Marcia Levy's Anniversary Reflection and September News

September 21, 2019

By Marcia Levy, VOLS Executive Director

The word anniversary is meaningful to me for two reasons. First, I have now been at VOLS for one year. Happy anniversary to me! And second, happy anniversary to VOLS!! We officially launched VOLS' 35th Anniversary Campaign, in celebration of leadership in pro bono and legal services across 35 years.

Read below for exciting news about our April 2020 anniversary celebration and my reflections from the past year.

CELEBRATION 2020: SHARED LEADERSHIP, EQUAL JUSTICE

Since 1984, VOLS has nimbly addressed the needs facing low-income New Yorkers, launching projects such as the HIV/AIDS project in the 1980s, the Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project in 2009, and our new Veterans Initiative in 2019. This is in addition to our long-standing school and medical based Children’s Project, and our Immigration, Incarcerated Mothers, Elderly, and Microenterprise projects.

Our 35th anniversary campaign culminates with a celebration on April 1, 2020. As the United States marks 100 years since the ratification of women's suffrage under the 19th Amendment to Constitution, our celebration theme will be Shared Leadership, Equal Justice. We are proud to announce our first panel of honorees:

Honoring women’s leadership:*

  • Sheila S. Boston, Esq. | Partner, Arnold & Porter
  • Bettina B. Plevan, Esq. | Partner, Proskauer

Recognizing lifetime achievement:*

  • John S. Kiernan, Esq. | Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton

35th Anniversary Steering Committee:*

  • Arnold & Porter
  • Cravath
  • Davis Polk
  • Debevoise
  • Katten
  • Kramer Levin
  • Proskauer
  • Skadden
  • Weil

 * Honoree panel and steering committee in formation

Please make a personal donation in support of our 35th anniversary campaign:

 

 

SEPTEMBER 2019 HIGHLIGHTS:

For my one-year anniversary at VOLS, I'd like to share some highlights from the year, alongside recent news:

1. Did you know that the youngest Vietnam Era veteran is 63 years old?  We do. And thanks to the New York Community Trust, we are launching the VOLS Elderly Project Veterans Initiative, on behalf of older veterans who often face a myriad of legal issues, including housing. Jessica Penkoff, Esq., is the new staff attorney for the Initiative.

An example: Mr. Rivera, a Vietnam Era veteran who lived in the same rent controlled apartment almost his whole life. After his parents and brother passed away, the landlord refused to recognize his tenancy unless he agreed to a $1,000 rent increase. The landlord’s actions prevented him from getting SCRIE benefits that would allow him to keep his apartment, and he was at risk of homelessness. We filed suit in Supreme Court with our pro bono partner Alston & Bird, alleging source of income discrimination, tenant harassment, and rent overcharge. They settled, giving him the tenancy in his name, and they cooperated with him getting SCRIE. There is no rent increase.  

Click here to read Mr. Rivera's story. 

2. With new funding from the Columbia Law School Public Interest Law Foundation for our Incarcerated Mothers Law Project, we can enhance our client services. The Project serves women at Taconic Correctional Facility and Rikers Island Jail Complex, helping them to safeguard their parental rights and plan for future reunification with their children.

An IMLP example: With pro bono representation by two attorneys at Davis Polk & Wardwell, our client recently secured visitation rights with her daughter while incarcerated at Taconic prison in Westchester County. Today, she has been released and is able to maintain this critical family relationship. 

Click here to read her story.

3. Our Senior Staff Attorney Molly Coe recently expedited and secured client victories for asylum status applications, enabling two young people to become eligible for a green card and eventual path to United States citizenship. Responding to the legal needs of the next generation of DREAMers, our new Immigration Project Director Sin Yen Ling created a Community Advocate position at VOLS and worked with our pro bono attorney Christina Lee -- formerly at Skadden -- to produce a video about our approach.

Click here to watch the video, and click here to read The New York Times' profile of VOLS' newly hired community advocate, Jenifer Guzman.

4. The VOLS Microenterprise Project broke the record for new cases this past quarter by serving 100 small business clients on 145 legal matters. 

An example: We recently featured feedback from VOLS client Myriam Simpierre of Buy Better Foods: “Starting a new business, I recognized quickly that as a woman owner you have to work extra hard to make your voice heard. Working with VOLS was empowering. I learned to develop a successful business partnership with my landlord and a lawyer.”

Click here to read testimonials of VOLS clients from Pride Month 2019

5. VOLS collaborated across the Elderly and Immigration Projects to provide public comment on two different proposed rules that would impact seniors and immigrants. The most recent comment opposes HHS regulatory changes that would curtail the rights of LGBTQ and limited English proficient patients under the Affordable Care Act. It was drafted by lawyers at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, thanks to the support of our board member, Jeffrey Trachtman, Esq., Partner.

Click here to read about our public comment to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

...

As I pass the first anniversary mark at VOLS, it is truly a happy anniversary. With the tremendous support of all of you, we have accomplished so much. Thank you to our supporters, our partners, our clients, and to our fabulous VOLS team, who work tirelessly alongside New York's legal community and locally-based groups to ensure that our neighbors can attain the justice they deserve.

Sincerely,

Marcia Levy, Esq.
Executive Director
Volunteers of Legal Service

 

VOLS Staff Retreat, the Fun Part

Above: the VOLS team recently held our annual retreat and enjoyed some bonding time at Painting Lounge in Chelsea!