Farmer & Morris Law, PLLC, congratulates Ian Stephens on winning the firm’s Volunteer Service Scholarship for 2023. The law firm gives the $2,500 award to an eligible law school applicant or a current law student who embodies the spirit of volunteerism. The North Carolina-based law firm believes volunteering strengthens communities and wants to recognize law students who demonstrate how important giving to others is.
“The lawyers who leave the greatest mark on the world operate from a place of selflessness,” said attorney Joshua Farmer, partner of Farmer & Morris Law, PLLC. “We want to invest in a soon-to-be lawyer who has made it their mission to selflessly give themselves to others.”
Stephens, a first-year law student at Texas A&M University School of Law, says he will use the scholarship to “pay for an opportunity to study abroad, allowing me to work with an actual client, gaining valuable experience, and experiencing a new culture.” Before starting law school in the fall of 2022, the Texas resident earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.
Scholarship’s ‘Selfless Service’ Theme Aligns With Winner’s Desire to Help Others
Stephens shares that the scholarship opportunity got his attention because it’s about helping others. “The Volunteer Service Scholarship is all about selfless service. That’s what drew me to law in the first place. While many people are drawn to the fields of law that make the most money, I’m drawn to places where I can help make the situations of disadvantaged people better.”
He recently led a community organization’s efforts to raise money for toilets that will go to people experiencing homelessness. Stephens said he came up with the idea after seeing how homelessness has affected communities in Dallas.
“Many parts of Dallas have seen their homeless populations grow because of instability caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Dallas grew by 22% as almost a thousand people became homeless,” Stephens shares in his scholarship essay. “While the organization I volunteer for and I would not have adequate resources to rehouse people, we decided that we could in some way improve the material conditions on the ground for some people.”
Stephens considered several ways to help people without homes before settling on helping them with reliable access to bathrooms. He wanted to help people find sanitary and safe places where they can care for themselves. “I discovered the so-called Tailgate Toilet, a sturdy, portable toilet designed for camping or tailgating. This product came with a tent for privacy and is easy to move, set up, breakdown, clean, and empty. I realized that this would be an economical way to provide relief for some number of people,” Stephens says.
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Hundreds Gain Safe Bathroom Access After Stephens’ Fundraiser
Stephens organized a fundraiser to buy 10 Tailgate Toilets and their accessories that they would go on to deliver to eight encampments in the Dallas area, helping hundreds of people.
“I organized a raffle where I was able to get t-shirts, magazine subscriptions, and signed books donated as prizes and solicited online donations for a chance to enter. In only the first few days after launching the fundraiser, I was not only able to raise its $1,100 goal but to surpass $1,200, allowing us to buy extra bags and disinfecting wipes as well,” he says.
Stephens also shares that many encampment residents expressed their appreciation and offered thoughtful expressions. “Perhaps the most insightful and fulfilling, though, was the surprise expressed by the people living in these encampments. They expressed to us how no one had ever thought of doing something like this in their past experiences, and they said that they expected the nonprofits who regularly go through would take note—that they would soon get more.”
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‘You Can Make a Difference’
Stephens says the insight he gained from the experience is that everyone can make a difference in their community. “I’m nobody; I had no resources and few connections. But if you’re willing to put in some effort, you can make a difference,” he says. “This experience shows a lesson that everyone can take away—how easy it is to support your community and make a change for the better.”
This summer, Stephens will work with a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas and for a plaintiff’s side wage and hour firm. Next semester, he will complete an externship with a major public defender’s office.
“This year I have taken part in days of service put on by the law school, which has very strong ties with the community in Fort Worth,” he says.
His work this summer aligns with his studies. He’s interested in working in plaintiff’s side labor and employment law and will pursue a concentration in workplace law at the law school at Texas A&M University. His biggest inspirations are “people in history who put their values first, even to their own detriment,” he says. “There have been some people, like Nelson Mandela, Eugene Debs, and Antonio Gramsci, that have felt so strongly in their values that they are willing to be imprisoned or even be killed rather than compromise what they believe in.”
Future Career Plans Could Include Representing Unions in Texas
Stephens wants to stay in Fort Worth, Texas, where his family lives nearby. He also has his sights set on a career in representing unions. “While that may not be immediate because Texas is not very union dense, there are some excellent attorneys in DFW doing that work.”