Staff Directory

 

Lauren Ascher, Supervising Attorney, joined the VIP staff in May 2016. Lauren provides support for volunteer attorneys as they work on referred cases, and assists with volunteer recruitment and trainings. Lauren received her J.D from Columbia Law School and was named a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and served as an editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Lauren served as a law clerk to the Honorable Joel H. Slomsky of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining VIP, Lauren practiced law as a litigation associate for several years at both Conrad O’Brien, PC in Philadelphia and Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP in New York City. Prior to her legal career, Lauren was a special education teacher in New York City with Teach For America.

Sophie Bryan, Executive Director, joined Philadelphia VIP in June 2017. Previously, she was the Program Director for Invest Health at Reinvestment Fund. In this role, Sophie was responsible for the overall management of the Invest Health initiative and provided day-to-day oversight focused on team management, program delivery, and quality control. Prior to joining Reinvestment Fund in 2016, Sophie held a series of positions at the School District of Philadelphia, most recently the Chief External Relations Officer, where she was responsible for developing and implementing strategic advocacy, government relations, external engagement, and communications plans to support the School District’s strategic priorities. Sophie’s prior experience includes serving as Chief of Staff to a Philadelphia City Councilman, in which role she focused on budgetary issues, tax policy, ethics and campaign finance reform, and reforming the City’s real estate assessment and taxation system. Before joining local government, Sophie practiced law for eight years, primarily in the legal services field where she represented low-income clients, first in Boston and then in Philadelphia. Sophie served for five years as an adjunct professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, teaching an upper-level writing course, and is now on the school’s Advisory Board. She is the Board Co-Chair for the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, and a volunteer with Mighty Writers. A native Philadelphian, Sophie graduated with honors from both Harvard College, with a BA in History and Science, and Harvard Law School.

Ivelisse (Evy) Cruz, Nonprofit and Small Business Coordinator, joined VIP in July 2019. Ivelisse administers the LawWorks program, which matches small businesses and nonprofit organizations with volunteer attorneys. Before VIP, she was the Digital Assets Manager at the University of Pennsylvania Press. Through her community-based volunteer work over the last seven years, Ivelisse has ties to several nonprofit organizations around Philadelphia. Most recently, she has served as chair of the West Powelton/Saunders Park Zoning Committee. Ivelisse received a B.A. in Anthropology from Temple University, and an M.L.A. in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. In Fall 2018, she became a certified Citizen Planner through the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s Citizens Planning Institute. While studying at Penn, she focused on pedestrian-oriented urban infrastructure and neighborhood revitalization through commercial corridors.

Taylor De La Pena, Pro Bono Case Manager, joined Philadelphia VIP in September 2019. At VIP, Taylor expands access to justice by determining clients’ eligibility for VIP services, gathering information/materials for cases, and matching clients with volunteer attorneys. Prior to joining the team, Taylor graduated from Villanova University in 2015 and worked at Ceiba Philadelphia, providing volunteer income tax assistance. Outside of work, Taylor enjoys writing short stories, playing soccer, and baking healthy treats.

Joe Durkin, Program Coordinator, joined VIP in August 2018. Previously, he worked at Gardens for Heroes, a non-profit that promotes the use of evidence-backed therapeutic gardens. Additionally, he served his university’s English- and Spanish-language learners as a tutor and mentor. Joe graduated summa cum laude from Temple University in 2018 with a B.A. in Spanish. He is excited to work in service of the city’s many underserved communities.

Kelly J. Gastley, Managing Attorney, joined the VIP staff in September 2005 as an Independence Foundation Public Interest Law Fellow, working on our homeownership (tangled title) project. She then served as a staff attorney from 2007 to 2009 and a supervising attorney from 2009 to 2015.  Now in her role as managing attorney, Kelly oversees VIP’s legal team, manages the flow of cases, and actively works to recruit and retain volunteer attorneys.  She has expertise in probate, real estate litigation (quiet title actions), and real estate transactions.  She has also worked on VIP’s mortgage foreclosure project and landlord-tenant project.  During her years at VIP, Kelly has led CLE trainings for volunteers, developed extensive training materials, and mentored volunteer attorneys.  She has also done policy work on homeownership and real estate tax issues and led community education and outreach sessions. Kelly received her B.A. in Sociology and Government from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2002, and her J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe William and Mary School of Law in 2005, where she was Executive Editor of the William and Mary Law Review and a member of the Public Service Fund.

