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Sherry Peterson

 The Project

Sherry Peterson (she/her/hers) will be the United Policyholders representative in Maui assisting households in overcoming insurance-related recovery obstacles following the Maui Wildfires. 

Most homeowners are underinsured and will need assistance maximizing the settlements received from their insurance policy. Maui’s housing crisis has created a gap between what survivors receive for ALE or loss of use insurance. This requires assisting those survivors with FEMA applications for assistance with housing assistance. Tracking and suggesting actions the Insurance Commissioner can take. Tracking legislation to ensure continued accessibility to insurance for property owners as insurers are sending non-renewal notices.  

Fellowship Plans

To achieve this goal, Sherry will attend community functions to increase United Policyholder’s visibility in the community; she will provide education regarding United Policyholders Road to Recovery and Road to Preparedness programs regarding overcoming insurance issues; work with individual survivors in overcoming insurance-related recovery obstacles; and track and provide input regarding policy issues at the city, county, and state levels.  

We live in a world where major disasters have become the new norm. Disaster work has become Sherry’s Kuleana—responsibility and privilege. When Lahaina and Kula burned, Sherry’s Portuguese ancestors who were some of the first Hawaiian immigrants from Madeira and the Azores called her to this work. Here, there is an opportunity for Sherry to use her background and education for a whole community.  

Survivors need a path forward through confusing processes with critical deadlines and major consequences early in the disaster process. None of us is immune to disaster. Before disaster strikes there is critical information individuals should have access to in order to put themselves in the best position for recovery. After a disaster, someone knowledgeable in disaster recovery services is critical.

Sherry Peterson /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Sharla Manley (she/her/hers) will be assisting with the Indigenous Resilience Project at the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation which employs the delivery of native rights legal services to prevent any further dispossession of Native Hawaiian individuals and families in West Maui resulting from the August 8, 2023, wildfire and to reform natural resource management policies and practices that contributed to the disaster through impact litigation and community engagement.

This Fellowship is aimed at addressing dispossession of Native Hawaiians as a result of the Lahaina 2023 wildfire and the mismanagement of natural resources that contributed to the disaster. Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation started as an anti-eviction law firm aimed at addressing the crisis of Native Hawaiians increasingly being evicted to make way for residential and industrial developments. The disaster resulting from the August 2023 wildfires on Maui threatens to dispossess Native Hawaiians again in a place that was once the capital of the Hawaiian nation. It is reported that over 25% of Lahaina households have left the island. Thousands of Lahaina survivors still do not have a permanent place to stay. This population collapse, like other such collapses before it in the colonization of Hawai`i, threatens Native Hawaiian self-determination. This project also will address the underlying policies and practices that contributed to the disaster in Lahaina which was as much a man-made disaster as it was a natural one. Indigenous land and water management practices have been replaced by land banking and a corporate monopoly over water resources. Balance must be restored. 

Fellowship Plans 

Sharla’s project has three components. First, an anti-displacement and native lands defense component including providing mortgage foreclosure defense. Second, building capacity and institutions to retain land for the community. Third, restoring ahupua`a resiliency through impact litigation and community engagement aimed at reforming the mismanagement of natural resources in West Maui and restoring the integrity of the watersheds in and adjacent to Lahaina.

The Lahaina wildfire was a by-product of land banking and a corporate monopoly over water. These land and water management decisions have been driven by profit-seeking, rather than indigenous values like mālama ʻāina and the attendant ingenious practices that made these islands habitable for centuries. As such, disaster resilience in Hawaiʻi requires a native rights approach.

Sharla Manley /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Joshua Abeyta (he/him/his) will provide direct legal services to immigrants and migrants impacted by the August 2023 Maui fires and engage in related advocacy and education work.  

