By Maria Odom*
It felt great to be back in New Orleans for CLINIC’s 2010 Annual Convening. The last time I was in the Big Easy was just weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit the city with its deadly force. Back then, my family had gathered in the city to celebrate my younger brother’s law school graduation. Victor, the youngest of four children, made us all immensely proud and grateful to our parents for their love and commitment to our education and formation.
This time, I returned to the city for another joyful occasion: my first CLINIC convening as its Executive Director. Our team arrived early in the week, eager to set up shop and start the week’s events and workshops. I, on the other hand, ran around anxious and preoccupied with preparations for the plenary session, staff and DAC meetings, and everything under the sun. One CLINIC old-timer must have seen my preoccupation and said sensitively: “Maria, don’t worry. Tomorrow, the affiliates arrive and you will see that this place takes a life of its own – the energy will rise up in this room, and you will see CLINIC at its absolute best!” Was she right!
(Pictured: Maria Odom & representative from New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus Winner of the Sustaining Funder Award)
Wednesday rolled around and hotel hallways that were once empty and cold were filled with joyful people, streaming in, eager for workshops to start and finding old friends to hug and catch up. The place took on a life of its own – one driven by folks with the shared desire to represent the neediest of immigrants at a time when resources are scarce, community sentiment so negative, and the need for assistance growing by the day. I had a grand time meeting all of you and talking about your programs and your current initiatives. And, of course, attending workshops and observing CLINIC’s trainers doing what they do best: teach immigration law and other programmatic subjects in a thorough, compassionate, and practical way. It was truly the highlight of my short tenure at CLINIC.
I want to thank all of you for attending this year’s convening. The road ahead is a bit uncertain but the drive to enhance the delivery of legal services to the most vulnerable immigrants remains strong and unshakeable. Let the resilient spirit of the people of New Orleans serve as an inspiration to us all and may that beautiful city remind us that strong communities are built from within, with a shared vision, one step at a time.
* Maria Odom began working as CLINIC’s Executive Director in December 2009. She is the third person to hold this title since the agency’s founding in 1988.