What the National Women’s Law Center Means for Girls Like Me

It’s a common question I get: What exactly does the National Women’s Law Center do?

I could tell people that we advance policies on behalf of women, examine and explain nuanced, complex issues so the public knows what’s really at stake for hardworking families, or that we simply expand the possibilities for women and girls. Because we do all those things.

It’s not what I tell people. I tell people what an organization like NWLC means for someone like me. When I was growing up – I didn’t realize that places like NWLC existed. I didn’t actually know a lot about other places that existed outside of my world.

My world was where you went to your parents’ best friends’ apartment for dinner every weekend because your family couldn’t afford food seven days a week. My world was where you constantly feared you’d get evicted if the landlord found out that, on any given day, there could be as many as 14 people sharing your family’s two-bedroom apartment. My world was where people kept telling you that if you worked hard you would get out of the neighborhood – which only scared you because you didn’t know what was outside of the neighborhood.

My parents were immigrants. To be clear – they were boat people from Vietnam. They, like so many people we read about in our newspapers, made a perilous journey across punishing waters to an uncertain future with a one- and two-year-old in tow. They got pregnant with me in a refugee camp and ended up in the United States a couple of months before I was born. It was hope that allowed them to make the journey. It was hope that brought them to this country.

Unfortunately, hope does not pay the bills. It does not mean your children will be treated well in school or in life. It doesn’t keep you full at night. Though my sisters and I had a wonderful childhood and our family was full of joy – it was not easy. Though my parents are incredible to me, their immigrant story is all too common. Our journey as a hardworking, low-income family trying to make a better life is similar to millions in this country. And creating a better life may not have been possible without organizations like the National Women’s Law Center.

Organizations like NWLC push for programs that allow families like my own to thrive. Because as hard as families like mine work to make ends meet and create better lives, without Medicaid we would’ve gone without needed health care. Social Security and Medicare ensured we knew there was a safety net in the future. And ensuring investments in early learning not only benefits young children but also the people who work hard every day to ensure kids get the quality care they deserve – like my mother who ran a daycare for more than 20 years.

I’ve been privileged to go to college, to have a stable job and food security, to feel empowered to take on new challenges and opportunities because of my amazing parents and incredible community, and in part because of NWLC and organizations like it. They are part of the village that raised me – not just in the last eight years that I’ve worked here – but also as part of a greater community of actors who ensure that struggling women and their families are able to strive for a better life for themselves and their children.

So what does the National Women’s Law Center do? For girls like me, they make hope a reality.