Monica Guest, Pro Bono Case Manager, joined Philadelphia VIP in September 2019. Prior to joining the VIP team, Monica attended Boston University, graduating in 2018, then began a Teacher’s Aide position for Boston City Year. As a Pro Bono Case Manager at VIP, Monica matches clients with volunteer attorneys, navigates how to best support clients, and enjoys affecting tangible change in a system designed to benefit few. Outside of work, Monica spends her time reading, listening to music, and watching TV with her mom.

Rida Haq, Director of Volunteer Engagement, joined Philadelphia VIP in March, 2015. She grew up in Philadelphia and is motivated by a desire to ensure equal access to social services for the local community. Rida has a longstanding passion for service in public health and believes that boosting social welfare is critical to improving the well-being of a society. She received her B.A. in Government and Law from Lafayette College in Easton, PA and is dedicated to a career in public service.

P Michael (Mike) Jones, Staff Attorney, joined VIP in January 2018 as the Landlord-Tenant Housing Fellow and transitioned into the Homeownership Staff Attorney in May 2018. While studying at Duquesne University School of Law, Mike clerked for The Law Office of Steven Auerbach and The Community Justice Project. Mike fortuitously served as the Externship Student Manager at the Tribone Center for Clinical Legal Education, where he tracked and supported student externs in government, judicial, and public interest agencies. Mike was a volunteer legal fellow at the ACLU-PA before joining Philadelphia VIP and is currently an Executive Committee member of the Young Lawyers Division for the Philadelphia Bar Association. He enjoys exploring, contemplative beverages, and fiction.

Joshua Jordan, Tangled Title Initiative Outreach Coordinator with AmeriCorps VISTA, joined Philly VIP in July 2019. Joshua received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 with a major in Health and Societies and a minor in English, focusing his studies on health policy and law. As an undergraduate, Joshua worked as a research assistant at the Penn School of Social Policy and Practice and frequently volunteered for local political campaigns. Upon graduation, he spent a year in Dehradun, India, teaching English to low-income middle school students under the Fulbright-Nehru English Teaching Assistantship Program. Joshua is looking forward to putting his passions for social justice and the law to work in Philadelphia in his role at Philly VIP.

Karna Laubenstein, Director of Operations, joined Philadelphia VIP in December 2018. Before joining VIP, Karna was corporate counsel for a consulting company serving the financial services industry. During law school, Karna was a student attorney for the Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic where she represented low-income taxpayers before the IRS. Prior to law school, Karna worked as a fair lending analyst for a law firm’s fair and responsible banking practice group. She also worked as a program manager for a nonprofit supporting military families and as a staff assistant for the U.S. House of Representatives. Karna received her B.A. from Tulane University and her J.D. from American University Washington College of Law.

Hannah Long, Landlord-Tenant AmeriCorps VISTA, joined VIP in July 2019. Hannah received her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Latino Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 2017. After graduation, Hannah served with the Peace Corps as an environmental education volunteer in Paraguay. Hannah worked as a refugee resettlement caseworker for Catholic Charities of Camden upon returning to the United States. She is committed to sustainable development for underrepresented communities and is grateful to VIP for continually promoting equal justice and volunteerism in Philadelphia.

Annie Mrazik, Homeownership Projects Coordinator, joined the VIP team in October 2016. She comes to VIP after spending a year in El Paso, TX, with a service program called Border Servant Corps, which has volunteers located in two Southwest border towns. In El Paso, she served as the Adult Education & Children’s Advocate of the YWCA Paso del Norte Transitional Living Center for women and children experiencing homelessness. Annie is a 2015 alumna of Saint Joseph’s University where she studied Spanish and International Relations with a minor in Latin American Studies. At SJU, she served as an intern of the Weekly Service Program, which every semester provides hundreds of students the opportunity to work with a Philadelphia or Camden service site on a weekly basis. Annie is thrilled to return to Philadelphia and to have the opportunity to work to make legal services more accessible for low-income residents of our city.

Todd W. Nothstein, Staff Attorney, joined VIP in December 2017. Focusing on family law, Todd is committed to connecting low-income Philadelphians to the legal services they need and supporting the volunteers who make that possible. Before joining VIP as a staff attorney, Todd clerked for the Hon. Frederica Massiah-Jackson, and he was a frequent volunteer attorney in VIP’s landlord-tenant program. Todd is an active member of the Philadelphia Bar Association Family Law Section, and currently serves on the section’s Executive Committee. Prior to law school, Todd earned a Ph.D. in English and taught Early American literature. He attended Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law.

Zipporah Ridley, Pro Bono Case Manager, joined Philadelphia VIP in August 2018. This Philly native returns to the city after receiving her Bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University and completing a service year in Syracuse, NY. As a graduate of Santa Clara University, Zipporah was a double major in History and Ethnic Studies with a minor in Political Science. Shortly after, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and was placed at the Center for Community Alternatives, where she worked with individuals who were returning home from incarceration. Zipporah has a strong commitment to justice and equity work and she joined Philadelphia VIP to continue her passion of advocacy, empowerment, and connecting underserved communities to much-needed services.

Lindsay H. Schoonmaker, Supervising Attorney, joined the VIP staff as a Staff Attorney in December 2015. Her practice focuses on general civil litigation. Prior to joining VIP, Lindsay was an Associate at Pepper Hamilton LLP in the Commercial Litigation Practice Group. There, Lindsay represented clients in federal and state courts, as well as in arbitrations and government investigations. She received her B.A. from Cornell University in 2005 and her J.D. from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in 2013. Prior to law school, Lindsay worked as a legal researcher/writer for a law firm that specialized in immigration law.

Dhara Shah, Pro Bono Case Manager, joined Philadelphia VIP in September 2019. Prior to joining the team, Dhara graduated from Penn State University in 2014 and Villanova Law School in 2019. Today, as Pro Bono Case Manager at VIP, Dhara helps to connect low-income Philadelphians with volunteer attorneys, and finds this work extremely rewarding as she helps to bridge gaps in the justice system. Dhara loves being part of an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of Philadelphians, while outside of work, she enjoys spending time in libraries and cafes with an iced coffee and sketchbook in hand.

Michael Schwemmer, Data & Analytics Manager, joined Philadelphia VIP in August 2019. In this role, Michael implements data and information practices, creates reports and analytics, and supports VIP staff in technology and network services. Michael graduated from Syracuse University in 2019 and has since then worked at Project H.O.M.E. and The Philadelphia Mental Health Care Corporation. He looks forward to continue serving underprivileged Philadelphians while addressing a tangible social gap in his position at VIP. Outside of work, you can find Michael in parks with his dog, making music, and sampling cheese at select Philly grocery stores.

Elizabeth Tarloski, Staff Attorney, joined VIP in May 2018. She focuses primarily on landlord tenant cases at VIP. Previously she served as a Visiting Professor of the Practice in The Lewis B. Puller., Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William and Mary Law School for three years where she taught courses in Veterans Benefits Law and supervised clinic students. She focused specifically on cases involving Military Sexual Trauma and has done extensive trainings and lecturing on the topic. Prior to teaching, she was an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow in Widener’s Veterans Law Clinic.  She received her BA from the University of San Diego and an MS in Gender, Development and Globalization from the London School of Economics. She graduated from the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law in 2012.

Amy Young, Communications and Development Associate, joined Philadelphia VIP in June 2018. Prior to joining the team as a full time staff member, Amy served as VIP’s External Relations intern while attending Bryn Mawr College. Concentrating her studies on Race Relations, and Gender and Sexuality, Amy earned her B.A. in Musicology and wrote her thesis about social protest in Class Blues. Amy has always been passionate about supporting underrepresented populations and has thus been active in many of her communities through volunteering. She is excited to put her passion into professional practice and use her education and skills to further access to justice in Philadelphia.

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