With approximately 33% of Lahaina’s residents being foreign-born, compared to 17% of Maui County generally, the Maui fires had a significant impact on the immigrant and migrant community. Moreover, there is a shortage of legal service providers that provide free or low-cost immigration services to Hawaiʻi residents, with approximately ten attorneys working year-round to meet the immigration needs of approximately 110,000 noncitizens. Of the few organizations serving low-income noncitizens in Hawaiʻi, most are limited in the types of cases or clients that they may take on. Thus, many noncitizens impacted by the Maui fires do not have access to free or low-cost immigration services, particularly those who are undocumented, seeking asylum, or facing removal proceedings.  

Fellowship Plans

Josh will build relationships with partner organizations to serve low-income immigrants and migrants in Hawaii. These organizations will provide insight into the gaps in service that currently exist. These relationships with partner organizations will also create avenues for referral so that clients not served by existing organizations can be identified. Josh will also provide direct legal services to immigrants and migrants impacted by the Maui fires. Finally, Josh will collaborate with partner organizations to host educational workshops in the community.  

Josh is passionate about serving immigrant communities because of his background of living in predominantly immigrant communities. From the moment Josh was introduced to the practice of immigration law by participating in his law school’s immigration clinic, he gained an appreciation for the need for more attorneys to represent low-income immigrants.  

With 33% of Lahaina’s population being foreign-born, the Maui fires had a harsh impact on the immigrant community. When this community’s legal needs are met, they can heal faster knowing that their immigration status will not further upend their lives.

Joshua Abeyta /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Tabitha Hooten (she/her/hers) will work with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston: St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance to provide civil legal aid and develop disaster resiliency for Afghan, Ukrainian, and other immigrants newly arrived in the Greater Houston area.

The primary goal of this project will be direct representation of Afghan nationals, Ukrainian nationals, recent arrivals through the Southern border, or other immigrants experiencing humanitarian or national crises. The need for accurate legal information and pro bono representation is far greater than the capacity of existing resources. Many immigration options are time-sensitive and urgent, and immigrants may forfeit their legal rights while they seek or wait for representation. The target client population will be immigrants who have experienced man-made or natural disasters and who currently reside in the Greater Houston area.

Fellowship Plans

As part of the project, Tabitha will directly represent clients before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of Homeland Security, and/or Immigration Court and help clients to apply for Special Immigrant Visas, Temporary Protected Status, asylum, family-based visas, adjustment of status, or any other immigration relief for which they are eligible. In addition, Tabitha will serve as a Cabrini liaison with pro bono attorneys, volunteers, and local stakeholders on this project, with an aim to build collaboration across these groups. The fellowship is further designed to develop pro se legal assistance workshop models to better serve clients across these groups.

Inspiration

Tabitha became passionate about this work after serving alongside other attorneys to provide relief for Afghans impacted by the collapse of their government. She attended law school with the hope of serving those rendered defenseless. Tabitha seeks to provide help to those in great need of assistance in the greater Houston area.

“When I attended law school, I knew that I wanted to use my license to be a voice for the voiceless. I’m overjoyed to be a part of Catholic Charities because their focus is on serving those in need.”

Tabitha Hooten /
2023 Disaster Resilience Program Fellow

The Project

Jessica Zarate (she/her/hers) will work with Houston Volunteer Lawyers to support immigrant communities facing legal problems due to humanitarian crises by assisting them with their naturalization process and helping to remove other barriers to naturalization and disaster resiliency such as tax, probate, and other civil legal needs.

There are over 310,000 immigrants living in the greater Houston area eligible to naturalize and begin receiving all the rights and privileges afforded to U.S. The potential for social change and community financial empowerment is significantly impacted by assisting those eligible in our communities to become U.S. Citizens, thus enabling them the opportunity to engage in voting and other forms of civic participation. Historically, naturalization has also included access to better paying jobs and scholarships. It also serves to ameliorate barriers and vulnerabilities that lead to further disenfranchisement particularly in the aftermath of natural disasters. It is also the ultimate protection against deportation.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Jessica will be responsible for identifying and screening individuals eligible for naturalization. She will organize and run naturalization clinics utilizing Houston Volunteer Lawyers pro bono network with the goal of serving 200 individuals by the end of year one and 250 by the end of year two. Jessica will conduct outreach events to immigrant communities in collaboration with staff focused on supporting other civil legal needs such as tax and probate to help holistically address issues that impact the community’s disaster resiliency and recovery.

