Jovanda C. Spain

The Project

The Elder Abuse Prevention Project provides high quality legal services to elders who have been victims of abuse, neglect, and exploitation in the Greater Boston area.

The Project was dedicated to ensuring that older adults in the greater Boston area live free from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Many older adults living in Massachusetts are vulnerable due to isolation, physical and/or mental impairments, and dependence on others, especially family members. This vulnerability makes them easy targets for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect, financial exploitation, and fraud. The project was designed to provide legal representation to elders to ensure that they have the income, health care and services that they need to live independently in the community. Jovanda’s work promoted affordable housing for seniors, access to quality health care, Social Security or SSI income.

Fellowship Highlights

The project has been successful in the preservation of housing for elders by defending against evictions from public and subsidized housing. It has ensured economic security for elders through the provision of Social Security/SSI benefits to uplift elders out of poverty. It has been effective in strengthening access to health care for elders in order that their right to quality affordable health care becomes a reality.

Next Steps

Jovanda hopes to begin a career in legal services and work to defend and preserve the rights of low-income people who face injustices. Her interest in wanting to be an advocate for the community is simple; she wants to make a difference in people’s lives and enable them to achieve what would otherwise not be possible.

The Project

Calissa provided direct legal representation and support to residents of Baltimore City, aged 60 and over, who were victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Calissa provided high quality legal services to low-income older adults who have been victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. In addition to providing direct legal representation to victims, Calissa helped to create a network of lawyers dedicated to elder justice issues and bringing greater public awareness about elder abuse. Calissa’s work through this project gave a voice to senior victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Fellowship Highlights

Over the course of a year, Calissa was able to assist several clients with elder justice issues including stopping ongoing physical and psychological abuse, recovering funds that seniors lost due to financial exploitation, and assisting seniors with advanced planning to stop ongoing abuse and prevent future abuse.

Next Steps

Calissa is now a Staff Attorney at Senior Legal Services where she continues to assist low-income older adults with their civil legal needs.

 

The Project

Danielle’s project seeks to help low-income veterans with a wide array of civil legal issues ranging from landlord/tenant, veteran claims, social security claims, unemployment benefits, public assistance, and fair hearings.

During her Fellowship, Danielle will:

  • Hold office hours at Bath VAMC
  • Represent clients in town and village court
  • Represent clients at fair hearings
  • Represent clients at social security hearings
  • Submit VA compensation claims and appeals

I wanted to become a lawyer to help people who are not always heard and help people empower themselves. I feel that this role as an advocate helps me do both of these for clients.

Danielle Bernard /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Joe Cassidy-Schaffer is a 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow serving in the New York State Family Security Project.

As a Fellow, Joe provides essential and often complex immigration legal services for residents of a 14-county region in Western New York who do not qualify for other low-income programs, or have needs that are beyond the resources available through other local agencies.

The Project

Shayla developed worker-owned businesses that can help individuals with low to moderate-income, people of color, and returning citizens in Southeast Michigan achieve economic self-sufficiency.

The majority of people C2BE serves are people of color, people with incomes within 200% of the poverty line, and those citizens returning to the community from incarceration. Worker cooperatives or businesses that are owned and controlled by workers themselves allow the members to overcome reliance on both public benefits and private employment and the barriers to employment faced by ex-offenders and employer discrimination. This project provided community education, transactional lawyering, and business support which helped citizens in Detroit achieve economic self-sufficiency by establishing worker cooperatives.

Fellowship Highlights

During the Fellowship period, Shayla:

  • Conducted outreach with community organizations, businesses, and economic development partners
  • Conducted community education sessions on various forms of worker ownership, the benefits of worker ownership, and the cooperative culture
  • Provided technical assistance services such as feasibility studies, business plans, legal advice and drafting on the choice of entity, contracts, business conversion counseling, sources of capital for project partners and making mutual referrals with these partners

Next Steps

Shayla Fletcher will continue working with C2BE to provide business technical assistance to start-up businesses in Detroit. She also plans to continue providing technical assistance such as business planning (with an emphasis on planning for financial stability and growth) for potential worker-owned business conversions.

