2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Ella Helmuth

The Project

Ella’s (she/her/hers) project will focus on supporting low-income Central Appalachian communities in gaining access to clean, affordable water by working directly with community leaders, representing communities before state utility commissions, creating educational materials and workshops, and advocating for infrastructure funding.

Central Appalachia is one of the areas of the country most plagued by a lack of affordable, reliable, safe drinking water because the area’s natural water supplies were polluted and destroyed by a century of unchecked, under-regulated coal mining that externalized the true cost of coal onto the communities of the region. There is a need for a dedicated attorney to fight for affordable rates, advocate for clean water access, and educate Central Appalachian communities about water in the region.

Ella’s family is from Eastern Kentucky. Central Appalachia is a place with rich musical, craft, and culinary traditions and a place with a robust history of radical labor movements and progressive organizing. These are traditions and communities Ella grew up with and cherishes. Ella’s legal experience has focused on environmental justice in Central Appalachia. She has always planned to return to Kentucky and advocate for the people and land she loves.

Fellowship Plans

Ella will directly represent communities before the state utility commission and other decision-making bodies to advocate for affordable water rates and hold utility companies accountable. She will also work with communities to help them advocate for infrastructure funding at the state and federal levels. Ella will convene and facilitate a network of committed Kentucky organizations to strategize about water justice issues and explore local solutions. She will work in a variety of other ways to educate and support Central Appalachian communities about their water needs and insert the rural Appalachian experience into national conversations about water justice.

Growing up in a place like Kentucky makes unchecked environmental violence an intimate experience. I am excited to support overlooked communities in asserting their human right to clean, affordable, accessible water.

Ella Helmuth /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mariana’s (she/her/hers) project, hosted by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, will focus on mitigating health and safety hazards in predominately Latinx schools and empower Long Island communities to fight against environmental injustice.

School facilities in low-income, heavily Latinx communities make children sicker, leading to health problems and lower academic performance. Lead pipes, inadequate air filtration near incinerator ash, “forever chemicals” in drinking water, and other toxins threaten the health of Long Island schoolchildren. Mariana will work with children in under-resourced “sick schools” who suffer severe concentration issues and higher rates of asthma, cancer, and other ailments due to environmental harms in their schools and communities. Mariana’s environmental justice project will reach underserved communities in New York.

Mariana’s background has inspired her to pursue this project with LatinoJustice at the intersection of immigration, environmental health and safety, and education in her home state.

Fellowship Plans

Mariana will use community education, litigation, and policy advocacy to reach her project’s goals. She will conduct Know Your Rights sessions that help community members identify environmental justice issues in schools and empower them to advocate for harm mitigation. Mariana will explore New York state law opportunities to challenge inadequate school facilities and assert Latinx students’ rights to a safe and healthy learning environment. Finally, in partnership with low-income communities who are fighting for legislation, she will work with community leaders and organizational partners to identify policy solutions that will best serve the interests of Long Island schoolchildren.

Growing up in an LGBTQ and Latinx household taught me how systems of oppression intersect and compound to create insurmountable barriers for many who immigrate to the U.S., especially people of color. This understanding motivates my commitment to racial justice.

Mariana Lopez /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kristen’s (she/her/hers) project with California Indian Legal Services will implement key legal steps in reclaiming and using Indigenous water rights, both site-specifically for California’s Owens Valley and broadly for Indian public domain allottees nationwide.

Kristen’s many prior years of work with Owens Valley Indian Water Commission and California Indian Legal Services will continue through this Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Her project will make major strides in long-term efforts towards #LandBack and #WaterBack.

Needs Addressed by Project

California was founded on uniquely violent genocide against Indigenous people, including mass dispossession of land. California’s first inhabitants have since been barred from meaningfully accessing its most precious resource: water.

This project will address two instances of this injustice: (1) Los Angeles’s erasure of tribal water rights in Owens Valley and (2) barriers to accessing water from Indian public domain allotments facing fractionation, which happens when land is passed down intestate until it is owned by dozens or hundreds of owners.

Fellowship Plans

In Owens Valley, Kristen will establish legal next steps in the long-term campaign to reclaim Owens Valley tribal water rights. It will work closely with the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission to legally analyze a recent dissertation that thoroughly documented the Indigenous Paiute and Shoshone peoples’ water history.

Nationwide, this project will implement novel legal techniques for unifying management of fractionated allotment land. It will work with allotment owners on the ground in Oregon, California, and beyond, empowering them to use previously inaccessible land and appurtenant water rights.

“I have felt connected to California’s water all my life. I am grateful to work with California Indian Legal Services on returning that water to its original stewards.”

Kristen Stipanov /
2024 Equal Justice Works

The Project

Ben’s (he/they) project with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) will expand access to safe, affordable, climate-resilient housing for Philadelphians burdened by energy poverty.

