Beyond the Classroom: Christina Jones Wants Employment Opportunities for Special Needs Students into AdulthoodJune 19, 2015
For the past year and a half, third year law student Christina Jones has had her sights set on joining Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) this summer. In early 2014, as first-year law students at the University of Notre Dame, Christina and three of her classmates met the majority of LAS-ELC’s legal staff through the school’s GALILEE Program. The unique program sends law students into cities across the country to meet with public interest attorneys, giving them insight into the community’s legal needs.
Getting a thorough account of the work LAS-ELC does, the challenges of a nonprofit employment law office, and the attorneys’ routes to their current positions cemented her decision.
“Visiting LAS-ELC was far and away the highlight of my tour of San Francisco’s legal aid groups,” Christina says. “The LAS-ELC attorneys all still had the light in their eyes, the kind that shines when you love your job and feel you are able to make a real difference in people’s lives. That’s what I wanted.”
Christina’s road to LAS-ELC this summer may have started during that visit, but her path to becoming an advocate began to unfold well before.
When Christina was 11, Jennifer, her autistic cousin nearly lost her place at her specialized Bay Area school due to lack of funding. Christina’s family rallied around Jennifer and pulled together two public walkathons to raise money for the school. Through her continued activism and volunteering on behalf of Jennifer and her school, Christina learned that there were also significant legal matters involved with Jennifer’s plight to keep her place at the school. Christina connected the dots and began to cultivate her interest in law and passion for the rights of the autistic community.
While getting her B.S. in Business Administration at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, she also began to pursue learning more about special education law and landed an unprecedented opportunity to work alongside the law students at William & Mary Law School’s Special Education Advocacy Clinic and Parents Engaged in Learning Equality Initiative. That summer experience was invaluable, and led Christina to again connect more dots between her business education and desire to advocate for people with autism. Christina asks, “So many resources are poured into autism at the educational level, but what happens when today’s 1 in 68 children with autism become tomorrow’s 1 in 68 adults with autism?
“Employment is about dignity, and everyone, despite their circumstances, should be able to bring their skills to the marketplace, and be fully integrated members of society,” she says.
Christina’s goal of helping adults on the autism spectrum find and retain meaningful employment led her to focus her sights on employment law. After graduating from Berkeley, Christina headed to South Bend, Indiana, for Notre Dame Law School. In summer 2014, she interned at the Department of Justice’s Disability Rights Section in Washington, D.C., where she was exposed to Americans with Disabilities Act enforcement. And this summer, as a Robert M. Dell Student Advocate with the Disability Rights Program, Christina is happy to be back in the Bay Area concentrating on disability-related employment law issues at LAS-ELC.