For Melanie Shapiro, change is a constant in her life. As director of Juvenile Justice Policy for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Melanie is an advocate for change (and sometimes for stability, ensuring policies remain unchanged). Today, Melanie’s involvement spreads beyond her professional career, as she leverages her skills and experiences through her involvement with Jewish Professional Women (JPW) and the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC).
Tell us about your professional life. I work for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, in the Government Relations Division. For 15 years I was a juvenile defender and moved into policy work full-time about two years ago. I advocate on behalf of the Office of the Public Defender and our clients on legislative and policy issues year-round and in Annapolis during the 90-day legislative session.
What made you pick a career in Juvenile Justice? For as long as I can remember, I wanted to work in the juvenile justice field. I don’t really remember the “why” anymore. I enjoy law, I am passionate about advocacy and I also like working with children – this job provides me the opportunity to combine all three.
What does your involvement with The Associated look like? I’m currently on the Committee for Jewish Professional Women (JPW) and I am a co-chair for the Baltimore Jewish Council’s (BJC) Government Relations Committee. The majority of my involvement is with those two committees.
What’s something you’ve noticed after working with JPW? When JPW first started, the events were so small. This year’s signature event, however, had a few hundred people. It’s a very empowering group, open to all women in the community to learn and grow and meet one other. I think it’s just great to see the group blossom and flourish the way that it has.
What kind of change do you want to see in the community? I would like more people to have the experience I had when I returned to Baltimore. Growing up in Baltimore, my mom was very involved in the Jewish community and still is, but I wasn’t aware of the myriad opportunities and ways I could be involved in the Jewish community, and I wasn’t aware of how widespread The Associated network is. I was introduced to JPW through a friend and started down the path of giving back to the community. I hope others will choose one of the many opportunities to become involved in ways that are meaningful to them.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Someone once said to me that nothing has to be permanent – that you have the power to change everything. For example, after my oldest was born, I was preparing to return to work. We lived in New York City and had secured a spot at a daycare center. I wondered if putting him in daycare was the right decision. And the advice that I got was that nothing had to be permanent – that I had the power to change anything that I wasn’t happy with. I think that is a mindset that is good for folks, personally and professionally.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday? I would have to say Simchat Torah. I have fond childhood memories of going to Chizuk Amuno [Congregation], dancing around the synagogue and enjoying the celebration – I just enjoyed the fun atmosphere. Now, as an adult, I enjoy taking my children to Chizuk Amumo to dance, sing and celebrate the Torah.
Favorite book you read recently? I would say Educated by Tara Westover. It’s about a woman who grew up isolated from others. She had an abusive upbringing. Despite the absence of any formal education, the author went to college and ultimately obtained a doctorate in history. Now she wants to help and empower others and has shared her story in her book. It’s very powerful.
If you could have a coffee date with anyone in the world, who would it be? Michelle Obama.
Dogs or Cats? Dogs. My children are begging me for a family dog – I probably get asked every single day!
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