In Philadelphia, the median energy burden—the portion of household income spent on utility bills—is nearly double the national average, due largely to aging and energy-inefficient housing. In some neighborhoods, families spend more than 20 percent of their income on water, gas, and electricity. Climate change exacerbates these disparities: amid record-breaking heat in 2023, Philadelphia’s electric utility shut off power to tens of thousands of households unable to pay electricity bills. While some consumer assistance programs aim to help, structural barriers hinder access, and as a result, less than 20 percent of eligible households receive the help they need to keep the lights on. This is energy poverty, and it compromises the health, security, and dignity of low-income Philadelphians.

Fellowship Plans

Ben will represent families burdened by utility debt to prevent utility shutoffs and to obtain utility debt forgiveness. To address the root causes of energy poverty in Philadelphia, he will also work with coalition partners to drive equitable implementation of new legislation—including Pennsylvania’s Whole-Home Repairs Act and the federal Inflation Reduction Act—that allocates funding for home repairs and energy efficiency upgrades for low-income households. Finally, Ben will partner with local environmental justice groups to organize multilingual community education campaigns that drive enrollment in home repair, weatherization, and electrification programs.

Energy-burdened families deserve to live free of utility debt in safe and healthy homes. I’m honored to join CLS and coalition partners to advance that vision as part of a just and inclusive energy transition in Philadelphia.

Ben Clark /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

David’s (he/him/his) project with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) will reduce the impacts of the climate crisis on agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley by enforcing workplace health and safety laws regulating heat exposure and other environmental stressors.

Fellowship Plans

Farmworkers in California often lack recourse to justice when their rights are violated on the job, as there are few free and accessible legal service providers, and government enforcement agencies often lack the resources to investigate in rural areas. As a result, hundreds of thousands of workers suffer from lack of water and shade, exposure to wildfire smoke and pesticides, and injuries and illness from overwork in heat, and may be retaliated against when seeking to exercise their rights to ameliorate such environmental conditions. The time is ripe, therefore, to bring climate justice to the workplace, in California and beyond. David will collaborate with CRLA lawyers and community workers, allied organizations, and state agencies over the course of his Fellowship to deliver Know-Your-Rights trainings about existing legal protections; bring administrative complaints and litigation to improve climate-related health and safety conditions throughout the Central Valley; and participate in working groups and rule-making processes around the state and country to scale the lessons learned in the breadbasket of the world’s fifth-largest economy.

I’m honored to be joining such a storied and respected California organization to work on what I’m most passionate about: fighting for the rights of low-wage workers impacted by exploitative working conditions and the worsening climate crisis.

David Cremins /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Damon’s (he/him/his) Fellowship is with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). In New York, people held in carceral facilities are exposed to numerous environmental hazards that pose significant risks to their health, including: contaminated water, food, and air; black mold, toxic chemicals, and sewage; and extreme temperatures. In recent years, conditions in carceral facilities have grown so perilous that, according to studies, every year of incarceration can cut a person’s life expectancy by as much as two years.

In addition to the immediate environmental issues threatening incarcerated individuals, it is important to consider that New York carceral facilities hold a gross overrepresentation of black and brown individuals. These communities, made up of majority racial minorities, are consistently overburdened by environmental hazards, and need a new way to fight to protect their health and well-being.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Damon will advocate for people incarcerated or detained in New York State to redress systemic environmental injustices in carceral settings through impact litigation, expansion of NYLPI’s Medical Legal Partnership, and the creation of a new network of nonprofit and private lawyers and community organizers, advocates, and organizations.

As someone whose loved ones have experienced the brunt of environmental injustices and the carceral system in this country, Damon cares deeply about fighting the issue of environmental racism in New York carceral institutions.

Having seen first-hand the effects that the over burdening of environmental hazards can have on a community, I am excited to work with NYPLI to combat environmental racism and establish safer living standards for all people in New York.

Damon Gilbert /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jasmine (she/her/hers) upholds California’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) through local technical legal assistance, enforcement litigation, and advocacy focused on robust AFFH implementation alongside and on behalf of rural low-income communities of color that are owed their right to an affordable, safe, and sustainable neighborhood.

More than half of all Californians are experiencing housing cost burdens. Of California’s regional and state communities, the San Joaquin Valley (SJV)—which is composed of majority Latino/a/x, Black, AAPI, and Indigenous rural, historic, impoverished, and farmworking communities—is disproportionately impacted by these housing cost burdens. This compounds with other issues in the community, such as inadequate housing conditions, unhealthy land use patterns, experiences of community disinvestment and displacement, and environmental burdens—like the lack of access to safe drinking water and chronic exposure to poor air quality—to disproportionately affect these low-income communities of color. Climate change, COVID-19, rapidly escalating housing costs, and eviction moratoria expirations have increased these inequities even further.

To achieve the right to a sustainable, safe, and responsive community and to undo the United States’ legacy of systemic, racist housing discrimination, we must fulfill the need for dedicated work to community lawyering and advocacy alongside rural low-income communities of color across the SJV—which is labeled as an “attorney desert” by the California State Bar.

Jasmine sees herself and her family in the residents of rural California as they fight for safe communities and for their voices to be heard. Jasmine’s commitment to justice stems from her maternal and paternal grandparents’ experiences in rural Jim Crow Alabama, Mexico, Greece, and Nevada as well as her own hardships within racist and hostile institutions. She wants to see all low-income neighborhoods and communities of color thrive in every space and place they go.

