Hongvilay Thongsamouth

The Inspiration

The Project

I will be an advocate for Louisiana’s juveniles serving life without parole by representing the innocent among them. I will secure representation for “over-convicted” juveniles; produce public education materials; and specialize in the social and legal issues that intersect with the issue of juvenile life without parole – especially as it relates to the wrongful and over-conviction of children. Through these activities, my fellowship will fuel the effort to abolish juvenile life without parole in Louisiana and the nation.

The Inspiration

The Project

Shari helped young adult domestic violence victims escape or prevent abusive relationships through outreach and education in local schools and community organizations, legal representation for domestic violence victims in Family Court proceedings, and advocacy for a more coordinated juvenile justice response to domestic violence among young adults.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

Dating violence seems to make the headlines only when a celebrity is involved. Yet the U.S. Department of Justice has found that young women ages 16 to 24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group. Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused in a dating relationship. Young adults who experience abusive relationships are more likely to do poorly in school, binge drink, attempt suicide, and get into fights. Victims may also carry the patterns of violence into future relationships. In Essex County, N.J., socio-economic factors coupled with a significant reduction in resources for free legal services have created a gap in services for young adult domestic violence victims. They need legal advocacy to protect them from their abusers, as well as education on the warning signs of domestic violence and how to seek legal and other support services, which can help break the cycle of violence.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Shari:

  • Assisted 250 low-income families in matters such as domestic violence restraining orders, child custody and visitation, spousal and child support, divorce, and remedies pursuant to the New Jersey Safe Housing Act
  • Established and maintained a referral network with other domestic violence service providers in Essex County
  • Organized and presented seminars for more than 1,200 students and community members on domestic violence and healthy relationships at various schools, community organizations, and partner agencies
  • Recruited and mentored volunteer law students and lawyers to expand capacity for representing young adult domestic violence victims

Where are they now?

Shari continues to provide legal services to domestic violence victims with various family law issues as a Staff Attorney at Essex-Newark Legal Services.

The Project

Devin provided legal assistance, to veterans with a focus on National Guard and Reserve Veterans via a legal clinic partnership with the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

More than half of all Global War on Terrorism veterans served in the National Guard (NG) or the Reserves. This citizen soldier population, which includes more than 500,000 men and women, is returning home with significant physical and mental health problems. Unlike their active duty counterparts, NG and Reserve members quickly return to their respective civilian employment and are not tied to large military bases. This quick disconnect, from military service causes these veterans, to have more difficulty accessing needed physical and mental health care, from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other providers. This project seeks to provide current and former NG and Reserve members much needed assistance in accessing VA benefits and healthcare.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Devin has:

  • Provided advice on VA benefits and discharge upgrades, to over 200 veterans at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.
  • Successfully obtained VA benefits for over 30 veterans.
  • Assisted several veterans with less than honorable discharge gain access, to previously denied VA care and benefits.
  • Helped several homeless veterans obtain VA benefits, which enabled them afford housing within the community.
  • Restored dignity to veterans, by helping them obtain Honorable discharges, after they were provided less than honorable discharges due to their sexuality.
  • Worked with VA health providers, to ensure continued treatment for a veteran’s terminal illness, after the VA sought to revoke eligibility.

Next Steps

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Devin plans to:

  • Continue hosting the legal clinic at the San Francisco VA Medical Center for Swords to Plowshares.
  • Continue operating the legal clinic at the VA for many years to come. Although we have been able to assist hundreds of veterans with their claims for benefits, the fight to ensure that veterans receive proper care and benefits is still in its infancy.