Externship Profile: Crisis Ministries

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Charleston School of Law student Patrick Townes wanted to do something meaningful with his time this summer. After scanning the list of available externships through the School, Crisis Ministries caught Townes’ attention.

“Everything Crisis Ministries does serves the public and I couldn’t think of a better organization that shares Charleston School of Law’s commitment to public service,” said Townes. Crisis Ministries works to end homelessness in Charleston by helping to provide food, shelter and hope to one person at a time. Along with providing meals, healthcare services, and educational and job placement services, Crisis Ministries provides free legal services through its Homeless Justice Project.

Through daily interactions with clients, Townes gains valuable communication and interpersonal skills. “I’ve learned that establishing a relationship with the client is one of the most important aspects of being an attorney,” said Townes. “Many of our clients may not win their cases, but it’s obvious they take comfort knowing the legal clinic is doing everything possible for them.”

Crisis Ministries holds a walk-in legal clinic twice a week providing legal counsel for homeless individuals who most likely would not have the means to hire an attorney. Townes assists clients with their disability claims with Social Security, helping people get back on their feet.

“The best part of working with Crisis Ministries is definitely getting to know our clients. Most of them have lived interesting lives and are not far removed from successful careers,” said Townes. “Helping people I genuinely enjoy spending time with has been very rewarding.”

The shelter houses on average 1,600 people per year and the Homeless Justice Project serves over 500 people annually. Approximately 42 percent of those people are veterans, according to Jeff Yungman, director of the Homeless Justice Project. The Homeless Justice Project gives civil legal service to all of the homeless people in the area, with over 55 percent of legal service being disability claims.

“I didn’t realize how many veterans Crisis Ministries serves,” said Townes. “It has surprised and saddened me to see so many homeless veterans.” The externship provides Townes with exposure to the legal issues that homeless veterans and people face today. While Townes is currently undecided on which field of law to practice, he plans to do pro bono work in this field and would continue to work with the shelter in the future.

Over the past four years, seven Charleston School of Law students have completed externships with Crisis Ministries. “Every Charleston School of Law externship student has shown an interest in helping the homeless population and they do an excellent job. They are exposed to a lot of folks with all sorts of different problems to help a population that’s underserved in the community,” said Yungman. “The students learn strong interviewing skills and how to build a relationship with their client.”

Townes, originally from Sumter, S.C., graduated from Presbyterian College and worked as a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual before attending law school. In addition to externing at Crisis Ministries, Townes works as a legal intern at Sparc.

Charleston School of Law’s externship program allows students to gain practical work experience while earning course credit. Students complement their classroom studies by working under the direct supervision of members of the judiciary or attorneys in the public sector. This summer, Charleston School of Law students are at 28 dynamic externship sites helping the community. Since fall 2006, Charleston School of Law students have completed approximately 72,829 externship hours.

For more information about Crisis Ministries, click here.

Story and photo by Lucy J. Remitz.

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Release Date: 7/2/2012