The Project

Aaron created a medical-legal partnership (MLP) with the Monterey County Health Department in California’s Salinas Valley, providing free legal services to farmworkers, students, tenants, and families—with a focus on pesticide exposure, pregnant and disabled farmworkers, and the LGBTQ+ community.

In most of the country, families can drink tap water, children can play outside, and workers can earn a living without worrying that those activities will make them sick. In the Salinas Valley, residents cannot participate in these activities without encountering agricultural pollution like pesticide exposure and drinking water contamination, substandard housing, and rampant pregnancy and disability discrimination in farmwork. By creating an MLP, this Fellowship takes new approaches to these longstanding issues in an effort to serve the farmworkers, children, and families who sacrifice their health to put food on our plates.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Aaron has:

  • Provided legal services to more than 325 farmworkers, students, tenants, and families through MLP and limited walk-in clients—securing clients more than $230,000, helping remove bed bugs and mold from homes, securing reasonable accommodations and medical leave for disabled workers, increasing school-based services for special needs students, and connecting victims of intimate partner violence to immigration services
  • Served as lead CRLA attorney on case that successfully challenged regulations that disproportionately expose rural communities of color to Telone, a cancer-causing pesticide
  • Reduced exposure of pregnant farmworker women to pesticides known to cause reproductive harm by improving access to a state program that provides replacement income, and worked with statewide coalition to challenge denials and win approval from the state agency that administers the program
  • Secured funding from Monterey County to continue and expand the Monterey County Medical-Legal Partnership, including hiring two additional MLP attorneys and bringing MLP services to more patients at the Monterey County Health Department safety net clinics

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Aaron plans to assume a managing role with the growing Monterey County Medical-Legal Partnership, which he securing funding for, continuing to serve Salinas Valley farmworkers and families with health-harming legal needs, expanding services to address pesticide exposure and drinking water contamination, and strengthening additional focus area services for the LGBTQ+ community and H2A Temporary Agricultural Workers.

The Project

Alexander advanced the use of litigation and policy advocacy to expand the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth in schools, families, health care, child welfare systems, and juvenile justice facilities.

Transgender (“trans”) and gender nonconforming (“GNC”) youth are an exceptionally vulnerable population. 72% of the over three hundred annual trans callers to NCLR’s legal helpline are low income, and 60% are people of color. Trans and GNC youth face daunting systemic barriers to achieving long-term health and well-being, including: Extremely high rates of harassment, physical assault, and sexual violence in schools; family rejection; serious barriers to equal health care; and severe overrepresentation and higher rates of abuse in foster care and juvenile justice settings. Almost 50% of trans youth attempt suicide before their 20th birthday.

Fellowship Highlights

Alexander helped litigate precedent-setting cases in the federal courts establishing the rights of trans and GNC youth and adults in schools (Doe v. Volusia), hospitals (Prescott v. Rady Children’s Hospital), and prisons (Edmo v. Corizon), as well as challenging the transgender military ban (Doe v. Trump and Stockman v. Trump). He co-drafted AB 2119, a bill making California the first state to guarantee trans foster youth the right to access gender-affirming health care, and testified before the California Senate Judiciary to secure the bill’s passage. He also authored the Trans Youth Handbook, a first-of-its-kind legal resource guide for trans and GNC youth and their families.

Alexander was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Law and Policy in 2018 and one of the National LGBT Bar Association’s 40 Best LGBTQ+ Lawyers Under 40 in 2019 for his accomplishments during his Fellowship.

Next Steps

Alexander will be serving as the Founding Director of the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic. He will also be teaching the Law School’s inaugural course on Gender Identity and the Law.

Media

My Impact: A Conversation with 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow Alexander Chen

National Center For Lesbian Rights Equal Justice Works Fellow Alexander Chen Makes Forbes 30 Under 30 List

LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic launches at Harvard Law School

The Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand Transgender People

Harvard Law School Opens LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic

CA First to Guarantee Gender-Affirming Healthcare for Trans Foster Youth

Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic and NCLR Release First-Of-Its-Kind Comprehensive Legal Resource for Transgender Youth

The Project

Alyssa advocated and provided legal assistance for the educational rights of homeless students in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs through outreach, community education and direct representation.