Inspiration

Jessica immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. a decade ago and since the beginning, the Houston community welcomed her with open arms. She believes that by doing this work for her community, she is giving back to all those individuals who supported her and believed in her all these years and would inspire other immigrants to continue working to pursue their goals.

“As an immigrant myself, I have experienced how difficult it might be to navigate the U.S. legal system. Now that I am a legal advocate, I want to empower, educate, and help my community with their legal needs.”

Jessica Zarate /
2023 Disaster Resilience Program Fellow

The Project

Nickole Durbin-Felix (she/her/hers) will work with LatinoJustice to address climate justice issues facing Latinx communities in Florida and Puerto Rico.

During her Fellowship at LatinoJustice, Nickole will provide legal services to community residents in various Central Florida counties directly impacted by Hurricane Ian. In addition, she will identify areas for policy change and reform. She will also engage with various community organizations that advocate for those impacted by natural disasters. As many climate refugees have fled Puerto Rico and relocated to Florida, Nickole will be working with these communities to address unmet needs, as well as assisting those still living on the island with needs stemming directly from increased natural disasters.

Fellowship Plans

To achieve this goal, Nickole will collaborate with and participate in the Florida statewide legal aid initiative to develop a disaster response plan. She will also engage in community outreach and educational activities, such as Know-Your-Rights presentations. She will also create partnerships with organizations across Florida and Puerto Rico, including a new hotline for those facing problems associated with FEMA applications or other related issues.

Inspiration

Nickole’s family was directly impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017 when it ripped through her community of Camuy, Puerto Rico. In the aftermath, her grandfather faced problems with FEMA and insurance to receive a new roof on part of his home. After seeing the devastation firsthand, and later working to rebuild people’s homes, she knew that she needed to help people following a natural disaster in their most vulnerable times. Now living in Florida, she has decided to dedicate her legal career to assisting others in these situations to ensure that people receive the assistance they need and that no one faces uncertainty and lack of access to basic human decency.

I believe that no one should be left behind in the face of disaster—it is our duty to show up, help provide, and give each other a hand. We are stronger when we stand together, and this fight is for us.

Nickole Durbin-Felix /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Ashley Winford (she/her/hers) will work with Galveston-Houston Immigrant Representation Project to provide high quality legal services to immigrants facing deportation in the Houston area.

Recognizing the overwhelming need to increase representation rates and access to due process in the Houston Immigration Courts, this project seeks to maximize its impact by combining direct representation with pro se assistance and community outreach.

Fellowship Plans

As part of the project, Ashley will address the needs of the community in the following ways: (1) direct representation for individuals in removal proceedings; (2) Implementation of ”Friend of Court” services in the Houston immigration court which will assist unrepresented individuals in understanding the process, their rights, and important documents in their case; (3) Know Your Rights presentations and consultations for individuals without attorneys, and (4) pro se asylum workshops to assist individuals without an attorney to file their applications for relief.

Inspiration

Ashley is extremely inspired by the work she does. A recent transplant to Texas, she has seen the immediate need for immigration legal services. Coming from a law enforcement background has encouraged and inspired Ashley to counteract the effect of changing and increasingly complex immigration policies that do not serve the immigrant community by helping immigrants exercise their right to have their day in court and have their case heard.

“When our immigrant community thrives, this country thrives. When they flourish, we flourish. When we fail them, we fail ourselves.”

Ashley Winford /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Kevin J. Sarlo (he/him/his) will work with Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc. (FRLS) to provide legal aid and develop disaster resiliency for Floridans impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Hurricane Ian may not be in the headlines anymore, but it is still in the everyday lives of Southwest Florida residents. The damage precipitated numerous legal issues between homeowners, their communities, their insurance companies, and contractors, and deepened an affordable housing crisis. FRLS will be a resource for the most vulnerable members of the community—those effectively denied assistance because of limited financial resources, limited English proficiency, or access to necessary technology—and help them navigate these challenges.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Kevin and FRLS will be a visible presence in the community, with free walk-in legal clinics at partner organizations. Kevin will also distill FRLS’s disaster-related legal knowledge into a guidebook to be distributed among its employees and updated annually. The project will culminate in an informational presentation to the public about common legal issues before, during, and after a natural disaster.

