back to those around us."

Amid the food preparation and clean-up at Martha’s Table, there was also valuable conversation. While new students introduced themselves and shared their personal and legal interests, Professor Pike and upperclassman Mary Bonventre gave tips and advice on everything from conquering legal rhetoric to managing stress.

Before heading home, the group made an impromptu stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Over chili half-smokes, the group discussed the legacy of the restaurant, the history of the neighborhood, and navigating the city.

“It was nice to get off campus, meet new people, and see the city before starting the school year,” said Alyssa Antoniskis, a new JD student from Seattle. “I really feel like we got some great tips about things to be aware of.”

IMBY participants ended their day of service at a networking event held at Cleveland Park Bar & Grill.

(Pictured Right: IMBY participants volunteer at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens)

"In My Backyard is not just a great orientation event but more importantly serves as an introduction to the AUWCL community and our values,” said Thais-Lyn Trayer, a 2L Public Interest-Public Service scholar and IMBY coordinator. “Every year, we reaffirm through IMBY that our students, faculty, and staff care about giving back to those around us."

IMBY and The Pro Bono Honors Pledge Program are an integral part of the law school’s focus on public interest work and community engagement.