Meet John Avery: Social Work Intern


Pisgah Legal is committed to pursuing justice and improving lives, and that often reaches beyond the legal aspects of a case. Meet John Avery, who for four months was placed as a social work intern for Pisgah Legal Services. The 34 year-old is a father to a 12 year-old daughter, husband and full-time graduate student in social work at Western Carolina University. All this while while working and interning as a social worker at Pisgah Legal Services.

“It’s challenging but rewarding work,” says John with his ever-present grin. It’s easy to see why clients and staff feel instantly comfortable with him.

And that is exactly why the staff at Pisgah Legal Services grew to depend on John in a short but intense amount of time.

In January 2019, John was placed as a social work intern at Pisgah Legal Services. He hit the ground running working with staff attorneys in helping provide holistic solutions to client’s needs. By the end of his four months as an intern, he accepted 41 client referrals from staff attorneys.

“When our attorneys represent a client facing a housing crisis, the crisis doesn’t begin and end with their case,” says John’s supervisor and Health Justice Director, Shannon Cornelius.

“Oftentimes they need to be connected to mental health services, supplemental food, utility payments, household items and so on. So, our attorneys would spend a lot of their time working to fill those needs while working on the case. Having John here freed up capacity for our attorneys so they could focus on the legal aspects of the case, and the clients could get their needs met.”

John remembers a few cases that stood out in his mind. “I was referred to a client from one of our housing attorneys. I found out that this person did not have a bed, and so was unable to get a good night’s rest. This can add additional stress to a life that needs to find any relief from stress that it can. I reached out to some of the connections I have in the community and found out someone had an extra bed they didn’t need. I grabbed some people from PLS and we picked up the bed and took it to the clients and by that night, he was able to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in a long time.”

He recalls another client that came into Pisgah Legal Services. “I found out that he needed tires for his motorcycle—his only form of transportation to get him to work. I was able to make some calls and get him a discount so he could afford them.”

If a client needed a rent payment to prevent eviction and homelessness, then John would reach out to local agencies to help cover the costs. He helped clients find assistance for utility payments, healthcare, supplemental food and mental health services. A lot of times, he would just sit with the client and listen. “So many times, people just need to feel heard and understood, especially when they are in crisis,” says John.

“Every single attorney here at Pisgah Legal is incredibly compassionate and empathetic. They really care about their clients, and they would take their time to do what I did,” continues John. “But with me in the office, they were free to focus on the legal aspects of the case and I could fill in the rest. It is a symbiotic relationship that depends on communication and respect.”

Pisgah Legal depends on the commitment and expertise of social work interns to provide these services.

“I’m so thankful for my time here at Pisgah Legal Services,” John says. “This is a great setting for a social worker, and I can’t say enough about how fantastic it has been working with this team of people.”

To find out how you can be placed at Pisgah Legal Services for an internship, contact Beth Herrman at 828-210-3787 or email [email protected].