Alia Sisson (left) with PBV Director Tim Deveney and fellow PBV Lota Ofodile
By Alia Sisson
During my time interning at the U.S. Senate in college, I had the distinguished title of “Intern 6.” While it was important work I was honored to do, I couldn’t help feeling a bit like a tiny cog in the enormous machine of American politics – easily replaced and forgotten.
My time as a volunteer at Legal Aid of Western Missouri (LAWMO) has been quite the opposite. At the time of this writing, I am over seven months into my nine months of service through the Missionaries of the Precious Blood as a Precious Blood Volunteer. From the time I began my service at Legal Aid, the most notable aspect of the work environment is the collegiality, friendliness, and inclusivity of all staff, from interns to the Executive Director.
On my first day, I was pleasantly surprised to find I would be given my own office, phone number, and email address. Not only did this make me feel valued for donating my time, but it’s indicative of the greater mission of LAWMO, which to me centers on the inherent dignity of every person. From the clients that we serve to the staff and volunteers, Legal Aid’s work is a labor of love. LAWMO attracts people with big hearts and high ambitions to help the neediest among us.
As far as the work that I do for Legal Aid, it could not be more perfect for what I was seeking from a volunteer year following my law school graduation. While there are plenty of opportunities for soul-crushing corporate, transactional work after I take the bar exam, I wanted to dedicate a year of my life to something beyond billable hours in the 9-to-5 grind. I would be hard-pressed to find something more fulfilling than helping domestic violence survivors pick up the pieces of their lives and start fresh by getting divorced from abusers and gaining custody of their kids.
Through this experience, I have been privileged to get an inside look at the justice system. For example, attending court with our clients as Legal Aid attorneys work with them to obtain full orders of protection. I have observed how the justice system intersects with children’s division, domestic violence shelters, the police, and other agencies. I have also learned a great deal of practical knowledge for when I practice law, such as drafting pleadings, interrogatories, letters, briefs, and research memoranda.
Though not every case always goes in our client’s favor, I know for a fact that the Legal Aid attorneys and paralegals are amongst the hardest working out there and always do their very best in advocating for those who do not possess the luxury of other options. I have had several clients give the most heartfelt thanks to me for the help that Legal Aid provided them. With one client even offering to clean our offices in gratitude (I politely declined), it is safe to say LAWMO makes a tremendous positive difference in the Missouri community.
I am so thankful to be the first Precious Blood Volunteer placed at Legal Aid of Western Missouri, and I hope I am not the last. Both organizations harmonize in bridging the gap between resources and need by offering a helping hand to those in poverty. It is my sincere hope that LAWMO and Precious Blood will share a bright future in collaborating to bless volunteers with the ability to serve and grow.
To learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Legal Aid of Western Missouri go to https://preciousbloodkc.org/legal-aid-of-western-missouri/
Precious Blood Volunteers Martin Echtler, Lota Ofodile, and Alia Sisson with Tim Deveney
by Alia Sisson, Precious Blood Volunteer
“I practice the ‘highest’ law in the ‘highest’ court, the law of charity in the court of heaven.” – Sr. Nirmala Joshi
As I gear up for the biggest test of my life, the Ohio bar exam, I find this quote comforting. Not because if I fail then I can quip, “Oh, it’s okay, I practice the law of charity in the court of heaven,” but because it is a reminder of the ultimate truth: God’s law. While I am honored and privileged to be a future lawyer, I pray that my vocation will not only keep a roof over my head, but also enable me to be an agent of charity through the legal system. While it is important to have a fulfilling career, my highest ambition is to be a conduit of the Holy Spirit to those whom I serve.
With a political science degree and three years of formal legal training, you could say I am a big proponent of “law and order.” However, I cannot deny that we live in a country with a dark history in which some were – and still are – considered “more equal than others” (in the prescient words of George Orwell). Even our language about certain groups of people betrays our true feelings. Depending on whether you call people “illegal aliens” or “undocumented immigrants,” I can pretty much predict your views on immigration policy. Despite the distinctions drawn by U.S. law, I am reminded that under God’s law we are all His children worthy of safety, love, and respect. While it is important to follow the law, blind obedience to unjust laws does not serve the interest of justice for the human family.
In my volunteer placement through Precious Blood, I assist the attorneys at Legal Aid of Western Missouri in applying Missouri law to the facts of each individual’s case. However, we also practice the law of charity – Legal Aid only helps those too poor to afford a lawyer. We receive hundreds of calls and referrals per week from people in desperate need of legal help with issues ranging from housing to child custody to immigration. It saddens me that so many people feel crushed by poverty and forgotten by politicians beholden to wealthy donors. Often times, we are their last hope for justice.
As Precious Blood Volunteers, we not only help the poor, we are the poor. Of course there is the caveat that volunteers choose to live simply for a year, rather than endure a lifetime of unrelenting poverty by necessity. Nonetheless, this intentional pillar of the Precious Blood program is one of the most wonderfully uncomfortable and growth-inducing aspects. I now understand why religious orders take vows of poverty. It is not a punishment; it is an opportunity to critically examine what we value and how few material things we actually need to be happy. It is truly a gift that shows every good thing we have is from God alone. In fact, most material comforts are merely an obstacle to holiness (iPhone, I’m looking at you).
