September 21, 2019
Reflection by Marcia Levy, VOLS Executive Director The word “anniversary” is meaningful to me for two reasons. First, I realized recently that 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. 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 Campaign will include a number of events, culminating with a celebration on April 1, 2020. As the nation marks 100 years since the passage of women's suffrage under the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, our anniversary celebration theme will be Shared Leadership, Equal Justice. Honoring women’s leadership, I am excited to report two outstanding pro bono leaders who have graciously accepted our honoree invitation: Bettina B. Plevan, Esq. (Partner, Proskauer & Rose LLP) Sheila S. Boston, Esq. (Partner, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP) Recognizing lifetime achievement, we are pleased to honor the service of long time VOLS board member: John S. Kiernan, Esq. (Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP) And we have a stellar 35th Anniversary Steering Committee in formation, which already includes: Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP Debevoise & Plimpton LLP Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP Proskauer Rose LLP Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.  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 an 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: 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.  2. With new funding from the Columbia Law School public interest group for our Incarcerated Mothers Law Project, we can continue and enhance our services to women at Taconic Correctional Facility and Rikers Island Jail Complex, which will help them to safeguard their parental rights and plan for future reunification with their children. 3. Our Senior Staff Attorney Molly Coe recently expedited and secured victories for two applications for asylum status, enabling our clients to become eligible for a green card and eventual path to US citizenship. Responding to the legal needs of the next generation of DREAMers, our new Immigration Project Director Sin Yen Ling recalibrated our Project Coordinator position into a Community Advocate role and worked with VOLS pro bono attorney Christina Lee -- formerly at Skadden -- to produce a video about our approach (video link here). 4. The VOLS Microenterprise Project broke the record for new cases this past quarter by serving 100 small business clients on 145 legal matters.  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.” 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 (click here to view) opposes HHS regulatory changes that would curtail the rights of LGBT and limited English proficient patients under the ACA. It was drafted by lawyers at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, thanks to the support of our board member, Jeffrey Trachtman, Esq., Partner.  As I pass the one year mark, the key word is “happy.” 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. Read more
August 12, 2019
Updated August 12, 2018:   Read more
July 23, 2019
Job Title: Community Advocate, Immigration Project VOLS’ Mission:   Read more
June 27, 2019
June is Pride Month and VOLS is proud. At VOLS, we take pride in supporting the LGBTQ community in a variety of ways. This month, VOLS is proud to highlight the voices of queer New Yorkers from across our legal projects and what access to justice has meant to them.   Read more
June 27, 2019
Following is a case example that highlights the work of the VOLS Elderly Project to help New York’s low-income seniors to age in place. VOLS is pleased to expand our work with older veterans of military service, like Mr. Rivera, with support from the New York Community Trust. Note that “Mr. Rivera” is an alias name used for this blog post to protect privacy.   Read more
June 27, 2019
There are so many people who enable VOLS to help anchor the safety net available to low-income New Yorkers across our city. Read more
May 31, 2019
The New York Bar Foundation recently awarded a grant of $10,000 to Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS), to be used in support of their Elderly Project to serve New York City’s low-income seniors.   “For 35 years, VOLS has partnered with New York City’s legal and nonprofit community to help close the justice gap facing low-income New Yorkers. We are grateful to partner with The New York Bar Foundation to assist seniors and their loved ones to overcome legal problems that affect their ability to retain their housing," noted VOLS Elderly Project Director, Peter Kempner. "Our clinics, technical support, and life planning services are an integral part of an interconnected web of providers aimed at allowing New York City’s seniors to age in place and to live with dignity.”   Foundation grants assist non-profit organizations with essentials-of-life issues such as child support, consumer debt, housing, access to health care and education, and family matters such as domestic violence and family stability.    “The New York Bar Foundation has allocated nearly $700,000 in grants to more than 85 programs across New York significantly increasing the total dollar amount of grants over the past several years,” said Lucia Whisenand, chair of the Grant Review Committee.  “The issues we touch on are extensive and impact people in life changing ways.”   By raising awareness of the need for access to civil legal services and allocating resources to help meet these needs, the Foundation will help make access to justice a reality for New Yorkers and, thereby, enhance the understanding of and respect for the rule of law.    “Through our grant-making program we help improve access to justice by providing seed grants to innovative legal projects piloting new ways to help those in need,” adds June Castellano, Vice-chair of the Grant Review Committee.  “When you give to the Foundation you help make a difference across New York State.”   The New York Bar Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, is the charitable arm of the New York State Bar Association.  Established in 1950, the Foundation is dedicated to aiding charitable and educational projects to meet the law-related needs of the public and the legal profession. To learn more about the Foundation and how you can support its programs, go to or email Deborah Auspelmyer Read more