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Our Team

 

Erin Agnew

Staff Attorney (Homeownership)

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: supporting clients and volunteers working through legal issues around homeownership rights, with the goal of keeping people in their homes with a clear legal title to homeownership
Alum of: George Washington University (2017) and Temple Law (2021)
The best part of my job is: working with clients to develop a shared understanding of their goals for their homes and families
I love pro bono because: it empowers clients by pairing expert legal support with their own deep understanding of their individual and community best interests
Outside of work, you can find me: leading tours at historic museum houses, spending time with my family and bunnies, and legal observing to protect public demonstrators’ first amendment rights

 

Leila Bagenstos

Homeownership Project Administrator

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: administering the Tangled Title Fund – managing applications, leading advisory committee meetings, and disbursing funds
Alum of: Bryn Mawr College (2022)
The best part of my job is: helping low-income homeowners get the money they need to resolve title issues, gain access to services, and build generational wealth
I love pro bono because: it gets more people access to critical legal services
Outside of work, you can find me: kayaking in FDR Park or Bartram’s Garden, (trying to learn) woodworking, or watching the Sixers

 

Susan Blissett

Legal Support Coordinator

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: assessing clients’ eligibility for our services and collecting information about their legal issues to place them with volunteer attorneys
Alum of: Bucknell University (2016) and Penn State Law (2020)
The best part of my job is: working with a team that is passionate about helping underserved Philadelphians
I love pro bono because: it provides an opportunity to effect change for the public good
Outside of work, you can find me: reading, trying new restaurants, or spending time with my cat

 

Nadav Carmel

Director of Operations

VIPster since: 2024
My role entails: maintaining the back-office systems that enable our staff to focus on VIP’s mission
Alum of: Brown University and Drexel University
The best part of my job is: knowing my administrative work serves the public interest
I love pro bono because: access to money shouldn’t determine access to justice
Outside of work, you can find me: cooking or birdwatching with my partner, practicing karate, or DJing for my cat

 

Tom Chaykun

Administrative Assistant

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: handling case intake and coordinating relations with clients and visitors
Alum of: Vassar College (2007)
The best part of my job is: knowing that my work benefits Philadelphians most in need
I love pro bono because: it gets essential support to people who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the legal system
Outside of work, you can find me: riding my bike, playing soccer, or at a game night with friends

 

Joe B. Durkin

Director of Outreach

VIPster since: 2018
My role entails: leading VIP’s volunteer outreach efforts and overseeing communications
Alum of: Temple University (2018)
The best part of my job is: telling stories about our clients, our volunteer attorneys, and the impact of saying “yes!” to pro bono
I love pro bono because: volunteering brings Philadelphians together!
Outside of work, you can find me: gardening, testing out new dessert recipes, and exploring Philadelphia’s karaoke bars

 

Kelly J. Gastley

Managing Attorney

VIPster since: 2005
My role entails: developing and refining the strategy for VIP’s legal program and managing VIP’s legal team
Alum of: College of William and Mary (2002) and William and Mary School of Law (2005)
Favorite award/achievement related to role at VIP: significantly expanding VIP’s Tangled Title Project, which has gained substantial support from the Oak Foundation and the City of Philadelphia; and being a two-time winner of VIP’s Brownie Bake-Off
The best part of my job is: witnessing a volunteer attorney and client establish a lasting relationship that persists beyond the legal issue that initially brought them together
I love pro bono because: it enriches the lives of everyone it touches – volunteers, Philadelphians living in poverty, the VIP staff, and the larger community
Outside of work, you can find me: baking, walking (to work off those baked goods!), playing piano, relaxing with my husband, or – more likely than all of these – enjoying the joyous and hectic life of being a mother to two inquisitive, energetic children

 

Rida F. Haq

Executive Director

VIPster since: 2015
My role entails: having overall responsibility for VIP’s strategy and outcomes, including legal program, operations, and finances; fund-seeking; Board partnership; and external relations
Alum of: Lafayette College (2013)
The best part of my job is: leveraging technology to empower staff and volunteers with the resources they need to serve their clients and improve access to justice
I love pro bono because: it can exponentially increase the capacity to provide critical legal services to our city’s most vulnerable residents
Outside of work, you can find me: volunteering with the Therapy Center of Philadelphia, loudly watching Sixers games, barbequing, or in over my head on a home improvement project

 

Jennifer Hwang

Development Manager

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: managing fundraising strategy and campaigns, donor relations, and supporting the Board of Directors
Alum of: Case Western Reserve University and The University of Texas at Austin
The best part of my job is: collaborating with my excellent colleagues on how to best help Philadelphians in need
I love pro bono because: everyone deserves the same access to critical services
Outside of work, you can find me: being a butler to my cats, tending to veggies and fruits on the roof deck, and exploring Philly neighborhoods on foot

 

P. Michael Jones

Senior Staff Attorney (Homeownership)

