Press

November 30, 2019
 
 
Dear friends:
 
We invite you support a cause near and dear to our hearts: free legal services for New Yorkers, provided when and where they are needed most. Below you can read our year-end appeal letter for 2019.
 
Please make a year-end donation to by VOLS:

 
All the best,
Marcia Levy & the VOLS team

 

New Yorkers Helping New Yorkers
How You Can Make a Difference Through VOLS

 

As a nation, we made a promise to honor the service of our military veterans and their families. Volunteers of Legal Service’s own commitment to New York City’s older, low-income veterans comes at a crucial time, when the youngest Vietnam Era veterans are now 63 years old.

Our new Veterans Initiative is exemplified by a case from this past year, handled by VOLS legal director Peter Kempner with the co-counsel of longtime VOLS board member John Aerni from Alston & Bird. They represented Mr. Rivera, a Vietnam Era veteran who lived in the same rent-controlled apartment almost his whole life, but whose tenancy was in jeopardy after his parents and brother passed away:

 

“Our client was not aware of what recourse he had when his landlord exploited his vulnerability by refusing to cooperate with his SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption) application and then jacking up his rent. There is nothing as rewarding for a lawyer as a case like this, when an individual in peril learns that not only does the law stand behind him, but so does the legal community.”

– John Aerni, Alston & Bird, VOLS Board

 

VOLS filed suit in the Supreme Court, alleging source of income discrimination, tenant harassment, and rent overcharge. The landlord settled, cooperated with the SCRIE application, and gave Mr. Rivera tenancy in his name with no rent increase.

 

I am writing today to ask you to financially support Volunteers of Legal Service. 
Please donate now.

Your leadership as a financial contributor or legal volunteer allows VOLS to stand by Mr. Rivera and the many New Yorkers who contact us every day for legal support. Our clients seek the same dignity, security, and opportunity that we would want for any member of our community. Through VOLS, you are funding a network of “New Yorkers helping New Yorkers” to reach their goals. You are making New York City a better place for all our neighbors.

 

Did you know that 1-in-5 New Yorkers is an immigrant, and 1-in-6 is a native-born citizen with at least one immigrant parent? For 10 years, the VOLS Immigration Project has empowered young people to know their rights and pursue their dreams in the only place they call home. 

VOLS client Veronica’s home has been right here in New York City since she was three months old, when her family moved from Mexico to the United States. As she grew older, Veronica began to understand the limited options she would have, compared to her two younger siblings who were born American citizens. She was excited about her future, but she saw the challenges her older brother faced pursuing higher education, unable to qualify for financial aid or scholarships.

The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was a transformative opportunity when it came out, allowing Veronica to obtain work authorization and a social security number. She received a driver’s license and was able to pay taxes, hoping to avoid the kinds of harassment and wage theft that her mom experienced in the workplace as an undocumented immigrant. She saw new opportunities for her education and future.

 

 “My mom wanted all of us, including the ones not born here, to have the American dream. She wanted us to get an education, get a house, and a car.”

 

But federal action to end DACA has broken the promises made to 700,000 DREAMers and erased the hopes of millions of young people whose only home is here in the United States. Veronica fears that if the program’s termination is upheld, she might lose everything that she and her family have fought for.

 

You may have heard stories like Veronica’s for several years. Today, the stakes for our clients couldn’t be higher. Your support enables VOLS to advise DREAMers amidst an uncertain and hostile legal environment.

VOLS staff participate in a Home is Here rally to support DACA in DCOur work is part of a broader movement for justice in New York City and across the country. Earlier this month, as the United States Supreme Court reviewed the DACA program, VOLS Community Advocate Jenifer Guzman joined thousands of DREAMers in Washington DC to show our solidarity. Our legal team is conducting an emergency rapid response to make sure that young people submit their DACA renewals before the court’s anticipated decision this spring and to position them for the best chance to keep hope alive. We have a legal strategy in place for both favorable and negative court scenarios.

As with all VOLS legal projects, our Immigration Project is made possible through the active participation of law firms and pro bono volunteers, with the partnership of neighborhood-based organizations, and by the outstanding leadership of VOLS’ expert staff and board. 

 

Together, we identify and respond to the critical legal challenges facing New Yorkers. This is what makes VOLS unique and your leadership so impactful. 
Please donate now.

We are one legal team joined by attorneys from 60 others. We are one nonprofit bringing legal capacity to over 200 others. We are a team of 18 nonprofit professionals and staff attorneys, joined by over 1,000 volunteers of legal service. VOLS work begins on the ground with community outreach, then leads to direct client services, and extends to broader social change initiatives. Here are a few recent examples in action:

 

VOLS attorneys participate in a legal clinic for veteran entrepreneurs• On November 20, the VOLS Microenterprise Project partnered with Bunker Labs and Kirkland & Ellis to provide 1-on-1 consultations for veteran entrepreneurs on legal issues affecting their businesses.

