Former law & policy major Llamilet Gutierrez ’09 left her position as a Maryland public defender in Prince George's County to become the executive director for Amara Legal Center. A former Posse scholar, she strives to be a voice for the marginalized, many of whom were harmed by the commercial sex trade or are victims of sex trafficking. She works to provide legal services and connect survivors with vital social services from limited resources while raising public awareness.
Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?
Dickinson’s liberal-arts education provided me with an ability to analyze situations from a variety of perspectives. As a criminal defense attorney at the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, I had to prepare cases by anticipating the prosecution’s arguments and theories. While I may not use subjects such as astronomy and computer science in my daily life, these Dickinson courses taught me how to engage in critical thinking and collaborative responses in my work and professional activities.
What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson?
I loved all of the activities I participated in during my time at Dickinson; however, Posse was my favorite. The Posse program is what allowed me to learn about and attend Dickinson. Posse provided me with my amazing mentor, Dean Joyce Bylander, and allowed me to engage in difficult conversations around race, social justice and social awareness. I went on Posse Plus retreats, which connected me to my Possemates, who encouraged me to stay at Dickinson when I was homesick and struggling.
What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?
I had a late start into Greek life. I became a member of Kappa Alpha Theta (KAO) as a junior. KAO provided me with opportunities to socialize, volunteer and lead on campus. Some of my favorite times at Dickinson were spent forming friendships with my sorority sisters and taking part in social activities at the Depot. A great memory was when a friend and I went to a Theta party with the theme of “Starts with the letter ‘T’.” I dressed in towels and my friend in trash bags. We had a great time dancing with my fellow Thetas!
How do you stay involved with/support Dickinson? Why do you think it’s important?
As a Posse scholar, I benefited from scholarships sponsored by those who came before me, and I want to do the same for future scholars. Because of the opportunity that was afforded to me, I have donated to Dickinson every year since I graduated in order to help give someone a similar experience. Now that I am on the East Coast, I am involved in the alumni networks and try to make sure that I am a resource for students who are interested in pursuing an internship or career in the law or who are considering attending Dickinson.
How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?
I am currently the executive director for an organization that provides legal services to those harmed by commercial sex, many of whom are victims of sex trafficking. I was a public defender for almost six years, and during that time, I served individuals who, though they were being trafficked, were also charged with human trafficking. I wanted to be a voice for those individuals, and that is how I became interested in my current work. As a former public defender, I am excited to have an opportunity to learn more about victim advocacy and fundraising for a nonprofit. Most important, I am excited to continue to serve vulnerable individuals by providing trauma-informed services.
What does your current work entail?
It varies depending on the day. Some days, I am meeting with other attorneys in the office to discuss their cases and how to handle the complex issues that often arise. Other days, I am meeting with our board of directors or donors to discuss how our organization can help more individuals in a more efficient way. At other times, I am making sure we are in compliance with our grant requirements, so we can keep our doors open. The reality is, I wear whatever hat I need to that day, even if it needs to be dusted off a little.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part of my work is providing services with limited resources. We receive several grants; however, most of these grants come with restrictions. One grant will allow for helping a client with a civil issue, while another grant will allow us to help a client with a different issue. Our goal is to make sure we are able to help with all the needs a client has. Our clients’ needs are not limited to the legal problem that brings them to our organization. Our clients’ needs range from having food to eat to transportation and housing. Ensuring we are able to take care of the entire individual while still meeting our grant requirements is the most difficult part of nonprofit management.
What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?
On July 18, 2015, I married my best friend. We got married outdoors in the middle of a rainy summer afternoon during a drought in Los Angeles. Our friends and families gathered together as the skies opened up, and it started to rain for the first time in months. On that rainy day we began what has been an exciting journey full of laughter, love and new experiences.
If you could have dinner with anyone famous, living or dead, who would it be?
I would have dinner with National Community Church leader Pastor Mark Batterson. He is amazing. He is one of the most generous, loving and creative people I have ever read or heard about. He has a huge heart and even bigger vision to help and reach others. While I have had an opportunity to exchange greetings with him, I would love to have dinner with him and pick his brain on how he is so productive and how to have a closer relationship with God.
You just built a time machine: where and when do you go?
I would take my time machine to 1984, when my mother and father first came to this country from Mexico and El Salvador, respectively. I would love to chat with the teenage versions of my parents to hear about their fears about coming to Los Angeles from their impoverished countries and to listen to the hopes and desires they had for themselves and their families. I doubt they ever could have imagined the incredible, loving family they would create.
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
As cliché as it may sound, I would not change anything about my life. Every decision that I made led me to be who I am and where I am today. If I had been asked this question during my first week at Dickinson, I would have given a different answer. Back then, I would have told you going to Dickinson was the one thing I would change. I was struggling being away from my home, my family and my friends. However, I am grateful I stayed, and my four years at Dickinson were some of the best years of my life. It’s hard to recognize in the moment, but the struggles and difficult times we go through help shape the person we become.
Published October 2, 2018