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Our Team

 

Ivelisse (Evy) Cruz

Nonprofit & Small Business Coordinator

VIPster since: 2019
My role entails: matching small businesses and nonprofit organizations with volunteer attorneys, administering legal clinics, and informing the public of VIP’s services through community outreach events
Alum of: Temple University (2012) and University of Pennsylvania (2017)
The best part of my job is: traveling to different communities to offer pro bono help to businesses and nonprofits in need
I love pro bono because: it is a crucial part of building self-sustaining neighborhoods with thriving commercial corridors and a network of social services
Outside of work, you can find me: winning at Quizzo, paddle-boarding down the Schuylkill, or advocating for improvements to urban infrastructure and zoning regulations

 

Taylor De La Pena

Pro Bono Case Manager

VIPster since: 2019
My role entails: determining clients’ eligibility for VIP services, gathering all necessary information/materials for cases, and connecting clients to volunteer attorneys
Alum of: Villanova University (2015)
The best part of my job is: learning something new every day
I love pro bono because: it increases access to justice for people who might otherwise be unable to afford legal representation
Outside of work, you can find me: writing short stories, playing soccer, or baking healthy treats!

 

Joe B. Durkin

Program Manager

VIPster since: 2018
My role entails: leading VIP’s volunteer recruitment efforts, administering VIP’s case management system, and coordinating VIP’s internship program
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 service
I love pro bono because: volunteerism strengthens our city and helps us achieve fair outcomes for all
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

Cintya Gonzalez

Pro Bono Case Manager

VIPster since: 2021
My role entails: Working with clients to gather necessary information and materials needed to pair them up with a volunteer attorney
Alum of: West Chester University (2021)
The best part of my job is: Being able to match clients with a volunteer attorney to further assist their situation during challenging times
I love pro bono because: It gives individuals the opportunity to receive legal services they would not be able to obtain otherwise
Outside of work, you can find me: Trying new foods, going on long walks or at the beach

 

Monica Guest

Pro Bono Case Manager

VIPster since: 2019
My role entails: talking to clients, gathering important information, and referring cases to volunteer attorneys
Alum of: Boston University (2018)
The best part of my job is: constantly learning and figuring out ways to best support clients
I love pro bono because: it is an opportunity to affect tangible change in a system that was not designed to benefit everyone
Outside of work, you can find me: reading, listening to music, and binge-watching TV shows with my mom

 

Nural Hasan

Pro Bono Case Manager

VIPster since: 2021
My role entails: Assisting clients in navigating their cases, matching them with volunteer attorneys, and coordinating intake and preparation of client documents
Alum of: Wheelock College (2014)
The best part of my job is: Getting to know the very diverse clients and volunteers that we work with. Being able to provide guidance, assistance, or just a listening ear to others during a difficult time is extremely rewarding
I love pro bono because: As someone who has relied on pro bono assistance in the past, I deeply and personally understand how important it is to fill the civil justice gap and provide everyone with equal and fair access to justice
Outside of work, you can find me: At the beach (all year round), training for my next 5k, or on the couch watching TV with my dog

 

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

Donna Hendrickson

Program Assistant

VIPster since: 2020
My role entails: Researching information related to substantive legal areas; social media engagement; and working on a variety of data cleanup projects
Alum of: Temple University (2021)
The best part of my job is: The great people I get to work with and knowing I am able to make a difference every day
I love pro bono because: Volunteerism empowers communities and pro bono service provides legal access to the people that need it the most
Outside of work, you can find me: Trying new restaurants around Philadelphia

 

P. Michael Jones

Homeownership Staff Attorney

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

 

Karna Laubenstein

Director of Operations

VIPster since: 2018
My role entails: managing the day-to-day operations of VIP – including being responsible for human resources, accounts payable, facilities, and technology – to support our mission
Alum of: Tulane University (2007) and American University Washington College of Law (2015)
The best part of my job is: working with a team that is so passionate about our mission and driven to make a difference in the Philadelphia community
I love pro bono because: we get to make an impact every day in the lives of our clients
Outside of work, you can find me: hiking with my dog, listening to podcasts, or attending a Pilates class

 

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

 

Todd W. Nothstein

Family Law Staff Attorney

VIPster since: 2017
My role entails: recruiting, training, and supporting volunteer attorneys in VIP’s family law cases
Alum of: Syracuse University 1994 and Drexel University Kline School of Law (2013)
Favorite award/achievement related to role at VIP: Executive Committee Member, Family Law Section of the Philadelphia Bar Association
The best part of my job is: getting to know inspiring clients who face challenging circumstances and the equally inspiring attorneys who elevate their noble profession through pro bono
I love pro bono because: it harnesses the goodwill and energy of the legal community to help even the scales for those who can’t afford legal services
Outside of work, you can find me: reading at my favorite café, brunching at my favorite restaurant, and generally enjoying life in the East Passyunk neighborhood of South Philadelphia

Elias Pardo

Legal Support Coordinator

VIPster since: 2019
My role entails: working with clients to determine eligibility and gather the information needed to begin assisting them with the legal issue they face, then placing those clients with volunteer attorneys
Alum of: Duquesne University (2015), Drexel University Kline School of Law (2019)
The best part of my job is: making connections with clients and volunteers, and seeing the impact our work makes for the clients
I love pro bono because: we have the chance to make a huge and lasting impact on the lives of the clients that leads lasting change within the entire Philadelphia community
Outside of work, you can find me: with my dog. Maybe also listening to a book, watching too much TV, or playing board games with friends

 

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

 

Michael Schwemmer

Data & Analytics Manager

VIPster since: 2019
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: Syracuse University (2013)
The best part of my job is: providing peace of mind to my colleagues as they leverage technology to help underserved Philadelphians every day
I love pro bono because: it addresses a tangible social justice gap
Outside of work, you can find me: in the park with my dog, making music, and sampling cheese at select Philly grocery stores

Vijaya Singh

Landlord-Tenant 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)

Taylor Strub

Case Management Administrator

VIPster since: 2021
My role entails: supporting VIP’s legal program by processing and stewarding client and volunteer data; coordinating relations with clients, caller, and visitors; and using technology to provide proactive logistical support
Alum of: University of Colorado — Boulder (2018)
The best part of my job is: improving processes that help the Philadelphia VIP team and actively listening and guiding those who need help to the proper services
I love pro bono because: it impacts the community directly by providing access to justice to those who would otherwise not be able to afford legal services
Outside of work, you can find me: exploring public transit and urban wonders, learning about food as medicine, and buying yet another plant

 

Amy Young

Communications & Development Associate

VIPster since: 2018
My role entails: developing and executing communication strategies focused on key audiences, and managing VIP’s primary fundraising campaigns and donor stewardship
Alum of: Bryn Mawr College (2019)
The best part of my job is: employing my creative skills to help underrepresented individuals and families
I love pro bono because: it addresses widespread disparity in this country with structural change, and I believe it is a collective duty to help communities in need
Outside of work, you can find me: singing jazz tunes, enjoying the many delicious restaurants in Philly, and traveling with my friends and family