VIPster since: 2018
My role entails: helping clients get title to their homes, and supporting volunteers in the legal work to do so
Alum of: Temple University (2011) and Duquesne University School of Law (2017)
The best part of my job is: speaking with clients on a daily basis and helping build intergenerational wealth in Philadelphia
I love pro bono because: serving the community serves for the betterment of society, all in the furtherance of justice
Outside of work, you can find me: reading fiction, exploring the world, and drinking contemplative beverages

 

Nina Josephson

Small Business Coordinator

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: serving as a liaison between volunteer attorneys and local nonprofits and small businesses
Alum of: Oberlin College
The best part of my job is: being a part of a collaborative effort to serve the City of Philadelphia
I love pro bono because: pro bono work is critical to ensuring the vast needs of Philadelphia’s residents are met
Outside of work, you can find me: making art and keeping my cat company

 

Janaya Lewinski

Pro Bono Case Manager

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: gathering relevant information, speaking to clients, and referring cases to our amazing volunteers
Alum of: Monmouth University (2017) Go Hawks!
The best part of my job is: getting to work at a place where there is a prioritization of continuing education and learning
I love pro bono because: it can help level out the massive inequalities that exist in the legal system. It has a tangible effect on folks’ lives in a time where legal services are critical and hard to come by
Outside of work, you can find me: shooting pictures on my Minolta x-570, listening to the Menzingers, planning my next tattoo, and looking for tiny clothes to fit my cat, David

 

Denise Lynch

Supervising Attorney

VIPster since: 2020
My role entails: providing support to VIP staff attorneys, pro bono case managers, and volunteer attorneys with a variety of cases
Alum of: Temple University (2004) and Villanova University School of Law (2007)
The best part of my job is: working with a team dedicated to improving the lives of others through pro bono legal services
I love pro bono because: of its impact on the community and those most in need during difficult times in their lives
Outside of work, you can find me: practicing or preparing to compete in Muay Thai, reading a fiction series, or hanging with my adorable pup, Nubia

 

Kat Lynch

Pro Bono Case Manager (Jesuit Volunteer Corps)

VIPster since: 2023
My role entails: preparing cases and connecting clients with volunteer attorneys
Alum of: Boston College (2023)
The best part of my job is: speaking with our clients
I love pro bono because: we get to serve those who otherwise may be without legal advocacy
Outside of work, you can find me: hanging out with dogs, friends, or family

 

Kate Pietragallo

Staff Attorney

VIPster since: 2024
My role entails: gathering information from clients about their case and connecting them with volunteer attorneys for representation; representing clients in landlord-tenant hearings
Alum of: West Chester University of PA (2017) and University of Pittsburgh School of Law (2021)
The best part of my job is: being able to tell a client that a volunteer attorney has taken their case
I love pro bono because: it provides access to different outcomes that would likely not occur without an attorney
Outside of work, you can find me: on a long walk, trying new restaurants, or taking glamour shots of my cat

 

Lindsay Schoonmaker

Supervising Attorney

VIPster since: 2015
My role entails: supporting VIP’s staff attorneys and pro bono case managers, as well as volunteer attorneys, through the life of a VIP case
Alum of: Cornell University (2005) and Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law (2013)
The best part of my job is: working with an incredible group of people who are dedicated to a unified mission
I love pro bono because: as lawyers, it is our duty to help provide access to justice to everyone, and it’s especially meaningful that in the case of VIP, this focuses on helping my neighbors
Outside of work, you can find me: outdoors, either in the city walking with family (which includes my dog), or out in the country helping out on my dad’s farm and riding horses

 

Vijaya Singh

Staff Attorney

VIPster since: 2021
My role entails: recruiting and supporting volunteer attorneys in landlord-tenant cases and advising clients on their landlord-tenant issues as needed
Alum of: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (2012); Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law (2016)
The best part of my job is: learning something new everyday from clients and the amazing team at VIP
I love pro bono because: it allows access to needed legal services that make a substantial difference in case outcomes and clients’ lives
Outside of work, you can find me: dancing in a Zumba class, stretching in a yoga class, or exploring Philadelphia’s restaurants (pre-COVID-19)

 

Benjamin Willis

Data and Contracts Manager

VIPster since: 2022
My role entails: implementing data and information practices for VIP, creating reports and analytics, and supporting VIP staff in technology and network services
Alum of: Bowling Green Technical College
The best part of my job is: using my love and knowledge of technology to assist those less fortunate
I love pro bono because: it makes my job even more rewarding
Outside of work, you can find me: exploring my new city, hanging out with my cat, or listening to podcasts

 

Megan Zhong

Case Management Fellow

VIPster since: 2023
My role entails: connecting clients with volunteer attorneys
Alum of: University of Pennsylvania
The best part of my job is: being able to understand complex legal issues myself so that I can make them more comprehensible for clients
I love pro bono because: it provides quality legal assistance for individuals lacking access
Outside of work, you can find me: running, appreciating neighborhood plants, and browsing through the fiction section at the Free Library of Philadelphia