Can you tell me how you first got involved with MA Appleseed? What drew you to the mission?
I applied for a summer internship with MA Appleseed after my first year of law school, but I did not get the job! Instead, I ended up working for the City of Boston as a legislative assistant for the Boston City Council. Around that time, Board member Lawrence Friedman invited me to work with the Marketing Committee at Appleseed. We ended up organizing a big Board retreat and did a lot of strategic planning and organizational soul-searching. We hired a new Executive Director, streamlined our project portfolio, and developed a signature project. We also started the Good Apple Reception, both as a way to highlight “Good Doobies,” but also as a way to generate funds. Once I graduated law school and started working for Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) as a public defender, I was invited to join the Board.
I saw it as another opportunity to engage in social justice work from a systemic angle, with really smart, really well-connected people.
You weren’t just a Board member – you were actually the interim Executive Director for a period of time! Can you talk a little bit about that?
I was the interim Executive Director during my third year of law school and was asked to step in during a leadership transition. I helped run the Board meetings, hired interns for the summer, overhauled the office, and generally kept the lights on during a tough time for the organization. Afterwards, I went off to study for the bar exam, and the Board went on to hire the Great Joan Meschino as the new Executive Director! By then, the National Appleseed Center had a new Executive Director as well, and a great fundraising model. We used it ourselves, and that was our first Good Apple Reception. It was a game-changer for us.
What has surprised you most about working with MA Appleseed?
How much everyone is looking for ways to make a genuine impact.
What is your favorite memory from your time with MA Appleseed?
That moment when I looked at the financials and realized we actually had a budget and money to pay staff and work on projects. When I started working for MA Appleseed, we had maybe $5,000 in the bank.
What projects have been most meaningful to you?
The School-to-Prison Pipeline. I remember encountering the issue when I was interning for CPCS in their juvenile defender unit. I started talking to a few folks at Harvard Law School and the Georgia and Texas Appleseeds about the scope of the problem. I wasn’t sure what role MA Appleseed could play, but I knew we had to get involved in this issue. At that time, MA Appleseed was looking for a signature project and this seemed to be a good fit for us.
You’re a public defender, on the front lines of this kind of work. What’s your personal philosophy about access to justice?
That there isn’t enough of it. There’s more access to justice for criminal defendants than for any other litigants, thanks to Gideon. When I think of access to justice within the context of my work as a public defender, I think about it more in terms of having access to affordable and competent counsel. There needs to be a civil Gideon.
You’re departing from the MA Appleseed Board of Directors this year. Do you have any advice for current and future Board members, or any final thoughts with which to leave the organization?
Keep your eyes peeled. There are plenty of everyday issues that need to be addressed systemically. When you come across something in your daily work that doesn’t seem right, figure out how to leverage MA Appleseed’s resources to address it. Chances are pretty high that you aren’t the only one who has noticed that something about that needs to change.
Kristen Graves joined the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Appleseed in 2007, and we thank her for the years of passion and energy she has dedicated to promoting equal rights and opportunities for all Massachusetts residents.
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