Bill Lienhard, Executive Director, graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College and Boston College Law School. After clerking for Federal District Court Judge Paul J. Barbadoro, Bill was awarded a fellowship at the NLG/Sugar Law Center to represent the NAACP in NAACP v. Engler, for which he won the Flint NAACP's Social Justice Award. He then spent two years as a staff attorney in Queens Legal Services' housing unit before moving to the Urban Justice Center's Mental Health Project, where he was promoted to Project Director in 2002. Over the next seven years, under Bill's leadership, the Mental Health Project more than doubled in size and litigated several federal class actions challenging attempts by conservative Republicans to cut entitlements that brought millions of dollars in benefits and services to hundreds of thousands of low-income and homeless people with mental illness. In 2007, Bill was selected to serve as a Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School. Bill became VOLS' Executive Director in 2011, and from 2011-2014 also managed VOLS' Microenterprise Project. As manager of the Microenterprise Project, Bill worked closely with NYC Business Solutions and other community economic development agencies, and with 18 major law firms, to provide pro bono legal assistance to small business owners and low-income entrepreneurs on issues such as commercial real estate. In 2013 and 2014, Bill worked closely with the Association of Pro Bono Counsel and other groups, as well as with major law firms, to organize the Small Business Legal Academy, a one-day event at which volunteers from 50 law firms provided legal education and one-on-one counseling to hundreds of small business owners on issues including commercial real estate, intellectual property, contracts, and business formation. Bill also coordinated an effort to provide pro bono legal assistance to small businesses harmed by Hurricane Sandy in Red Hook, Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, and in the Rockaways. VOLS' efforts to help businesses in these neighborhoods were covered by the Daily News, WCBS, the New York Law Journal, and the Connecticut Law Journal.
Sara Effron, Associate Director, has a B.A. in Political Science from SUNY College at Purchase and an M.S. in Urban Affairs from Hunter College. As Associate Director of VOLS, she designs and creates innovative projects using an interdisciplinary approach, develops relationships with law firms and community-based organizations, and is involved in VOLS’ fundraising activities and grants management. She has over 25 years experience working in legal/social work collaborations. She serves on the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee of the New York City Bar Association and the Pro Bono Coordinators Network of New York State Bar Association. She has represented VOLS on the Law Help Consortium since its inception. She is also a member of the New York State Coalition of Medical-Legal Partnerships. She previously worked as the Director of Training and Technical Assistance for the Community Council of Greater New York and at Municipal Employees Legal Services (MELS) of District Council 37.
Fahima Ahmed, Grant Data Manager, has worked in operations management and organizational development for the past decade in small businesses and non-profits. Before joining VOLS, Fahima was an Operations Manager at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – NYC Chapter, where her responsibilities included managing the administrative staff for a sixty-person office and liaising with Chapter and National Office Directors on organizational transition projects. As a beneficiary of Prep for Prep and a Quaker education at Friends Seminary School in Manhattan, Fahima developed an appreciation for and a commitment to service to others. Apart from her professional duties, Fahima volunteers with several community organizations.
Molly Coe, Staff Attorney, Immigration Project, has a B.A. in Political Science from Boston University and graduated from CUNY School of Law in May 2014. From September 2014 to September 2016 Molly worked with VOLS’ Dream Not Deferred Initiative as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by MetLife and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Molly’s fellowship focused on providing free legal assistance to undocumented students who are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) due to parental abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Molly has previously worked with VOLS as a Project Assistant and as Outreach Coordinator with Law Help/NY. Molly has extensive experience working with immigrant youth and conducting community outreach through internships with Brooklyn Defender Services, The Door, and CUNY's Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic.
Cecilia Cortés Vila, Project Coordinator, Immigration Project, has a B.A. in Political Science from Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires (UBA) and has completed her graduate studies at a joint program between Universita di Bologna and Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero (UNTREF) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cecilia has extensive experience in social research focused on political participation, comparative politics, political campaigning, and policy analysis. She has also worked as a consultant for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government institutions, and brands, in the areas of qualitative research and discourse analysis. As the Project Coordinator for the Immigration Project, Cecilia assists the Immigration Project Director, manages case files, develops new strategies to expand project services, and expands existing outreach efforts that serve New York’s undocumented children through the Dream Not Deferred Project, helping them pursue their dreams. Since moving to New York City, Cecilia has also worked with the Latino community by engaging in market research and volunteering for arts and education related projects such as TeatroStageFest at the Latino International Theater Festival of New York.
