2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Tabitha Hooten

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

The Project

Teague González is the Director of Programs and Advocacy at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC). In this role, she supports the legal and policy advocacy teams and co-leads the economic justice team. Teague’s Equal Justice Works fellowship will provide education, consultation, pro se assistance, coalition building, and direct representation to immigrants navigating the federal, state, and local business, tax, professional, and occupational licensure systems of entrepreneurship.

Teague is inspired to do this work because much of her legal career has focused on providing direct legal services to individuals and families, including immigrants, who qualify for public benefits programs. The income guidelines to receive public benefits are extremely low and lock out most families who make more than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and don’t meet strict immigration status eligibility rules. Teague is thrilled that this project provides education, direct assistance, and policy advocacy about entrepreneurship in the immigrant community, particularly to immigrants who are locked out of the public benefit and traditional employment systems. Teague was raised in El Paso, Texas, where many in her large, extended family participate in entrepreneurship economies, and she knows first-hand the power these businesses provide for family economic stability.

Fellowship Plans

The opportunity barriers to increase family income by opening a business include navigating legal partnership agreements and tax considerations. Providing education and support to prospective and current entrepreneurs will demystify the process of opening, conducting, and operating a business. The project also seeks to expand the professional and business licensure opportunities in New Mexico through policy advocacy.

Teague’s project will aim to remove barriers to economic mobility of immigrant communities through community education, direct representation, community organizing, movement lawyering, coalition building, and systemic policy advocacy. Teague will work closely with coalition partners, including the Color Theory Collaborative, which supports low-income, marginalized entrepreneurs and their families, by employing core strategies from partner organizations to develop innovative program resulting in greater opportunity and economic equity for entrepreneurs. The Color Theory Collaborative partners align with a core mission of bridging identified systemic gaps to build an ecosystem of support to empower families to increase their household income.

I am passionate about supporting entrepreneurs who work to increase their family's economic stability by providing education, consultation, pro se assistance, coalition building, policy advocacy, and direct representation to immigrants navigating the federal, state, and local business, tax, and professional and occupational licensure systems of entrepreneurship.

Teague Gonzalez /
2022 Disaster Resilience Program Fellow

The Project

Jessica Martinez (she/her/hers/ella) is a staff attorney at New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), where she represents unaccompanied minors and immigrant children eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), offers consultations, and provides direct representation in all phases of their cases, including removal defense.

Jessica was inspired to do this work because she is proud to be a daughter of a strong immigrant woman. Understanding her mother’s sacrifices and growing up in a mixed-status family in a border town taught her the power of being community-centered and working collectively toward common goals. Working with immigrant youth and families has fueled her passion for helping make generational change, and it allows her to remain optimistic that through community power, anything is possible.

Fellowship Plans

COVID-19 disproportionally impacted immigrants—especially children and families in rural communities. Immigrants in New Mexico, notably in rural communities, often lack access to health care and resources. Much of the time, people in these communities cannot afford legal services. In New Mexico, there is a shortage of immigration attorneys and a lack of access to pro bono legal immigration services in rural communities. Immigrant children need SIJS—a humanitarian form of immigration relief for abused, abandoned, and neglected children—which is critical to ensuring their safety, stability, and access to permanent legal status.

Jessica’s project will engage in community outreach to increase the well-being of New Mexican immigrant children by developing relationships with rural medical clinics, schools, and social workers to create a referral system for families and children in need of critical immigration legal services. Jessica additionally served as a legal expert for the Special Immigrant Juvenile Classification Act, signed into law in April 2023, which increased access for immigrant youth in New Mexico to obtain SIJS. Jessica will help implement the law by providing trainings to judges and attorneys, and will host legal clinics to identify immigrant children that may qualify for this form of relief.

I am passionate about working with my community to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect, and to use my skills to find solutions to help them find legal relief or resources in a process that is stacked against them.

Jessica I. Martinez /
2022 Disaster Resilience Program Fellow

The Project

At New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), Casey (he/him/his) provides legal services to immigrant communities in southern New Mexico that were impacted by COVID-19.

Casey represented individuals throughout New Mexico in his previous role with Innovation Law Lab while living in El Paso, Texas. There, he saw the great need for legal services and the amplification of immigrant voices in the state. Casey is excited to continue serving immigrant communities in southern New Mexico.

Fellowship Plans

Casey’s Fellowship addresses the lack of legal services for immigrant communities in southern New Mexico. There is little to no pro bono legal services available to immigrants in the southern half of the state. These communities need help with affirmative and defensive immigration services to help rebound from COVID-19.
Casey will aid both detained and non-detained immigrants throughout southern New Mexico. He will be NMILC’s first full-time staff member dedicated to representing immigrants. Casey will educate immigrants about their rights and provide representation in both affirmative and defensive immigration legal services.

I am excited to serve immigrants in our southern New Mexico communities where there are precious few resources and advocates.

Casey Mangan /
2022 Disaster Resilience Program Fellow