Local Treasures with Pia: The Way to Justice is filling the void after Center for Justice's closing

Spokane, Washington – When the Center for Justice was started by Jim Sheehan in 1999 it was unlike most other Spokane law firms: it was a non-profit that took on social justice and environmental issues. When the center closed for good in 2020 it left a void, especially in the BIPOC community.

Virla Spencer and Camerina Zorrozua had both worked at the Center For Justice for many years, and they were sad to see it close.

“In the back of my mind I had this idea that I wanted to start my own organization,” said Spencer. “I said to myself, I’m not done serving my community, I need to figure out how to do this.”

Together with Zorrozua, Spencer founded The Way to Justice which recently received some funding from the Avista Foundation.

“I just kind of grabbed her one day,” Spencer said about how she and Zorrozua began working together. “I told her about my idea to continue some of the Center For Justice work, and she said she had to think about it. The next day she came back and said, let’s do it, we have nothing to lose.”

The Way to Justice, which is also a non-profit organization, was formed in the middle of the COVID pandemic.

“We came up with a vision and a mission, and we figured out how to do it wall while working remotely,” Spencer said. “We are really proud of all the support we have gotten and all the grants that have gone to support our organization founded by two BIPOC women.”

The Way to Justice helps formerly incarcerated people get their driver’s license back, and it provides legal representation for post-conviction clients who are seeking to clear their record or reduce the amount of legal financial obligations owed.

“We also fight systemic racism, and we address the barriers facing individuals who have been negatively impacted by our justice system,” Spencer said.

She’s especially proud of the summer’s youth empowerment program that helps young people of color process trauma they have experienced, either at home, in school, or out in the community. Youth are carefully selected for the program, but they have all experienced trauma because of poverty, and perhaps incarcerated family members.

“The program is a way for us to empower local youth and help them create a leadership platform, so they can find a way to change the justice system,” Spencer said. “We teach them how to fight for change. They are our future; and they have to be taught how to lead into the future.”

At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.

Visit thewaytojustice.com to learn more about the many programs offered and to donate directly toward the organization’s mission.

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