Vanessa Diaz, Legal Assistant, Elderly Project, graduated from St. John’s University with a B.S. in Legal Studies. Prior to joining VOLS, Vanessa has volunteered with a variety of organizations, including the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project, the Civil Legal Assistance Referral Office (CLARO), and the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), where she assisted NYLAG with its Immigration Restitution Fund Project. Vanessa is a fluent Spanish-speaker, and her language skills are a great asset to the Elderly Project – both at the monthly legal clinics and in assisting Spanish-speaking seniors with the preparation of life-planning documents.
Elizabeta (Liz) Markuci, Director, Immigration Project, trains and mentors volunteer lawyers working on immigration matters in the Children’s Projects, including “A Dream Not Deferred,” a project launched in 2011 to support immigrant high school students on the path to college and employment. Liz has recruited, trained, and mentored hundreds of volunteer attorneys to represent immigrant youth through various pro bono initiatives throughout New York City. Through the Dream Not Deferred Project, Liz has conducted presentations for hundreds of New York City school staff on how to better support immigrant students, and has spoken on this topic before the New York City Council and at the annual conference of the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling advisors. Liz is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, and received her juris doctor from the CUNY School of Law. She is a member of the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the National Immigration Project. Liz previously served on the New York City Bar Ethics Committee, was the New York liaison for the National Pro Bono Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and co-chaired the New York AILA Chapter Pro Bono Committee, which won the New York State Bar Association's 2012 Bar Leaders' Innovation Award during her tenure.
Olga Medyukh, Director, Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project, received her B.A. from Hunter College with a dual major in economics and psychology, and her J.D. from Touro Law School. Olga is an experienced advocate for civil rights for low-income workers. Before joining VOLS, Olga was in a private practice for six years and represented hundreds of workers in Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board hearings and appeals, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York State Division of Human Rights, and the New York State Supreme Court on matters including violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA, and the New York State and City Human Rights Laws on issues involving disability, sex, gender, and pregnancy discrimination. In addition to her litigation experience, Olga has participated as plaintiff’s counsel in arbitration and mediation proceedings and facilitated resolutions to employment disputes. Olga is a longtime volunteer at the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, where she provides legal advice to community members on employment issues. Olga is fluent in English, Russian and Ukrainian.
Kelsey Ripper, Director, Microenterprise Project, has a B.A. from Fordham University and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. Prior to joining VOLS, Kelsey was a Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at Lawyers Alliance for New York where she designed and implemented a program to provide business and transactional legal services to nonprofit clients addressing food security in New York City. Her project placed a particular emphasis on urban agriculture as a tool for addressing food access, health, education and economic development. During law school Kelsey was a Stein Scholar for the Public Interest and gained community development experience at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A's Community and Economic Development Unit and in Fordham’s Community Economic Development Clinic. Kelsey is currently the Chair of the Community Economic Development Committee of the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section and has served as the Secretary of the Nonprofit Organizations Committee of the New York City Bar Association.
Ellen Rosenberg, Family Law Advisor, Incarcerated Mothers Law Project, is a recipient of the City Bar Association's Legal Services Award. Ellen graduated from Boston University and CUNY School of Law. She also holds an MSW from New York University School of Social Work. Ellen has 20 years' experience in family law, and has worked for some of the leading organizations in New York in this field, including the Women's Prison Association, Sanctuary for Families, and Covenant House. She has also been a clinical instructor at both Brooklyn Law School and Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service.
Alexander Ryley, Director, Elderly Project, was a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Office for the Aging (BOFTA) for seven years before coming to VOLS. At BOFTA, Alex represented low-income elderly Brooklyn residents facing a variety of urgent civil legal problems. Alex also created BOFTA’s first-ever practice in guardianship litigation, representing elderly clients who wished to become guardian of their incapacitated loved ones – often the only option where advance directives were never executed. Prior to joining the Legal Aid Society, Alex worked at Neighborhood Legal Services in Massachusetts, where he was a housing attorney and Director of the agency’s Lawyer for a Day Program. After graduating from law school, Alex worked as an associate at an elder-law firm in Boston, where he specialized in estate and Medicaid planning for elderly clients. And before and during his first year of law school, Alex supervised a team of police-misconduct investigators for the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board. Alex is an experienced mediator, having trained at Mediation Works, Inc., in Boston, and the Center for Mediation in Law in Manhattan. Alex has for many years volunteered for a variety of organizations that serve elders, most recently as a hospice volunteer with Hospice of New York. He is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School, where he was an articles editor of the Brooklyn Law Review, and the State University at Stony Brook.