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Leading KIND: Alumna Wendy Young advocates for unaccompanied minors

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portrait of woman in business suit
photo courtesy of KIND

Like so many of her fellow Eagles, Wendy Young, WCL/JD ’88, SIS/MA ’89, spent time working on Capitol Hill. In her case, it was just a year, but the thing she recalls most from the experience is what she observed. “I saw how things can work if people come around a table and talk, meet in the middle. That I’m not seeing now,” she says.

Wendy is president of KIND – or Kids in Need of Defense – an organization co-founded by actor and activist Angelina Jolie and Brad Smith of Microsoft. KIND provides legal services for unaccompanied migrant children. And Wendy, who became interested in international relations and human rights issues as an undergraduate, has been at the helm since 2009. 

After college, Wendy spent two years teaching English in Japan, widening her global awareness and fueling her passion for human rights. She applied to American University from Japan, knowing she wanted a degree program that married international relations and law. That’s just what she got, in what she describes as the ideal setting for her studies. At the Washington College of Law and School of International Service, Wendy found just what she was looking for. “I took every human rights, immigration, and refugee law class I could find and had wonderful experiences with professors,” she says. “I highly recommend doing a joint degree program—bringing everything together through a legal lens was really very helpful.” 

Wendy says her time while at AU prepared her for what would come next, a career in defending the rights of others. “There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to offer a hand of assistance to a vulnerable child who’s just looking for stability, love, and hope in their life,” she says. And that’s just what she does every day alongside a staff of more than 200 dedicated professionals.

Wendy sets the vision for KIND, helps in program development, ensures it maximizes and builds on her staff’s expertise. She also helps with fundraising, shares stories of the children, and works to position KIND as a “go-to” organization for experts and resources for vulnerable children.

To focus her work, she says it’s important to realize “how extraordinary it is that we have a judicial system in the US that does not provide children counsel. I’ve seen a five-year-old all alone in court with no representation, in front of a robed judge with a lawyer on the other side arguing for his deportation.” She also describes KIND’s youngest client, a six-month-old baby. “Imagine having to carry your client into the courtroom,” she says with a quiet determination. “We really need to remember the human element of our immigration system.” 

Even through difficult stories of representing children alone and afraid, Wendy notes “it’s not all bad,” going on to say “we win 93 to 94 percent of our cases.” That, she says, is a testament to good lawyering and good people – the staff members and volunteers working to bring a little more KIND to the world.