 

• In January, the VOLS Immigration Project is hosting two legal clinics, at Skadden and Simpson Thacher, to file DACA renewals on the spot for VOLS’ existing and new clients, recruited by local partners such as public schools or the Consulate General of Mexico in New York. 

 

• On Veterans Day, New York Daily News featured our work through the New York Veterans Law Working Group, with a guest column by VOLS’ Peter Kempner that highlighted:

 

“Many Americans assume that when service members return home with injuries, they are automatically connected with their Veterans Affairs disability benefits…. [But] statistics suggest that tens of thousands of veterans across the state aren’t getting the VA benefits to which they are entitled…. Until the state makes a commitment to provide our veterans with the legal assistance they require, New York communities will pay the price and veterans will continue to be deprived of the life-changing benefits they are owed."

 

During our 35th year, VOLS is investing in our future, and I ask you to join us. 
Please donate now.

We were founded in 1984, when New York City Bar leaders responded to severe federal budget cuts to legal services to low-income Americans. They committed through VOLS to dramatically increase pro bono service and help close the justice gap in our city.

I ask you to make a personally significant and meaningful donation to ensure that VOLS has the resources to anticipate and respond to the legal needs of seniors, children and families, mothers in prison or jail, immigrants, veterans, small business owners, LGBTQ New Yorkers, and more.

In the last 12 months, over 4,350 New Yorkers benefited from our free legal services. VOLS also provided legal education at 367 events and trainings, as well as through online updates, reaching 2,982 community members and supporting training for 1,064 lawyers and 1,139 program and service providers.

Along the way, we have attracted new and increased funding support: from local foundations, from law firms and corporations, from government partners, and from individuals like you. We would like to especially thank members of our 35th Anniversary Steering Committee, including: Arnold & Porter, Cravath, Davis Polk, Debevoise, Katten, Kramer Levin, Proskauer, Skadden, and Weil. 

Perhaps most critical to VOLS’ impact are the volunteer lawyers who make our work possible. Across our organization, VOLS staff conduct 90% of client screenings and consultations. Then, our pro bono attorneys support 75% of representation cases. Your financial donation ensures that VOLS can provide the “pro bono infrastructure” to identify community partners, screen clients, train volunteer lawyers, and provide ongoing guidance during the representation process.

 

During our 35th anniversary, VOLS asks for your support during the holiday season. Please make a tax-deductible donation, and invite friends and family to join you!
Please donate now.

There are several ways to donate to VOLS:

  • Mail a contribution to Volunteers of Legal Service, 40 Worth Street, Ste 820, NY, NY 10013
  • Donate online directly to VOLS once or on a monthly schedule - click here to donate now
  • Create a Facebook fundraiser to solicit your friends - click here to easily create a Facebook fundraiser now
  • Donate appreciated stocks to our Vanguard account – contact us for details
  • Or volunteer with VOLS through pro bono legal service or other opportunities

 

If you have questions or would like more information, contact VOLS Director of Philanthropy & Development, Jon Grabelle Herrmann, jgherrmann@volsprobono.org, 917-524-8657.

 

Thank you for everything you do to make New York City a stronger community.

 

Sincerely, and with warm greetings on behalf of the VOLS team,  

Marcia Levy

Executive Director

 

April 25, 2018

I am thrilled to announce that Peter Kempner will join VOLS as the Project Director of our Elderly Project on May 14th.

Pete comes to us with more than 16 years of experience providing legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers.  Currently, he is Director of the Veterans Justice Project and a Deputy Director of the Housing Unit at Brooklyn Legal Services (BLS), where he has worked since September 2001.  Under Pete's leadership, BLS started a clinic at the Manhattan VA hospital staffed by pro bono lawyers. Before helping to found BLS' Veterans Justice Project in 2011, Pete spent a decade as a Staff Attorney and Government Benefits Specialist in BLS' HIV Unit representing clients who were HIV positive.  As part of this work, Pete worked with pro bono lawyers who drafted life-planning documents such as advance directives and powers of attorney.

Pete has extensive experience representing clients at administrative hearings and has litigated cases at every level of the New York State court system, from Small Claims Court to the Court of Appeals.  In addition to representing individuals, Pete has brought impact litigation, including Naser v. New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, in which plaintiffs succeeded in broadening the definition of disability the city uses to grant special vending licenses to include veterans with mental health disabilities.

Pete serves on the Advisory Committee to the Brooklyn Veterans Treatment Court and is a former Chair of the Social Welfare Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.  He is also an adjunct clinical professor at New York Law School.  Pete received his J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in 2001, where he won the Charles H. Revson Public Interest Fellowship.  Before attending law school, Pete graduated with a B.A. from the State University of New York College at Purchase and received an M.A. in Political Management from George Washington University.

