Thomas provides civil legal representation to veterans and their families in the Finger Lakes, NY area, addressing housing, access to public benefits, access to VA benefits, estate planning, foreclosure, tax issues and information on workplace/housing discrimination. Thomas also works with the local VA medical center in Canandaigua, NY, where he determines the best way to assist veterans and their families, based on Legal Assistance of Western New York’s available resources.
Currently, Thomas works on a housing hotline for veterans, available twice a week. At the Canandaigua VA Medical Center’s nursing facility, he works with veteran clients looking to execute wills and advanced directives. Thomas also refers clients to other community partners such as the New York National Guard Family Center, and has acted as co-counsel with other attorneys in his office when they are representing a veteran, to make sure they are aware of all resources available to them.
Both Thomas’ father and grandfather served the country in different branches of the armed services. His ultimate passion comes from “helping those who have given so much to protect our nation,” he says. Thomas finds that even the briefest conversations he has with veterans can provide a sense of relief for issues they have been dealing with for years.
Mosaic Family Services has been working with trafficked persons since 2001. In 2016 Mosaic Family Services implemented the Specialized Services for Victims of Trafficking Program with one primary attorney to complement other legal services. Since its creation, Mosaic Family Services has seen dramatic increases in requests from foreign national trafficked persons in our service areas, particularly immigration, including filing of T visas and advocacy for continued presence. This has also necessitated prioritization of victim rights representation in trafficking crime prosecutions in which specific rights violations and concerns have been identified, from reporting through restitution. The need for this type of assistance is only amplified in minor victims of human trafficking. Minor trafficking victims, particularly victims of sex trafficking, have unique specialized service needs. Mosaic Family Services personnel have observed that time is crucial in meeting with youth survivors in order to gain trust and begin educating, empowering and motivating youth to adhere to service plans. Specialization in the dynamics of trafficking and legal needs of victims, in addition to youth rights, is crucial in this work.
Karen Bryson is dedicated to serving victims of crime. She previously worked on the Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault project prior to joining Equal Justice Works Fellowship with Mosaic Family Services. She worked with victims of trauma and would like to continue to serve underrepresented populations. This Fellowship allowed Karen to create maximum impact in the growing fight against human trafficking. Karen’s role provided screening and education to victims of human trafficking, with a focus and specialty in serving sex trafficked minors. She also provided advocacy and direct representation to survivors who were involved in a criminal investigation or wished to report human trafficking crimes, as well as survivors with meritorious claims arising out of trafficking victimization. In addition, Karen conducted outreach and training to community partners and stakeholders.
Koert’s project was focused on addressing physical barriers to accessibility that limit opportunities for thousands of people with disabilities in low-income communities of color. In New York’s low-income neighborhoods, sidewalks are crumbling, entryways to stores and businesses often have one or two steps with no ramp, and there is a total lack of accessible signage. This project used multiple strategies to increase accessibility, including community outreach; public education; organizing; media work; and advocacy and litigation.
Robert investigated San Francisco Bay Area school districts for racial bias in special education referrals and advocated for inte¬grated educational services for students of color with disabilities.
Data show that African-American students are disproportionately represented in special education at many schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now there is disturbing evidence that “disproportionality” is driving school districts to exclude African-American students from special education in order to achieve statistical balance. Addressing these discriminatory practices is important because special education rights are some of the most powerful protections available to keep students out of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
During his Fellowship, Robert has:
- Helped negotiate a groundbreaking settlement in which a school district—for the first time ever—agreed to hire nationally recognized experts to conduct a review of its disciplinary practices and special education system to determine how implicit biases and other unconscious phenomena produce racial disparities
- Co-authored a National Council on Disability report titled “Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities” that is designed to aid Congress and the President in crafting future special education policy
- Successfully brought a special education administrative complaint against a Bay Area school district that challenged its unreasonable and unnecessary use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Robert will stay on at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund as a full-time Staff Attorney and continue to represent students of color with disabilities at risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline.
Vicki worked with LawNY’s Legal Services for Veterans Project, which works with the Veterans Outreach Center (VOC), a local service organization that assists veterans with many different needs. At the VOC, LawNY has a permanent placement on site two days a week where I may meet directly with veterans who have legal issues. The Rochester office handles a variety of civil issues involving housing, Fair Housing, SNAP, public benefits, re-entry, powers of attorney, wills, and health care proxies.
Vicki comes from a family full of veterans. Vicki’s grandfather served in the Army during WWII under General Patton in the 14th armored division and was awarded a bronze star medal for meritorious service in a combat zone. Vicki’s father served in the Air Force and was stationed in Kunsan, South Korea and then in Danang, Vietnam while on temporary duty (TDY). Vicki also has 3 uncles that served in the Navy and Air Force Reserve, and a cousin who served in the Marines and was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Vicki is extremely proud of her family members and their contributions to our country. Vicki feels that helping veterans allows her to honor their service and her family.
Home to the 2nd largest population of veterans in the state, Rochester has many resources to serve them. However, veterans in the outlying counties often need legal aid service but may not have adequate information or transportation to a local VA. Jennifer’s project focused on creating a pro bono partnership with the international law firm, Nixon Peabody and attorneys at Xerox Corp. Jennifer also worked on opening a LawNY office at the Canandaigua VA where she conducted intake of potential clients and refer them to pro bono attorneys. The purpose of having an office on-site is based on the “medical-legal model” of treating the patient holistically and providing all resources in one place.
Jennifer is an associate in Boylan Code’s Commercial Lending and Real Estate Group with a concentration on lending, commercial and residential real estate sales and acquisitions. She also leads the Charter School Law Practice Group.
Being an Equal Justice Fellow has been one of my most rewarding experiences thus far. I wanted to get out and really help people – that's how I came across this Fellowship.
Jennifer Aronson /
2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow