Janeille (she/her/hers) will advocate for the veteran population in and around Marion County, Florida, to offer an accessible and holistic legal experience that tackles their housing insecurity, family instability, reemployment ventures, military sexual trauma, and other civil law issues.
Almost one-quarter of all veterans in the United States return from active military careers to rural communities. They face higher poverty rates, fewer housing options, less access to technology and affordable healthcare, as well as many other legal and social issues. The veteran population is also uniquely affected by physical and mental afflictions due to their service to this country, compounding the unfavorable situations they often face when they return home. This project will bring services to rural veterans through holistic legal services, education, and partnerships in the veterans’ local areas.
Through the hard work, determination, supportive words, and actions, Janeille rose above her situation’s limitations. She went to law school to save the world one community at a time, and her journey has begun.
Janeille will offer holistic direct civil legal assistance to the veteran population. She will create sustainable partnerships with community leaders and organizations to offer assistance and build trust with the veteran population. Additionally, Janeille will develop an educational outreach initiative called “Access to Resources,” which will be geared towards increasing accessibility and empowering veterans who may feel overlooked and powerless in connection with their rights and benefits.
There is a saying where I'm from, ‘Those who feels it, knows it.’ I know what it is like to feel powerless in a ‘dead-end situation,’ but I was able to grow beyond it because of the support of many, so now it's my turn to support those who feel powerless.
Janeille McPhail /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Melissa (she/her/hers) will engage in individual and systemic advocacy to expand access and address barriers to Medicaid home health care, enabling more low-income Florida seniors to stay safely at home and out of nursing homes.
Institutionalization should not be the only guaranteed option for older low-income Floridians living with severe disabilities, but this is often the case. Seniors on Medicaid who require long-term services and supports are able to get immediate nursing home care, but if they would like to access home health services as an alternative, they are forced to go through an extremely complicated process just to get on a waitlist with no guarantee of ever receiving these services. The ability to access home health services, especially for Floridians of Color and immigrants, is critical, as racial disparities in nursing homes are profound.
Growing up between the U.S. and Mexico, Melissa saw the differences in the way aging individuals are treated. Her Mexican grandmother lives in a multigenerational home supported by home health care and family, while her American grandparents spent their last years in a nursing home, largely alone. Melissa believes that everyone should be able to access care that allows them to stay safely at home and with their families.
During her Fellowship, Melissa will engage in individual and systemic advocacy to expand access and address barriers to Medicaid home health care for low-income Florida seniors. She will create Know Your Rights materials and toolkits to support grievances and appeals for Long-Term Care Waiver enrollees and their families, as well as offer trainings to advocates and providers. She will also undertake administrative advocacy to address policy and systems level issues.
No one should be forced to choose between accessing needed healthcare and staying safely at home with their loved ones just because of their socio-economic status.
Melissa Lipnick /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Oliver (he/him/his) will prevent COVID-19-fueled evictions of small businesses and residential renters at high risk of displacement in South Florida through direct legal representation, policy advocacy, and movement lawyering.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged both individuals and businesses in Florida. Close to one million individuals in Florida are at risk of homelessness due to not having the funds to pay rent. Many businesses are also struggling under the weight of the pandemic. The crisis lands with a thud on South Florida communities that have long been under-invested in. Robust legal services, encompassing both direct legal services and policy advocacy to address root causes, as well as community organizing, can start to make a difference.
Oliver sees this work as the continuation of a multi-generational struggle to protect the most marginalized in South Florida.
During the Fellowship, Oliver will work to ensure that vulnerable renters, small businesses, and the community organizations that support them in Little Haiti, Allapattah, Little Havana, and Liberty City have the legal representation and partnerships in place to survive during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Oliver will seek to utilize all resources the law provides to ensure that Black and Latinx businesses in these areas have the chance to continue to meaningfully support their communities. He will focus on identifying and preparing legal action against slumlords and landlords who have filed—and will file—to evict their tenants and educate decision-makers on systemic, community-driven solutions to these issues. Oliver’s efforts will be in conjunction with a community-led coalition of partners and organizations to create a sustainable movement lawyering model that works for South Florida post-COVID-19.
This wasn’t just a chance to work for the Community Justice Project, but to fight for equity and justice for marginalized people in the very community that my story started.
Oliver Telusma /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Daniela is creating a comprehensive immigration advocacy program in North Florida to serve immigrants who are low-income and/or crime victims and is establishing immigration protocols, procedures, and resources for Legal Services of North Florida staff and community partners.
North Florida lacks the institutional memory of a central advocacy organization doing the hard work of outreach to both immigrant communities and service agencies. The Florida panhandle has a huge agricultural and tourism presence, two industries that draw immigrants in vast numbers. There is a great need for both free legal help for low-income immigrants and trainings for agencies serving this population, especially in today’s environment of rapidly changing immigration policies.
Daniela, a current DACA recipient, knows what it is like to have your life shifted by fear and uncertainty because of the broken immigration system. Her personal and professional experience working with marginalized communities has instilled an altruistic spirit that makes her uniquely suited for this Fellowship.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the past year, Daniela has:
- Provided full representation to over 20 immigrant clients and brief services, advice, and/or referrals to an additional 45 individuals
- Secured the deferred action waitlist for three U-visa clients after supplementing their pending petitions
- Conducted Legal Services of North Florida’s first-ever immigration legal clinic in Tallahassee
- Provided eight community education and outreach presentations, reaching over 900 community members
- Delivered 19 presentations to other service providers, allies, and LSNF attorneys in all five offices
- Collaborated with over 45 groups and attended over 130 coalition-building meetings to expand the reach and impact of the project
- Collaborated with local advocacy organizations to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine for the immigrant community in Tallahassee
In the next year, Daniela plans to:
- Collaborate with the Gender and Family Justice Clinic to facilitate a Guardianship clinic for immigrant victims of crime to learn about the Power of Attorney and what to do if they get picked up by ICE
- Conduct trainings with guidance counselors and social workers in high schools in the second judicial circuit to provide assistance and information for their non-citizen students regarding higher education
- Co-present two CLE trainings on immigration and human trafficking for local attorneys
Serving Our Sisters (“S.O.S.”) provides holistic and trauma-informed civil legal services to female veterans and all veteran survivors of military sexual trauma.
In addition to the struggles faced by all veterans, female veterans experience sexual assault, or military sexual trauma (MST), at a significantly higher rate than the general population. Thousands of veterans leave the military with less than honorable discharges due to the behavioral symptoms associated with MST and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When veterans receive less than honorable discharges, their access to veteran resources is severely limited or completely taken away, which may result in a lack of medical care and homelessness. Many have a difficult time discussing the trauma they experienced with lawyers who are unfamiliar with military culture and the high rates of MST, and many female veterans are not comfortable seeking assistance from the male-dominated VA health system. Finding services that are both veteran-specific and trauma-informed can be difficult. S.O.S. expands Broward County veterans’ access to legal support by providing a safe space that offers holistic legal services.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the past twelve months, Brittany:
- Established Serving Our Sisters, Florida’s first legal clinic specifically for female veterans and MST survivors
- Providing full representation to 24 veteran clients, often addressing several legal needs for each client to provide holistic support
- Provided brief services, advice and/or referrals to more than 15 additional veterans in need who did not qualify for full representation
- Acquired income stability for a disabled veteran at risk of becoming homeless
- Assisted multiple gender non-conforming veterans to receive the benefits they struggled to access
- Conducted two virtual presentations, reaching hundreds with information on the project and its services
In the next year, Brittany Anne plans to:
- Develop a comprehensive Broward County veterans’ resources booklet for veterans
- Provide weekly outreach and office hours at the local Vet Center
- Provide training on the unique considerations for veterans who are gender non-conforming and the associated additional impact MST can have
- Provide training on resources available to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness
Anne serves Haitian farmworkers in Central Florida to improve work-related social determinants of health.
Farmworkers comprise one of the most integral workforces in the United States, but they are also among the most abused and underrepresented workers. In Florida, 40% of farmworkers are Haitian. Due to language barriers and their smaller population, Haitian farmworkers have difficulties accessing legal aid and face unique barriers to healthcare access, including unfamiliarity with preventative medicine, concerns about the safety of Western pharmacological medicine, and mistrust of the public health system. Anne works to help remove the barriers that cause the Haitian community to go without the legal aid that they need. Her community has been an instrumental part of her life, and her dream is to serve this community by representing Haitian farmworkers.
Through previous advocacy efforts and developing this project, Anne was reminded that the Haitian-Creole-speaking farmworker community is not a priority in Central Florida. Time and time again, Anne was told that this community lacks resources and research because they are smaller than other immigrant populations in Central Florida. Anne hopes this sentiment ends with her. Anne aspires to help remove the barriers that cause the Haitian community to go without the legal aid that they need. Her community has been an instrumental part of her life, and her dream is to serve this community by representing Haitian farmworkers with their legal claims.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Anne has:
- Providing full representation to 12 clients and brief services, advice, and/or referrals to over 85 individuals
- Conducted over 25 presentations and meetings with organizations and health clinics regarding the work of the project
- Collaborating with the Polk County Public Schools Migrant Education program and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to encourage free vaccinations, enroll migrant children in school, and provide free legal information about Temporary Protected Status for the Haitian community
- Successfully advocated, in partnership with other organizations, for the re-launch of the Farmworker Advisory Council in Florida, which will be comprised of farmworkers and advocates and will advise local and state leaders on issues like COVID-19 testing, vaccine access, and heat illness in the community
- Participating in the University of Central Florida (UCF) Farmworker clinic
- Collaborating with local 362, an affiliate of UNITE HERE, a union representing workers throughout North America, including on their annual citizenship clinic
In the next year, Anne plans to:
- Continue to develop relationships with community organizations, local universities, and pro bono attorneys
- Host two legal clinics
- Host two Know Your Rights trainings, with a focus on expanding legal services to Haitian-Creole farmworkers who have never received services
“L'union fait la force”—which means unity is strength—is Haiti’s national motto. As a Haitian-American woman and child of Haitian immigrants, I am driven to not simply give back, but to help create change to better the lives of Haitian farmworkers.
Anne Piervil /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jonathan will create, coordinate, and manage a veterans outreach program in the Tampa Bay Area in order to assist and educate veterans and their dependents on the process and requirements for removing barriers to benefits by providing pro bono legal aid services to remove those barriers enabling them to receive the benefits that were earned and deserved.
Florida is home to about 1.6 million veterans ranking third in the nation with Tampa Bay having the largest veteran population in the state. Unfortunately, many veterans do not receive the benefits they deserve because of errors by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in handling their claim or because the veterans are uneducated about what they are entitled to and the process to obtain it. As a result, these veterans are often destitute, homeless, and without necessary medical care which creates a burden on the veteran, their family, and society as a whole. The implementation of community outreach, education, and assistance will be a huge step in assisting this vulnerable and deserving group of American Heroes in getting their benefits. There is a saying in the Army, never leave a fallen comrade, and these veterans who are sick, poor, and homeless are fallen and need the Veterans Law Institute’s help.
Jon has dedicated his life to serving the veteran community and this country. He brings with him the professional and legal experience necessary to conduct the outreach, education, and representation to make a positive impact on the veterans he represents and the community as a whole.
After becoming an accredited attorney with the VA, Jon will represent veteran clients in appeals of denial of benefits at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. He also plans to create a referral network for veterans and a resource guide. Jon will focus on educating law students and veterans alike about veteran’s legal rights as well as the services and benefits that are available.
I am a 100% disabled combat veteran who served two deployments for a total of twenty months in Afghanistan where I was a leader of Soldiers that performed hundreds of combat operations.
Jon Glover /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Viviana protected and restored the civil rights of people with disabilities by expanding Supported Decision-Making as an alternative to guardianship in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida and throughout the state.
Everyone deserves to make decisions about their own lives. Too often, people with disabilities lose their rights to make decisions because families, lawyers, and judges do not see an alternative to guardianship. Guardianship is a legal tool that strips a person of part or all of their civil rights—to vote, marry, work, contract, consent to treatment, sue and defend lawsuits, choose a home, choose friends, and manage money or property—and lets another exercise them on their behalf. Supported Decision-Making (SDM) is a person-centered alternative to guardianship that allows people with disabilities to keep their rights and make their own decisions with the support of people they trust.
Since at least the fiscal year 2000-2001, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida, which serves Miami-Dade County, has had the most guardianship cases filed of all the judicial circuits in Florida. Viviana’s project was the first in the state to expand awareness and implementation of SDM through simultaneous litigation, education, policy advocacy, and coalition-building.
Viviana has loved ones with mental health diagnoses and relates to the experiences of the families she works with. Her years of experience in the mental health and disability field as a student organizer, intern, volunteer, research assistant, journalist, advocate, and an advisor to advocacy organizations made her the right person for this project.
During her two-year Fellowship period, Viviana:
- Provided legal advice, technical assistance, and/or representation to over 130 people with disabilities
- Won the second and third cases in Florida where a person terminated their guardianship and obtained the full restoration of their rights using Supported Decision-Making
- Presented on SDM to over 2,273 people, including people with disabilities, parents and caregivers, advocates, attorneys, guardians, judges, and judicial staff through community presentations hosted by partner organizations, conferences, continuing legal education courses hosted by the American Bar Association, and continuing judicial education courses hosted by the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator
- Founded the SDM4FL Coalition and co-chairs the coalition alongside Michael Lincoln-McCreight, the first person in Florida to terminate his guardianship using SDM. The coalition includes 12 disability advocacy organizations and over 10 individual members who are persons with disabilities, former clients and their loved ones, or have been directly impacted by the guardianship system (learn more about the coalition at idecideflorida.org)
- Oversaw the community-led drafting of an SDM bill introduced in the 2022 Legislative Session as Senate Bill 1010 and House Bill 681. The SDM4FL coalition is currently working on negotiating amendments and re-introducing the bill in the 2022 Legislative Session.
Jackie will provide legal assistance to guests at Lotus Village, a trauma-informed homeless shelter serving women and families in Miami, FL, to remove guests’ barriers to stability, self-sufficiency and self-determination.
Homelessness is a symptom of several different problems that result in barriers to housing stability. Legal advocacy often removes these barriers and shortens lengths of homelessness. For example, challenging a denial of Social Security disability benefits provides a modest income for a disabled person, representation to naturalize as a US citizen opens employment opportunities, and securing Medicaid benefits promotes good health necessary to work.
Jackie has spent the last year working with Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. to address the self-identified legal needs of Lotus Village guests. This opportunity will allow her to utilize the skills learned during her 8 years of volunteering and working in homeless shelters across the nation and her Masters in Social Work to be an effective advocate.
Jackie will work with Lotus Village women and families, many of which are chronically homeless, have unmet health needs and histories of trauma, to address guests’ emerging legal needs in a wide range of areas such as public benefits, housing application denials, replacement of lost identity documents and special education issues. Jackie will also implement legal strategies to resolve systemic legal issues facing the guests and provide shelter staff with legal training and technical assistance to help mitigate guests’ barriers to stability.
Victoria represented survivors of human trafficking with holistic civil legal services in Broward County, Florida.
Human trafficking is a grossly underreported crime that affects us all. Trafficking can happen to anyone regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status. Survivors of human trafficking often face an array of legal issues due to their victimization. These legal issues may be related to family law, immigration law, expungements, civil injunctions, and name changes for protection. Victoria’s project provided free comprehensive civil legal services to survivors of human trafficking to limit the re-traumatization survivors often experience when seeking assistance from multiple attorneys.
During the two-year Fellowship, Victoria:
- Provided direct legal services to over 20 survivors of human trafficking
- Secured successful outcomes for clients, including reuniting a survivor with her children after years apart, protecting a survivor from her trafficker by changing her name, expunging a survivor’s criminal record related to her victimization, obtaining funding to prevent an eviction for a survivor, and representing a survivor in obtaining a civil injunction for protection against her abuser
- Served as the co-chair of the S.T.R.I.P.E.S. committee, a sub-committee of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition that focused on assisting adult survivors and worked with local service providers to identify and address gaps in services
- Engaged in robust coalition building and community outreach, attended over 90 meetings with human trafficking focused alliances, taskforces, and coalitions
- Delivered nine presentations to audiences of verified survivors and/or potential survivors of human trafficking, shared information on available legal options and the services provided by the project
- Conducted 20 presentations for coalitions, taskforces, and community providers reaching over 2,500 attendees with information on human trafficking, its impact in Broward County, and how the project assists survivors
Victoria will remain at Coast to Coast Legal Aid as a staff attorney in the Family Law Unit, where she will continue to serve and represent survivors of human trafficking.
Working with survivors and creating new chapters in their lives through legal means is the most fulfilling and meaningful work I can engage in.
Victoria Sexton /
Equal Justice Works Fellows