Alumni Spotlight: Genesis Lazo Walker, Immigration Law & Justice Network

Posted in News Story Spotlight

Genesis Lazo Walker is currently a Network Manager at the Immigration Law and Justice Network, which provides free or low-cost legal counsel, support services, and advocacy for immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with Genesis about her experience as a leader in social justice advocacy and her experience in the Center’s Executive Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership Program.

Can you share a bit about your journey and how it led you to work in the immigration advocacy field?

Through my upbringing in a diverse community in Woodbridge, Virginia and my college education, I became aware of the complexities behind migration journeys and the political factors driving them. This awareness fueled my desire to directly assist people, leading me to a public service fellowship through which I chose to focus on fundraising for immigration law. During my fellowship at Just Neighbors, a nonprofit immigration legal service provider, I became passionate about supporting attorneys and ensuring immigrants could access essential services through effective fundraising efforts.

Initially, I thought direct service was the right path for me. However, I soon realized it wasn’t the best fit. Instead, I found my calling in providing support to the people doing the direct service work. Whether it’s working with executive directors, immigration attorneys, or engaging in advocacy, I’ve come to understand that there are many different roles to play in the movement for immigrant justice. 

In your experience at Immigration Law & Justice Network, what are some of the most pressing challenges or emerging trends you’ve encountered in the immigration advocacy sector, and how is your organization addressing them?

At Immigration Law & Justice Network, we see challenges shared by many nonprofits across our network, including burnout and staff retention due to the mental and emotional toll that practicing humanitarian-based immigration law has on attorneys. We prioritize providing our attorneys with trauma-informed care and support groups to mitigate these challenges. Additionally, immigration policy changes pose ongoing difficulties for both our attorneys and clients, as immigrants are often used as political tools, resulting in constantly shifting policies and processing backlogs. Since immigration is viewed as political, it also poses a challenge to securing funding from foundations and businesses.

As a participant in the Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program, what motivated you to enroll, and what were some key takeaways or skills you gained that have proven valuable in your role at Just Neighbors?

Enrolling in the Certificate Program aligned perfectly with my transition from a fundraiser at Just Neighbors to Network Manager at Immigration Law & Justice Network. In my role as Network Manager, I support our 19 sites in navigating diverse challenges. Like much of the nonprofit sector, our sites have limited resources and varying organizational capacities requiring creative and strategic approaches. I observed that many organizational challenges stemmed from governance and executive leadership gaps, prompting my interest in the program. The Certificate Program’s coverage of topics like governance and compliance, organizational communication, and financial management equipped me with the knowledge I needed to suggest practical strategies like implementing board term limits, short-term strategic plans, and more to our sites. The Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate program empowered me to level up my skills and provided invaluable insights into nonprofit management, saving me years of piecemeal learning.

Additionally, what advice would you give to professionals considering participating in the Certificate Program?

For professionals seeking career transitions or seeking to enhance their nonprofit management skills, the Certificate Program offers invaluable resources and support. I highly recommend it, particularly for its emphasis on governance and compliance, which are crucial for nonprofit success. Through the program, I discovered a wealth of valuable resources that I still use to this day including Michael Gellman’s website, which proved to be one of the greatest sources of value for me.

Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of Just Neighbors/Law & Justice?

My passion lies in supporting nonprofit executives and enhancing organizational effectiveness. I envision leveraging my experience to provide strategic planning and fundraising support to executive directors, fostering collaboration and resource-sharing within the nonprofit community. Ultimately, I aim to contribute to a thriving nonprofit sector that positively impacts the lives of immigrants and communities.