Homeless students face significant obstacles in accessing education, forced to transfer schools numerous times, and an inability to get transportation to school. The suburbs of Chicago have seen a dramatic increase in poverty rates that accounted for almost half the statewide increase. Due to the needs and demand the Law Project’s ability to serve suburban homeless students and ability to serve students trying to access selective enrollment schools and preschools is limited.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Alyssa has:

  • Conducted 42 trainings about educational rights for homeless youth at schools, shelters, townships, youth service providers and transitional housing programs
  • Assisted 124 students with immediate enrollment in school, access to transportation services to and from school, preschool programs, financial aid, fee waivers and credit recovery
  • Distributed over 31,596 informational materials on educational rights for homeless youth and children throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs
  • Attended 58 community outreach events and back to school fairs where she engaged with community members and school personal

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Alyssa plans to continue her project’s work as the Education Attorney at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Alyssa will continue to advocate for the educational rights of homeless students in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs with an emphasis on access to preschool and option schools including selective enrollment, charter and magnet schools.

The Project

Alexis provided essential support, legal advocacy, and outreach to school-age children and youth experiencing homelessness in the Inland Empire region of California.

Children experiencing homelessness are the most vulnerable student population in California. They face the same challenges as any child living in poverty, but they also face a unique set of obstacles, including higher rates of mobility, hunger, physical and mental illness, abuse and neglect, and trauma. The Inland Empire region of California is particularly devastated, with rates of homelessness that are several times the national and state averages. This project ensured schools and school districts do everything they can to support this high-need student population.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Alexis has:

  • Directly represented 15 youth experiencing homelessness who faced barriers to their enrollment and success in school, including youth residing at an emergency shelter in the Inland Empire
  • Developed, published, and disseminated, with support from HPE and Morgan Lewis, 1,000 Know Your Rights materials for students experiencing homelessness as part of the ACLU’s ongoing statewide My School My Rights campaign
  • Delivered several presentations to education leaders in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties, and also a statewide presentation in collaboration with the California DOE Homeless Education Office to share strategies to support students experiencing homelessness
  • Administered statewide survey of over 600 school district homeless liaisons in California, and published companion reports, developed with support from Morgan Lewis attorneys, sharing key findings and recommendations for K-12 schools and California Community Colleges to better support students experiencing homelessness
  • Provided technical assistance to state legislators drafting legislation to ensure schools more effectively identify and support students experiencing homelessness

What’s Next

Next year, Alexis will be clerking for a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. After his clerkship, Alexis plans to continue his work as an advocate for educational equity in California.

Media

ACLU, parents groups pitch Pomona Unified School District with new budgeting proposal

Hidden In Plain Sight: Homeless Students

Padres de estudiantes de Pomona se quejan ante el distrito escolar por gastos académicos

Time to bring participatory budgeting to Pomona Unified

There are over 200,000 students experiencing homelessness in California alone. These students don’t just need great teachers, they also need legal advocates who can help ensure that they know their rights, can attend school, and receive the necessary support to be successful.

Alexis Piazza /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Joanna combats predatory and abusive debt collection practices targeted at low-income student borrowers through direct representation, litigation, educational outreach, and policy advocacy.

Americans owe over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. One out of every four student borrowers are either currently in default on their loans, or struggling to make repayments. Low-income student borrowers bear the majority of the student debt burden and are more likely to default on their loans. Without legal assistance, low-income students who sought an education to create better lives for themselves and their families will be trapped in the cycle of poverty for generations to come.

Fellowship Highlights

During the Fellowship period, Joanna has:

  • Provided direct services to over 100 low-income student borrowers
  • Pursued impact litigation on behalf of 300 former students of a defunct for-profit school that resulted in a favorable settlement and injunctive relief
  • Helped create four animated videos designed to educate self-represented defendants in debt collection lawsuits

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Joanna plans to continue and expand the work of her project as a staff attorney at Public Counsel.