Please join me in welcoming this experienced and dedicated public interest lawyer to the team of experts at VOLS.

Sincerely,

Bill Lienhard,
Executive Director

April 20, 2018

According to a recent article in the New Zealand Herald, Stacey Shortall, a New Zealand lawyer who volunteered in VOLS' Incarcerated Mothers Law Project, was so inspired by her experience that she started a similar project when she returned to New Zealand.

See:  The Mothers Project: Connecting Women in Prison With Their Kids 

February 16, 2018

The VOLS Microenterprise Project is excited to announce the public launch of the Commercial Lease Assistance Program. Department of Small Business Services (SBS) Commissioner Gregg Bishop and Councilmember Robert Cornegy announced the new City-funded program in front of Huascar & Company Bake Shop, a small business tenant benefited by legal services. Read the City's press release

Top: VOLS Staff  Attorneys Arthur Kats and Shanila Ali at CLA launch event; Bottom Left: small business owner Huascar Aquino and Commissioner Gregg Bishop address the audience at CLA launch event; Bottom Right: VOLS staff poses with Councilmember Cornegy at CLA launch event 

VOLS' Microenterprise Project is proud to expand its commercial leasing services for small businesses through the Program.  Alongside Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, Community Development Project at Urban Justice Center, and a vibrant Consortium of strategic community partners, the Project will provide small business tenants with critical commercial leasing legal support.  

Media coverage of the Commercial Lease Assistance Program:

 

October 17, 2017

Bret Parker, Executive Director of the City Bar Association and a member of VOLS' Board of Directors, will run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents to raise awareness of Parkinson's Disease as part of the World Marathon Challenge.






In a recent feature article in the New York Law Journal, Bret, who himself has Parkinson's Disease, said:

"Many people don’t understand that Parkinson’s is not just a disease for older people. Many people can get Parkinson’s when they’re still trying to work and raise families."

You can find out more about the incredible challenge Bret has undertaken and help him raise funds for Parkinson's research at https://fundraise.michaeljfox.org/bparker

 

March 28, 2017

VOLS Board member Cyrus Mehta, founder of Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC,  spoke eloquently against discriminating against all immigrants because some small number commit crimes on Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight.  Mr. Mehta maintained his reasonable position and his poise despite questioning from Mr. Carlson that became rude and hostile.

March 21, 2017

Liz Markuci, VOLS Immigration Project Director, was featured in an interview with Pro Bono Institute for their weekly Pro Bono Happy Hour Podcasts. Liz discussed the pro bono initiatives to support immigrants in the context of her own family’s experience, her pro bono role models, her work at VOLS, and much more.

 

You can access the full interview here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ4QLDUiZtk&feature=youtu.be&list=PLvqNb_KZeqQZ2y0-xBYL_dMQQfmJ2a61f

January 27, 2017


VOLS’ Microenterprise Project
client Mera McGrew’s company Soapply was recently featured in the New York Times’ Front Burner column.  Soapply makes pure, organic liquid soap, and donates up to $10 of the $25 price to support water, sanitation, and hygiene improvements in developing countries.

Through VOLS’ Microenterprise Project, Soapply received pro bono legal assistance from the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.  Orrick partners Stephen Ashley and Diana Rutowski, Impact Finance Fellow Perry Teicher, Managing Associate Eileen Aghnami, summer associate Maria Stracqualursi, paralegals Karl Hamel and Linda Partmann, and former associates Eliza Golden and Timothy Green, have helped Ms. McGrew and Soapply with corporate, intellectual property, and tax matters.

Ms. McGrew said:

“Orrick is such a huge part of the Soapply story. Orrick has played an invaluable role in helping take Soapply from a concept to what it is today. Diana, Stephen, Perry and the entire Orrick team have not only helped me tackle immediate structure, trademark, and policy needs, but they have helped ensure that Soapply is set up for success both now and in 5, 10, and even 20 years.”

VOLS is proud to have played a role in the success of this environmentally and socially responsible company.

January 27, 2017

"Living in a Sanctuary City means living in an environment where you feel safe and you can trust the authorities to respect your legal rights."

- Liz Markuci, VOLS' Immigration Project Director

 

Gothamist, an online publication, featured Liz Markuci, VOLS' Immigration Project Director, in an article examining the responsibilities of New York City as a sanctuary city.  Part of that dialogue, as explored in the piece, is "scal[ing] back broken windows policing—which disproportionately targets low income New Yorkers of color for minor offenses like turnstile jumping—in the wake of Trump's executive orders."

As Ms. Markuci explains to her clients at VOLS' Know-Your-Rights Trainings, living in a sanctuary city means living in an environment where you feel safe and you can trust the authorities to respect your legal rights.  Ms. Markuci hopes that the de Blasio administration will work with community organizations to fulfill the pledge of keeping New York a sanctuary city for all New Yorkers.

 

Learn more about VOLS' Immigration Project.

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