Many incredible people have passed through the VACorps internship program since we first started hosting interns in 2006. “Oh the places you’ll go” is a series where our alumni share updates about their careers and life accomplishments. In this latest post, Lauren Blodgett (Refugee and Human Rights Internship, 2013), checks in from New York City, where she works as an Immigration attorney at a non-profit called the Safe Passage Project. She is also the founder of the Brave House, an organization in Brooklyn that provides free legal and holistic services to immigrant girls. Lauren has achieved incredible success in her career and was recently honored as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 2019 for Law & Policy. VACorps is exceptionally proud to have played an instrumental part in her inspiring journey, and we will continue to watch and cheer for her in the years to come! 

Read her interview below:

Please give us a summary of your career to date. What have you been doing and where do you see yourself heading?

After finishing my internship working with refugees at the Scalibrini Centre of Cape Town, I moved back to Boston and started law school at Harvard. During law school, I worked on various human rights issues at non-profits in Morocco, Thailand, Jordan, and Tanzania, with a focus on defending the rights of women, children, and refugees. I also spent a summer at the State Department, working on international human rights issues in Washington D.C., Cambodia, and Japan. During my final year at Harvard, I served on the board of the Harvard Immigration Project and was a student lawyer in Harvard’s immigration clinic, representing asylum-seekers from all over the world.

After law school, I moved to Brooklyn, New York, and became an immigration attorney at the non-profit the Safe Passage Project, providing free legal representation to child refugees who are being deported. In particular, I work with girls who are survivors of gender-based violence and sexual assault. At Safe Passage, I co-founded Las Mariposas (“the butterflies”), a girls empowerment group that meets once a month for activities aimed at wellness and community, such as self-defense, photography, and dancing.

I am currently launching a non-profit called the Brave House, which will be a shelter for immigrant girls in Brooklyn and will provide comprehensive services, such as legal representation, therapy, English lessons, career advising, wellness workshops and much more. This holistic model was inspired by my work at the refugee center in Cape Town, where they not only offered legal services but also crucial, holistic support all under one roof.

Please describe some of your greatest and most memorable professional achievements.

The professional achievements that I am the proudest of are winning the legal cases for the incredible immigrant youth that I represent. These wins involve a tremendous amount of work, resilience, and bravery from everyone involved. It can often take years before we receive a ruling from the court or immigration office, so each and every one of those victories is something I cherish and celebrate. Not only does it make me feel bad-ass as an attorney, but more importantly it gives me the gift of being able to imagine the full, beautiful life that my client can have now in this country. Winning legal status for them means they will not be sent back to a situation where they could face violence and even death. It means they can go to school, live a normal childhood, and have the chance for the happy and healthy life they deserve. There is truly no better feeling!

 I am been fortunate enough to have been given platforms to tell these stories of resiliency and beauty that my clients live each and every day. Just last week I was included in an article in the New York Times about what it is like to be an immigration attorney during the Trump administration. I have also been in the NewYorker, Glamour Magazine, and Brooklyn Magazine.

This past November I was chosen for the 2019 class of Forbes 30 Under 30. This is an incredible honor and in March I will be heading to Israel to join the Forbes Women conference, which will be an opportunity to meet and collaborate with other women from all over the world.

What were the highlights of your internship experience in Cape Town?

My internship experience in Cape Town was transformative for me in so many ways. On a professional level, it gave me firsthand experience working at a non-profit. It inspired me to work with immigrants and refugees throughout law school and to this very day. The experience challenged me to get outside of my comfort zone and embrace the explorer in me. I went bungee jumping, white shark cage diving, played with elephants, went on a safari, and engaged in so many other experiences that made me realize *holy shit we’re alive*.  One of the biggest highlights for me is the people that I met through this experience. The other people in VAC, especially my housemates at Lower Main, are some of my closest, life-long friends. They have been people I’ve gone to for advice, have visited across the world, have met up with for reunions, and have spent endless nights laughing and living in pure joy. The experience has bonded us in such a strong, unique way, and I am forever grateful to have crossed paths with these beautiful humans. They are what I consider “fuck yeah” friends – the type of people who are down for anything and show up 100% with authenticity and excitement. That’s a rare quality but something that I think attracts a certain type of person to Cape Town and the VAC program.

Can you share an example of how your internship experience aided you with your career?

Not only did it give me the invaluable experience of engaging with refugees and working at a non-profit, but it also exposed me to a particular type of non-profit model that isn’t as common in the United States – a one-stop-shop with wrap around services. This helped me visualize the type of organization that I want the Brave House to become. It was invaluable to me because as I was working at an immigration attorney in New York and noticing the gaps in access to services, and I was able to think back to my work in Cape Town and know that there actually is another model that helps address these issues in a really impactful way.

On a broader level, the internship helped open my eyes to the type of work that I am drawn to. It helped me learn more about myself and what I need in order to feel engaged, excited and fulfilled in a professional setting.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to future VAC interns and/or those considering participation in the program?

If you’re considering joining VAC, just do it!! There is an energy that is drawing you to this magical place. If you enter with an open heart and open mind, this experience will lead to so much personal growth. Get outside your comfort zone, open yourself to new experiences, and build that community of dope, interesting, vibrant people. And remember to have fun! Our time on this earth is short, so bask in the beauty of life and just go for it.

Any predictions for what we can expect from you in 10 year’s time?

The Brave House will be fully launched and thriving in Brooklyn. We will be providing free legal and holistic services to immigrant girls and I will be in the process of opening up a branch in Cape Town!