Elon Law hosts President Book on Family Justice Center tours

Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book joined with Margaret Dudley, director of Elon Law’s Emergency Legal Services Program, and Barbara Spencer L’21 on visits to resource centers for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse in Guilford and Alamance counties.

The director of an Elon Law program that aids victims of domestic and sexual violence with potentially life-saving legal guidance accompanied Elon University’s president on tours of resource centers that have collectively served tens of thousands of clients in recent years.

President Connie Ledoux Book visited the Family Justice Centers in both Alamance and Guilford counties on February 24, 2021, where she was introduced to staff members from various nonprofit, medical, and police agencies that work under one roof as comprehensive resource centers for anyone seeking protection from abusive situations.

Elon President Connie Ledoux Book tours the Family Justice Center of Alamance County with Skye Sullivan, the center’s director.

Elon Law’s Emergency Legal Services Program is among the agencies with a presence in both centers. Led by director Margaret Dudley, staff and contract attorneys with the Elon Law program will either refer victims to appropriate resources or, in limited instances, represent clients in court as they apply for restraining orders.

Since its inception in 2016 with $1.3 million from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission, a grant that was renewed in 2020, the legal services program also has involved Elon Law students who intern or complete their residencies-in-practice under Dudley’s tutelage.

Yet Elon University’s involvement with the Family Justice Centers isn’t limited to providing legal resources. In Alamance County, dozens of Elon undergraduates regularly intern with the various agencies and government offices that work together to assist clients with finding housing, seeking help for children, or pursuing charges in the criminal justice system and Elon alumni are employed by agencies that contribute to the initiative.

“It is really powerful for Elon students to be connected in the community,” Book said. “They’ve largely only known their hometowns. At these justice centers, they’re experiencing what it is like to share their knowledge to help families in crisis, and they are thinking about the roles each of us can have in transforming lives, whether as social workers or in law enforcement or as attorneys.”

Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book speaks with Elon alumna Bria Gladney ’19 during a tour of the Family Justice Center of Alamance County on February 24, 2021.

Dudley expressed afterward how humbled and proud she was in her team that the president showed deep interest in the impact of their work in the Emergency Legal Services Program. Dudley noted how Book immediately understood the philosophy of trauma-informed care and wanted to see firsthand the role Elon University is playing in helping residents achieve and maintain stability and safety in their lives.

“I didn’t realize that my work was being looked at far beyond what I dreamed it would be,” Dudley said. “This program isn’t a law school program anymore. It’s a university program. It’s tying into the overall mission of the whole university – enhancing education and health and preparing our students to be informed, compassionate leaders for the common good.”

Barbara Spencer L’21 is completing her Elon Law residency-in-practice with the Emergency Legal Services Program and accompanied Book and Dudley on tours of both centers. In Guilford County, Spencer shared with the president how she is gaining the experience with client interviews, legal consultations, and referrals to other community resources.

Elon President Connie Ledoux Book (left) with Catherine Johnson (center), director of the Family Justice Center of Guilford County, and Sonya Desai, an FJC client services coordinator.

The practical training she is receiving will be of assistance as she pursues a career in advocacy and ensuring access to justice for all people following her upcoming December graduation.

“I’m very excited that I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Book,” Spencer said later. “I imagine that many college students only meet their president or chancellor at graduation, so it was really neat to be able to meet her and talk with her today.”