Few people have the privilege of walking out of school and really knowing what they want to do. Most people will even tell you, well into their career, they still are not quite sure they know what they want to do. With that thought in mind, how can you discover your true passion and have the courage to pursue it?
For Kerry Battenfeld, a local immigration attorney and the March BN360 Spotlight Professional, following a non-traditional path helped her not only find her passion but some incredible mentors who continue to inspire her today.
The Road Less Traveled
After completing her undergraduate degree, Kerry found herself in a position familiar to most young professionals: After four years of hard work to earn a college degree, what in the world do you do next? The easy choice might have been to take a paralegal position in Pittsburgh and continue down the law track she was already considering. Instead, inspired and motivated by friends, Kerry decided to leave home and to serve in the Peace Corps.
A few long months later, Kerry found herself in a new environment. Serving as a water and sanitation technician in Honduras, she was quickly immersed in a culture and community. While she had received language and skills training, nothing quite prepared her for a first-hand experience with extreme poverty, political instability, and even violence. For the first time, Kerry began to understand why someone would leave their home and the comforts of everything they know to start a new life elsewhere. Kerry’s passion began to take shape as she returned home to Buffalo.
Passion in Pursuit
The draw of family, friends, and the comforts of home—plus a job opportunity—brought Kerry back home to Buffalo. While far from Honduras, Kerry found her passion working with human trafficking survivors through the International Institute. Through her work with the Peace Corps and the International Institute, Kerry came face-to-face with the emotional, personal side of the law. It was through that experience, and with the help of a great mentor, that Kerry’s interest in law school was reignited. Luckily, the University at Buffalo offers a dual degree program that afforded Kerry the opportunity to pursue her passions of both the law and social work.
Fast forward to today: Kerry serves as an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project. From her experience in Honduras to her time at the International Institute, it would seem Kerry’s path was guided by her passion for both people and the law.
“As an immigration attorney, a significant part of my job is helping my clients tell their stories, whether it’s to an asylum officer, an immigration judge, or some other adjudicator,” Kerry told me. “Like most people doing this work, I encounter clients with devastating and traumatic histories, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by a system that feels increasingly stacked against our clients.
“It’s important to me to find motivation to stay focused and committed to this work. Two of the women who provide me with daily inspiration are Berta Caceres and Marsha P. Johnson. Their work alongside and on behalf of marginalized populations has been a source of learning and encouragement for me both personally and professionally. I have prints of their portraits hanging in my office, so theirs are faces that I look at every day, whenever I stop to take a breath or when I’m feeling frustrated. They help me center myself and refocus.”
BN360 is the young professional and engagement program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Learn more about BN360 and find out how you can get involved here.