Westmont Magazine Practicing Law on Skid Row
As a young preacher’s kid at church camp, Brittany Stringfellow Otey ’97 found herself circled and taunted by inner-city children. Furious, she demanded that her father kick them out. “There’s no better place for them to be,” he replied. “I’m glad he didn’t give me the answer I wanted,” she says. “My parents taught me to be on the side of anyone who is hurting.”
Years later at Westmont, she had a similar experience when a doctrine class challenged her understanding of theology. Confused, she asked to meet with Professor Bob Wennberg so he could tell her what to believe; she didn’t want to figure it out on her own. “He agreed to meet but not to tell me what he thought,” she says. “He wanted me to decide that for myself.”
That’s exactly what she did, pursuing a double major in English and philosophy. Active in student life, Potter’s Clay and Spring Sing, she produced the annual musical production her senior year. Her first job was doing event planning for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., but she decided she’d rather go to law school and enrolled at Pepperdine University a year later.
“I didn’t do well at the beginning — I was overwhelmed,” she says. “Then I started volunteering at Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles and settled down. I was surprised how working with the homeless at the legal clinic brought me to life; I never expected to like it so much. But I saw the connection between purpose and vocation, between the rigorous academic world and the ability to help people. I knew then I wanted to use my mind to make a better world.”
A year after Brittany graduated from law school, Pepperdine hired her to run the legal clinic at Union Rescue Mission. It’s her dream job, and she hopes to keep it until old age. She spends one day a week on campus teaching family law and legal aid clinic and the rest of the time at the mission, seeing clients and advising students staffing the clinic. “I love watching students who signed up just to use their legal skills get bitten by the bug to help others,” she says.
The clinic belongs to a web of services Union Rescue Mission provides for the homeless. The oldest such institution in the nation, it has played a key role in widely publicized cases of hospitals dumping indigent patients on skid row. The mission take them in, and the clinic assists them, beginning with the first person caught on camera being dumped on their doorstep.
The Los Angeles Times wrote a series of articles detailing the horrors of L.A.’s skid row. Brittany appreciates the exposure but wishes the paper had shared the good news as well. She tells stories of clients getting clean, reuniting with families and finding work and new homes — and she praises the caseworkers and chaplains who make skid row a place of redemption. “There is so much hope here — people really do get helped,” she says.
Identified as one of 30 influential Christian leaders under 40 through Hope for Long Beach, Brittany joins with a group of pastors and lay leaders to create connections, encourage outreach and further the Kingdom of God in the city where she lives with her husband, Brent, and two sons. The two serve at their church and in their community together.
“We see the clinic as a calling,” she says. “I want my children to care about the underdog, so I take them to the mission whenever I can. I’m grateful for this fulfilling life — and for the way Westmont prepared me for it.”