MaryGrace Menner served at Metrowest Worker Center – Casa del Trabajador during the 2017-2018 QVS year. During MaryGrace’s year in QVS, she discerned whether to go to law school, and which law school to attend. Her housemates supported her discernment process with a clearness committee. After graduating law school in May 2021, way opened for MaryGrace.
Check out the following QVS Alumni Spotlight to learn about MaryGrace’s vocational path and how the key pieces of a QVS year stayed with her.
Name: MaryGrace Menner
Spiritual Community: Friends Meeting at Cambridge
QVS Year: 2017-2018
City: Boston, MA
Site Placement: Metrowest Worker Center – Casa del Trabajador
Did you have any connections to the Religious Society of Friends prior to QVS? I began attending Fort Myers Friends Meeting the year prior to my QVS year, which was my first introduction to Quakerism.
“QVS allowed me to explore ‘living my faith’ in a way I hadn’t before. My community and the entire structure of QVS left space for intention and mindfulness in daily life that I had struggled to leave space for in the past.”
What led you to QVS?
I learned about QVS while living in Immokalee, Florida. I moved to Immokalee after I graduated from undergrad to work in the immigration unit at the local Legal Aid office. I worked primarily with people seeking asylum, mostly unaccompanied minors. Immokalee is a hub of the tomato industry and home to incredible farmworker organizing in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. While living there, I attended my first Quaker meeting with Fort Myers Friends. Friends there actually introduced me to QVS and encouraged me to apply!
I was drawn to QVS because I wanted to work on justice issues while also building strong community and sharing values (justice, simple living, spirituality) with my housemates. I was immediately interested in Casa del Trabajador, which ended up becoming my site placement. Casa is an immigrant, worker-led worker center that combines direct action and legal strategies to combat wage theft, support injured workers, and drive immigrant-led campaigns in Metrowest Massachusetts.
What have you been up to since your QVS year?
I started law school immediately after my QVS year. I chose Northeastern Law for the student body’s commitment to social justice issues. During law school, I did four internships: in the employment unit at a legal aid office, judicial chambers, state labor department, and a Vermont worker center. My work with Casa del Trabajador charted my path throughout law school.
During my first year of law school, I learned about the idea of “community lawyering” — law practice in solidarity with organizing efforts and community needs. Community lawyering understands legal action as only one tool of many in a larger social movement. It emphasizes the power of the people themselves, deemphasizing lawyer-centric legal solutions as a means of social change. My time in QVS introduced me to advocates who truly practiced community lawyering with low-income workers, and solidified my decision to pursue a legal career.
How have you remained connected to the social justice causes that drove you to law school in the first place? How has your understanding of social justice work evolved since we last spoke? How does Spirit show up in your work?
My belief in the dignity and spirit of all people guides all the work I do. My spiritual practices ground me in my values: justice, equity, the worth of all people and our connection to the earth. During my QVS year, thanks to QVS’ sponsorship of Fellows, I attended the Continuing Revolution conference at Pendle Hill. The theme was Building Intentional Lives, in the lens of work, love and relationships, justice, and spiritual practice. We asked questions like: “How do we build full lives that align with our values? How do we bring our full selves to work without alienating our core beliefs?”
For me, spiritual practice and community are the answers. They remind me that the work I do is only one element of who I am and what I share with the world. They remind me that my work — paid or unpaid — is not isolated from those around me, from my communities, from all of the social movements that intersect around justice for marginalized people.
Discernment is a big theme that surfaces in QVS. During the fellowship year, Fellows practice listening to the still, small voice as they discern: how to spend their time; their spiritual gifts; how to move through conflict or how to bring joy into a community’s practice; a vocational path, job opportunity, and training or further education. What does discernment look like in your life now?
Discernment remains a big part of my life, as I imagine it does with many young adults. During my QVS year, my housemates supported my discernment process with clearness committees. I grappled with the idea of going to law school at all, and then with discerning which law school to attend. The discernment practices we established as a community are still very present for me.
I sat for a long time with the question of what I wanted to do after graduating from law school. I felt pulled in many directions. It was important to me to take a post-grad job that would let me work on impactful, worker-driven issues. Way opened into a post-grad fellowship that allows me to work on labor issues in a progressive, supportive space.
“QVS connected me with many people (especially in Friends Meeting at Cambridge) who practice peace in every element of their lives, and do service by being involved in social justice movements outside of their work life.”
Why is it important to you that QVS is invested in building spiritually-grounded young adult leaders?
The fight to create a better world needs deep, nourished roots. Any movement for social change has existed before us, and will survive us. QVS is an opportunity to grow and strengthen these roots. QVS helped me build a blueprint of how I can live my life in a way that’s personally, politically, and spiritually fulfilling, and fundamentally changed the way I live.
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