A Second Chance with Project GRACE

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Sha’na Harris

Staff Attorney Sha’na Harris is a new addition to the Clinic family, recently taking over Project GRACE. Project GRACE, which stands for Guided Re-entry Assistance and Community Education, is a program dedicated to helping those with criminal histories, helping them to receive expungements or to be granted specialized driving privileges, among other services. Much of the work done by Project GRACE makes it possible for clients to find and to maintain steady employment and, thus, to be self-sufficient.

From the age of 11, Sha’na knew she wanted to be an attorney. “I watched a movie called Separate but Equal with Thurgood Marshall and documenting the whole Brown vs. Board of Education decision,” she says. “That was the first time I realized how much influence and power attorneys had to make change, and so I knew I wanted to be a part of that.” For years, Sha’na worked towards that goal, graduating from college and then Law School—ultimately passing the bar examination earlier this year.

That’s when Sha’na learned about the Clinic and the opening with Project GRACE. For her, this work is especially important because she knows what it means to have a job, how necessary it is for day-to-day living. “I can personally identify because I came from an impoverished area,” she says. “I can relate to the people who are needing a second chance.”

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Help Desk Staff Julie Mennel (second from left) and Volunteers

As part of Project GRACE, the Clinic maintains a Help Desk that operates out of the City-County Building. “The Help Desk is a resource the Clinic provides for anyone regardless of socioeconomic status,” Sha’na says. “People will usually just walk in with nothing, knowing ‘Hey, I want an expungement.’” At that point, Help Desk staff Julie Mennel or various volunteers are then able to walk clients through the process of filling out forms to petition for an expungement.

One of the things that Sha’na would like to see for the program going forward is for it to expand even further. “There are so many people who need this service,” she says. “Even the Help Desk, being there, maybe 30 people walk in a day and it’s only open three days a week.” For this to change, and for Project GRACE to be able to serve even more clients, the Clinic would need more funding, as well as more committed volunteers to meet the needs of the community.

The work that Sha’na does with Project GRACE is inextricably linked with her faith. “Faith plays a role relating to the clients, in understanding that this could happen to anybody, that we all have expectations and things that we should be doing. This position reminds me of what it means for God to have grace for me and my actions,” she says. “It’s a constant reminder of God’s mercy.”

Every Tuesday for the month of November leading up to Giving Tuesday, we’ll be featuring the stories of Project GRACE clients on our Facebook page. To learn more about Project GRACE, please visit our website. To become a volunteer for Project GRACE, please visit our volunteer page.