For Ella Fies, her passion for prison abolition and social justice has always been a guiding principle behind her work volunteering in her community. “In college, I was heavily involved in work with incarcerated girls and women, running female empowerment programs in juvenile detention centers,” said Ella while reflecting on her early service experience.
Ella came into the fellowship undecided about whether or not to pursue law or social work. But it was abundantly clear during Ella’s first year as a fellow that she realized service/social work would be the best way for her to focus on the emotional wellbeing of people. Ella is now in her second year of the fellowship and is working with Ladies Empowerment and Action Program (LEAP) in Miami, Florida. LEAP provides transformational education, entrepreneurial training, and mentorship to women during and after prison.
As her work with Repair the World Miami shifted as a result of the pandemic, Ella has been able to deepen her connection and lean into her relationship with her service partner. “I’ve gotten to build meaningful rapport with many of the women who have been formerly incarcerated. For me that has been the most fulfilling thing in the world – getting to have deep and meaningful human connections,” said Ella. “The women and I support each other. Every single day I’m educated on issues that I don’t know about, in ways that I wouldn’t be without my connection to these women. There is also meaning in the different services I’m able to help provide as they re-enter their community from prison.”
Ella finds that building relationships is core to her well being and growth and being able to hold these relationships while impacting others has become a significant part of her life. “What I’ve really appreciated about the Repair the World fellowship is that creating meaningful relationships is so fundamental to our service work,” said Ella. “Curiosity and asking the hard and scary questions is so important to me. I feel like the fellowship has allowed me to do that in a lot of impactful ways.” Ella has also found ways to create spaces for women outside of the fellowship by hosting her own monthly share circles. “Every month we have vulnerable and emotional conversations around issues that matter to us, like body image and sexuality.”
When reflecting on service during the pandemic Ella says, “There is still so much care in getting to know the people in the communities we serve – I have always been concerned with really listening when they share what their needs are. When we saw inequality gaps widening, it was natural for us to pay closer attention.” Repair the World Miami hosts volunteer opportunities based on specific community needs. Ella says, “Miami has the lowest volunteer rate of any major US city, so Repair the World fills this essential need to connect volunteers to nonprofits here because the amount of people using their free time to volunteer is so low.”
Service will continue to play a significant role in Ella’s life beyond the fellowship. As Ella thinks about the future, she is determined to continue strengthening the relationships she’s built with her service partners and the communities they serve. “I plan on taking the connections I’ve made with the women at LEAP with me as I continue on to grad school. I’m still in touch with the women (from LEAP) who’ve moved out of Miami. Those relationships mean a lot to me.”
Ella graduated from Elon University with a major in Human Services, and minors in Psychology, Women/Gender/Sexuality Studies, and Criminal Justice Studies. Before Repair, Ella launched and facilitated a female empowerment group at a local juvenile detention center. Ella is really passionate about the need for more gender-responsive programming for justice involved women. Coming into the fellowship Ella was excited for a multidisciplinary experience that would expose her to a multitude of social change initiatives and looked forward to being part of a meaningful community post-college. Repair’s focus on connecting with a cohort, as well as the local community is something that excited her. Fun fact: Ella studied abroad in Indonesia for a semester and conducted research on the commodification of yoga in Bali!