As a child, thanks to my family, I never had to think about food, shelter, or clothing – they just appeared. Later, in college and law school, thanks to my good friend “Sallie Mae,” I was able to mindlessly shop when I was bored, perusing endless aisles of fluorescent lit products I soon felt I couldn’t live without. I slowly amassed closets full of designer clothes, yet I still felt empty and restless. This undoubtedly first-world problem was nonetheless a true poverty, borne of the lack of a deep relationship with our Creator.
Now on my modest volunteer stipend, I no longer have the so-called “luxury” of mindless – and frankly egotistical – consumerism. I am happy with everything I can fit in two suitcases, and smile to realize it is still more than enough. Through this experience, I have learned that the fewer possessions I have, the more room I have to grow in love and charity. In the long run, self-denial is the road to freedom because we are freed of unhealthy attachments that separate us from God. Especially during Lent, we are called to reflect on these truths and learn them through experience.
As a completely unexpected side benefit of this life lesson, forced to become a less vapid person, I have picked up a hobby that is both free and incredibly liberating: running!
Beginning in October, a month after I arrived in Kansas City, I started to run basically on a whim. I didn’t have a goal other than to run a mile without stopping. Soon I had conquered the 5k distance, and by January I ran a 10k race after a weeklong battle with the flu. Now I am training for my first half-marathon, which is coming up on April 14. In September, I will conquer the full distance, 26.2 miles, at the Air Force Marathon in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
Beyond the physical and mental benefits of training, there is something profoundly inspirational about continuing to put one foot in front of the other despite pain and exhaustion. It’s something Jesus did to the extreme, during his passion when he felt the most lonely and abandoned. It’s something I see my clients do every day at Legal Aid. It something I still need to work on in my own incredibly privileged life.
As I meditate on Christ’s passion throughout the waning days of Lent, I am reminded that in every seemingly hopeless situation, God is there waiting to comfort. Remaining optimistic despite fear and pain is something I am gradually learning with every client helped, every mile run, and every law outline studied. No matter the outcome, God is semper fidelis (always faithful). The true test is whether or not we as “the faithful” live up to that name.
Soon, God willing, I will be practicing law as an attorney. I will apply the laws of Ohio to assist clients with their legal needs. In this sense, I will be seeking individual justice. In the broader sense, with every case I will seek to reinforce the self-evident truth that ALL men and women are created equal.
Lest we forget, Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Through his death and resurrection, he made it possible for everyone to be saved if they freely choose Him. As we prepare for and witness the Easter miracle in 2018, let us ask ourselves if we are living according to God’s law as He has called us to do.
So what exactly does that look like?
As always, the Gospel is a good place to start. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39).
You can apply to become a Precious Blood Volunteer and serve at Legal Aid of Western Missouri by going to our application page.
You can learn more about our placement at Legal Aid of Western Missouri here.
2017-2018 Volunteer Alia Sisson
Alia Sisson was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Dayton in 2013. Alia graduated from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law with her Juris Doctorate in 2016. She plans to serve the poor and practice public interest law as her vocation. She was awarded for completing over 200 hours of pro bono student legal service. In her free time, she loves to sing and play guitar. Alia will be serving from September to at least June of 2018 and will serve in the domestic violence division of Legal Aid of Western Missouri.
- Why do you want to volunteer?
“The following verse sums up my philosophy on volunteering: ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Matt 10:8). I have been given so much in this life that I haven’t earned, through God’s grace. Not everyone is so fortunate. I have the gifts of my time and education to freely give, which I hope can lend a hand to help get people back on their feet. We all need help from time to time, and I am happy to offer what I can to others in their time of need. Serving the poor reminds me to keep a grateful heart and a humble attitude.”
- Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?
“I want my faith and my vocation to be inextricably combined, with one breathing life into the other. Missionaries of the Precious Blood represents the highest values to which I aspire, especially walking with those who suffer. I went to law school to be able to help those in need to the best of my ability, and working at Legal Aid of Western Missouri will ensure I can do just that.
Recognizing the inherent dignity in every human life, no matter the circumstances, is truly loving our neighbor. It is easy to love those like us, but loving those who are most unlike us is what Christians are called to do. As a Precious Blood volunteer I will seek to help reconcile broken bonds in the Kansas City community and build bridges where there is hopelessness. Along the way, I look forward to learning a great deal from those I will work with.”
- What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?
“This volunteer experience offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give service where it is truly needed. I am eager to work with clients that I will hopefully be able to help in a deeply meaningful way – to find or keep their housing and stay safely off the streets. I am also looking forward to the freedom from material distraction that living minimally in a faith community offers. By volunteering, I hope to grow my heart and my skills as a lawyer. I look forward to forging friendships with my fellow volunteers, the priests we live with, and the Kansas City community as a whole. (I also hope to improve on my cooking skills whenever I make dinner for the household!)”