Inspiration

Hurricane Ian dropped a palm tree through Kevin Sarlo’s bedroom ceiling, and he considers himself lucky compared to others. He was born and raised in Southwest Florida, and he would like to see his community rebound stronger and ready to face whatever comes next.

We cannot stop natural disasters from happening, but we can lift each other up when we fall. In a time when we are hyperaware of daily tragedies we cannot prevent, do what you can, the best that you can.

Kevin J. Sarlo /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Diana Jordán-González (she/her/hers) works with the Resiliency Law Center to strengthen just disaster redress initiatives and climate change mitigation efforts for disaster-prone communities in Puerto Rico and seeks to ensure their access to justice.

In the wake of Hurricanes Irma, María, and Fiona, many Puerto Rican communities have not been able to access adequate disaster relief. The disaster recovery process has been characterized by notable delays and a lack of transparency and public participation. Citizen groups and non-profit organizations were galvanized to demand just recovery policies and channel services to overlooked populations. However, significant legal and advocacy support is still required to match the immensity of this unmet need, as many of these disproportionately affected groups were already socially, economically, and environmentally burdened.

Diana’s project aims to address this need through a climate justice framework, as these same communities are thus more vulnerable to future disasters and climate change.

Fellowship Plans

Diana provides legal counsel and representation to individuals and community groups from rural and environmentally sensitive areas, and those whose economic livelihood is severely affected by disasters and/or economic displacement.

She actively collaborates in developing legal and advocacy strategies to advance the communal interests of partners in line with the Resiliency Law Center’s theory of change and support of frontline advocates. Diana will also use this experiential knowledge to produce capacity-building workshops for both lawyers and non-lawyers and will create publishable educational material to advance climate justice and disaster mitigation awareness in the broader public conversation.

Inspiration

As a Puerto Rican resident, witnessing the immediate and enduring impacts of Hurricane María transformed how Diana sought to approach her public interest aspirations. She became more interested in engaging in community building and movement lawyering practices, which guided her active involvement in pro bono work during her legal studies. Diana is personally invested in advancing climate justice back home, ultimately to avoid mounting but preventable disaster tragedies.

What inspires my work as an environmental attorney is knowing I can provide concrete support to disaster-impacted communities, whose knowledge about local resources is key to ensuring the integrity and care of both their lives and our environment.

Diana Jordán-González /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The Project

Charles J. Grimsley, (he/him/his) will be working with Community Legal Services to address disaster resiliency issues while assisting to build its Disaster Unit and to expand both public and government awareness of CLS’s legal services Community Legal Services’ Disaster Unit is in its earliest stage of development, so the Unit’s infrastructure, policies and procedures are in the development stage. Charles J. Grimsley and the Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator will be establishing a fully functional unit to serve the needs of low-income survivors of disasters. The Unit will also be interacting with other legal aid organizations to develop a comprehensive, coordinated state-wide plan to serve all Florida citizens.

Fellowship Plans

After meeting with other legal aid organizations and interacting with Equal Justice Works Fellows, Charles J. Grimsley will develop a comprehensive disaster plan for CLS with the assistance of The Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator; document the policies and procedures that will be used in the disaster response plan for both internal and external use; and plan an outreach program to educate Florida citizens and other local, county and state agencies as to the CLS legal services that are available.

Inspiration

As a court appointed guardian for elderly, incapacitated men, and women, Charles gained an appreciation for helping those in need who cannot help themselves. He believes that to help those in their greatest time of need is one of the greatest endeavors that any person can achieve. To include his service to Floridians in their time of need will be one of Charles’ greatest legacies.

To help another human being to resolve a life altering problem during their greatest time of need is one of the greatest experiences a person could ever hope to achieve.

Charles Grimsley /
2023 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program