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Fighting Inequality in the Wake of Disasters

/ Blog Post

Each year, disasters strike communities around the country, creating an ongoing cycle of impact and recovery. As a result of this cycle, inequality is further rooted in communities that are impacted by disaster. Moreover, disasters often disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.

In 2020, Equal Justice Works launched the Disaster Resilience Program to respond to the critical need for legal assistance before, during, and after disasters. Through the Disaster Resilience Program, Equal Justice Works mobilizes cohorts of lawyers and law students to provide free civil legal aid in disaster-prone areas and work to rebuild lives, stabilize communities, and create resilience to future disasters.

Last summer, 6 law students spent eight to ten weeks working alongside Equal Justice Works Fellows in the Disaster Resilience Program, helping to provide legal aid, engage in community outreach and education in disaster resilience.

2021 DRP By The Numbers Image

During their summer of service, Student Fellows in the Disaster Resilience Program collectively contributed 1,589 hours that included

  • 741 hours on research and developing resources;
  • 423 hours on client cases, client intake, and legal clinics; and
  • 115 hours on outreach and educational activities.

“The best part of my experience at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida was that I never felt like a day was wasted,” said Kyla Howard, a third-year law student at New England Law and a 2021 Disaster Resilience Program Student Fellow, “I could see how every project was effective for either the firm or the community. All my trainings and research came full circle when I got to use what I had learned to get into the community and help local tenants during the COVID-19 disaster.”

The best part of my experience at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida was that I never felt like a day was wasted.

Kyla Howard /
2021 Student Fellow
Disaster Resilience Program

Among their many accomplishments this summer, Student Fellows assisted on research projects, contributed to a national disaster guidebook, prepped legal documents, drafted briefs for court, and developed tools to manage the COVID-19 eviction moratoriums. As a result of their efforts, 3,556 individuals received informal legal assistance!

One of the top highlights of the Disaster Resilience Program this summer occurred at Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston, where Andra Lehotay de León, a second year student at Northeastern University School of Law and a 2021 Disaster Resilience Program Student Fellow worked alongside Equal Justice Works Fellow Maria Vazquez to help a young family facing deportation. The father of the family was faced with a 10-year ban from obtaining legal status in the United States due to his initial unlawful entry. Andra and Maria fought the ban with a waiver and were able to get the father approved for a visa petition through his marriage.

“Through this opportunity, I learned of the importance of disaster resilience-informed advocacy for immigrant clients,” said Andra. “…I am particularly interested in continuing my work in immigration law, specifically within communities frequently impacted by natural disasters.”

Through this opportunity, I learned of the importance of disaster resilience-informed advocacy for immigrant clients.

Andra Lehotay de León /
2021 Student Fellow
Disaster Resilience Program

Despite the challenge of several Student Fellows working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Disaster Resilience Program were able to gain valuable legal experience and make meaningful contributions in the communities they served. Following their summer of service, all the Student Fellows felt that their legal knowledge and interest in serving communities affected by disasters had significantly increased due to their experience in the program.

If you are interested in helping communities prepare for and recover from disasters, apply to the Disaster Resilience Program by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 14, 2022. For more information about program eligibility and requirements, please visit here.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow