My name is Ellen, and I am looking forward to being an intern this summer with Alabama Appleseed! I just completed my first year of law school at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and I graduated from college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Before coming to law school, I worked for nonprofit organizations providing educational resources to immigrant and low-income communities. I was an AmeriCorps member in Arlington, Virginia with the Arlington Education and Employment Program, where I taught English as a Second Language to adult immigrants from a multitude of countries and of a variety of ages. After that, I was an AmeriCorps member in Nashville, Tennessee with an after-school program for middle school students. That opportunity led to working for The Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee (CRIT), where I was a Site Coordinator for one of its after-school programs for middle school students. Later, I was promoted to being the Associate Director of all of CRIT’s after-school programs. Around that time, I became interested in going to law school to be an attorney. CRIT had an immigration attorney, and the work the attorney did stuck out to me. He helped immigrants, who were already positively impacting the Nashville community, establish residence in this country after suffering traumatic situations in their home countries. Before going to law school, I also shadowed public defenders. One day I went back in the county jail and met a young girl, about 15 years old, who was charged with making meth with a male about 20 years old. She struck me as a girl who may have made a bad choice as to who she became friends with but if given the opportunity she would make better choices.
I am excited about the work I will do this summer with Alabama Appleseed. The major project I will be working on is to set the groundwork for a heir property project to help individuals gain clear title to their land. Heir property is property that automatically goes to a deceased person’s heirs when the deceased person did not provide for the ownership of the property in a will. Although there might be numerous heirs to a property, often only one heir is using the property. In fact, many of the heirs are probably not aware of their interest in the property. The main issue with heir property is that the property cannot be used in a way as it could with clear title. For example, the property cannot be leased or financed without the consent of all the heirs to the property. In addition, the heir property owner using the land can be forced to leave if others with an interest in the property bring a judicial partition action. This often happens when the heirs who are not using the land sell their interest to a non-family member.
Resolving heir property issues is particularly difficult for people who do not have access to legal assistance. Alabama Appleseed’s goal is to create resources that will help volunteer attorneys and law students navigate the hurdles individuals face when seeking clear title to their land.
Other projects I look forward to working on this summer include researching barriers to justice and policies that feed Alabama’s school-to-prison pipeline. I am very excited to be working on these projects because I know it will make a difference in the lives of individuals finding themselves in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. I chose to intern with Alabama Appleseed because the organization is effective at advocating for just policy for Alabama residents. I look forward to furthering Appleseed's work this summer!