Fellowship Plans

Jasmine will collaborate with local cities and counties as they update their statutorily required housing plans regarding jurisdictions’ compliance with the AFFH rule. She will also enforce state and federal violations of AFFH, housing, environmental, land use, and civil rights laws through litigation on behalf of community group clients. Finally, Jasmine will collaborate with state agencies to ensure ongoing robust AFFH implementation, conduct trainings for the public on robust AFFH compliance, and write a policy paper on AFFH community engagement, legal work, and advocacy strategy best practices.

As a woman of color, my personal and familial experiences of racist space and place drive my passion for pursuing the right to restorative communities and the reversal of historic and ongoing racist discrimination for those most impacted in our communities.

Jasmine Robinson /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jillian (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of underserved communities in Manchester, New Hampshire to expose and tackle environmental and health harms from an incinerator emitting toxic “forever chemicals” and other pollutants.

The City of Manchester owns and operates an incinerator that burns waste from its sewage treatment plant and emits toxic substances, including PFAS, which are long-lasting, health-harming chemicals often referred to as “forever chemicals.” PFAS emissions from Manchester’s sludge-burning incinerator contribute to the cumulative environmental impacts that threaten the health of communities of color and low-income communities in Manchester—communities that experience a disproportionate burden of environmental harm. Despite the pressing need for environmental justice advocacy in the area, neither the City of Manchester nor New Hampshire has an enforceable environmental justice policy to protect communities experiencing disproportionate health and environmental harms.

Jillian chose to attend law school because she hoped to harness the law to secure environmental justice protections for communities that are disproportionately impacted by environmental burdens. Speaking with community members about the many environmental inequities that harm low-income residents and residents of color motivated her to pursue an Equal Justice Works Fellowship that addresses health-harming toxic pollution in Manchester.

Fellowship Plans

Through education, direct engagement, and legal advocacy, Jillian will amplify community voices in Manchester to address health and environmental inequities caused by the City’s sludge incinerator and potentially other health-harming facilities. Jillian’s project will also use public outreach, legal advocacy, and engagement with government officials to formulate strategies to reduce and eliminate “forever chemicals” from products so that they do not reach the City’s waste facilities. Jillian may also engage with community members and lawmakers to develop an enforceable statewide environmental justice policy.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve the environmental justice community in Manchester, NH, where cumulative environmental harms exacerbate racial and income-based inequities. I am honored to use my legal skills to combat the problem of ‘forever chemicals’ in Manchester.

Jillian Aicher /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Peter will advocate for creative solutions to increase protections for individuals forced to migrate due to climate change through direct representation, trauma-informed pro bono training, and policy work.

Every year, more than 25 million people are forcibly displaced by sudden onset disasters such as floods, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperatures. By 2050, up to 216 million people throughout the world could face the same fate due to slow-onset climate events such as droughts and rising sea-levels. No comprehensive international legal framework currently exists to address displacement caused by climate change and disasters—a crisis of increasing magnitude. There is a clear need to address climate-driven displacement to protect and provide safe havens for impacted persons.

Peter is committed to ensuring the United States respects its moral and national interest in creating legal pathways to humanitarian protection for individuals fleeing climate-driven hazards and setting an example for other countries to do the same.

Fellowship Plans

This project is unique in its integrated response to climate-driven displacement—incorporating litigation, climate-informed resource development, trainings for a national pro bono network of asylum attorneys, and policy advocacy. During his Fellowship, Peter aims to help climate-displaced individuals in two ways: by ensuring maximum protection is extended under existing U.S. legal frameworks; and by advocating for the adoption of new forms of protection.

Media

UC Law SF Students Recognized for Social Justice Work

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship grants me the privilege to serve those disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. I am honored and proud to unwaveringly advocate with and for all forcibly displaced individuals and facilitate a coordinated response to climate-driven migration.

Peter Habib /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Brooke (she/her) will provide direct representation to tenants experiencing lead exposure while collaborating with community organizations dedicated to the prevention and remediation of lead exposure within the Appalachian Basin.

Lead exposure continues to have disproportionate impacts on historically marginalized communities, including communities of color and low-income residents. This project recognizes that tenants and their families are uniquely vulnerable to lead exposure due to barriers to access preventative and remediation resources. It also recognizes that the aging infrastructure of the Appalachian Basin puts these communities at higher risk than the national average.

Brooke has experienced housing insecurities and empathizes that the emotional and financial tolls this causes are compounded by lead exposure.

Fellowship Plans

Building upon the relationships that Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services has established within Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, Brooke will partner with community organizations to support their advocacy and outreach efforts. Brooke will engage in cross-jurisdictional analysis and develop Know Your Rights guides for lead exposure focusing on landlord-tenant relations. In addition to offering direct representation, Brooke will develop a public guide to mitigate the barriers facing attorneys in accepting pro-bono lead exposure claims and advocate for increased capacity of these services in the region.

As someone with generational roots in the Appalachian Basin, I look forward to combining my community organizing experience and legal education to foster equal access to environmental justice.

Brooke Christy /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow