Cassandra Champion, Texas Civil Rights Project
LRAP Program 2014
Cassandra Champion has had a lifelong commitment to public interest work, especially those populations who have historically struggled to access and navigate the legal system due to limited resources of disability. During law school, her work at Legal Aid offices, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and Public Defender Services of Lane County affirmed her commitment to this community-building work.
Cassandra is building a career by helping those who help others, from Veterans serving our country to social activists fighting for change. She has trained a range of political, animal-rights, and environmental activists to better understand the legal system and how to more effectively advocate for their cause.
In her current position at the Texas Civil Rights Project, Cassandra advocates on behalf of veterans, encouraging rural counties in west Texas to develop specialty court programs to provide veterans with mental health treatment. She also trains veterans to understand their rights, so they can advocate for themselves to secure the benefits promised to them for their service.
Cassandra’s future goals include continuing her work within specialty courts. “These operations help some of the most disenfranchised members of society,” she said. “It’s a model that’s been proven to work.” She wants to contribute to the effort to propagate Mental Health Courts throughout the nation. Ultimately, Cassandra wants to start her own unique practice modeled somewhat on the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “I imagine a multifaceted effort to provide criminal defense for activists and indigent individuals, conduct civil suits in cases of corruption or excessive force, and have a policy branch to for lobbying on legislative efforts promoting social justice."
The LRAP program is helping Cassandra pursue her vision of helping others. “I knew I was not looking to work for a big firm, and so would not earn a big firm paycheck,” she said. “Most often, helping the little guy doesn’t pay a lot, but it is important to build healthy communities. Through the generosity of LRAP contributors, I can just focus on doing what I love to do, and don’t have to worry as much about debilitating student loan payments.”
Jamie Graves-Kautz, Northwest Justice Project
LRAP Program 2014
Jamie Graves-Kautz is helping those struggling with the aftermath of the housing market crash. In her work with Northwest Justice Project’s Foreclosure Prevention Unit, she assists low to moderate income homeowners in Washington remain in their homes. The services provided by the Northwest Justice Project include loan modification negotiation, mediation under the Foreclosure Fairness Act, and litigation to protect and enforce homeownership rights under state and federal law. Some of the counties in Washington State have the highest foreclosure rates in the country.
Jamie’s commitment to serving marginalized populations in the past included investigating allegations of abuse, providing support for mental health patients, and representing minors in high-conflict custody cases. During her time at The University of Oregon School of Law, Jamie was able to complete a full-time externship in the Vancouver field office of Northwest Justice Project. After graduating from law school, Jamie continued to volunteer with the Northwest Justice Project, providing legal assistance on a variety of cases, such as family law, landlord-tenant, and public benefit issues until she was hired as a Foreclosure Prevention attorney.
The LRAP program has enabled Jamie to “continue working on important systemic issues that affect low-income populations,” the reason that Jamie decided to go to law school in the first place. Jamie is very thankful that the LRAP Program supports individuals, like her, that have a passion for doing public-interest work.
Shelley Aschenbrenner, Metropolitan Public Defender, Hillsboro
LRAP Program 2013, 2014
Shelley Aschenbrenner’s extraordinary dedication to public service earned her the Nicole Richardson Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award, an annual award given to a student who has performed substantial pro bono work, and is committed to a career serving the underprivileged, particularly indigent criminal defendants. While Shelley’s pro bono work exposed her to many different clients in need, her summer externship with the Metropolitan Public Defender gave her certainty that public defense was her career path.
As a new public defender, Shelley “cannot think of a position [she’d] rather be in.” “I feel like I’m fighting the good fight—like I am making a difference in working in public defense.” In her position, Shelley works “exclusively with low-income criminal defendants. In just a few months, I’ve become more aware of how challenging this system can be for anyone accused of committing a crime. I strive to provide as much assistance to them as I can.”
Notwithstanding Shelley’s passion for her work, “[m]aking ends meet on a public defender’s salary can be a challenge,” yet loan forgiveness programs such as Oregon Law’s LRAP help her “continue to do what [she] loves.”
Allison Folks, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services
LRAP Program 2013, 2014
Travel and study in impoverished countries instilled a public service ethic in Allison Folks at a very young age. Before attending law school, Allison “advocated for immigrants and refugees as a volunteer and intern with the African Women’s Coalition,” which cemented a passion for “working with immigrants and refugees.”
During law school, Allison worked for two summers with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services (CCILS), and received an offer after graduation to join the firm. In her work, Allison works with low-income, highly vulnerable immigrants, including “victims of crimes, abuse and human trafficking.” She envisions developing her expertise “on aiding immigrant victims in obtaining legal status,” and is working to build community support for immigrants by educating law enforcement about the particular vulnerabilities of this population.
Allison’s commitment to her work and her obvious passion is inspiring: “I know that I will be able to have a long and exciting career with CCILS because I am passionate about the work that they do…I will continue to serve underrepresented populations throughout my legal career. I know that I have a meaningful role to play in fighting for justice for immigrants.”
With a combination of law school, undergraduate and private loans, the LRAP Program is giving Allison the ability to do meaningful work and make ends meet. In Allison’s words, “I went to law school with the intention of doing public service work upon graduation.” Oregon Law’s LRAP Program is an important part of making Allison’s goals a reality.
Joshua Medina, Center for Non-Profit Legal Services, Inc.
LRAP Program 2013, 2014
After a yearlong job search for a public interest attorney position, Joshua Medina is realizing a long-term goal of helping members of the immigrant community as an Immigration project attorney.
His work “now consists of family based immigration cases, VAWA cases for victims of abuse, U-Visa cases for individuals who assist in the prosecution of crimes and Deferred Action cases for young individuals who are pursuing their educations and helping their families.”
Joshua’s work also includes community education, giving him the opportunity to “connect with and earn the trust of [his] community.” He sees a much broader role for his work in the future: “I would love to some day incorporate my work into a community farm project, which would increase food security and inject migrant workers into the stream of commerce. This would include assisting workers with general business education, contract assistance, and information sessions.”
Dedicated to service for life, Joshua’s student loan debt is an ever-present concern. He reports that at times, “I worry because I will not have enough income to pay all of my bills, even with this position.” The LRAP assistance is giving Joshua the ability to do the work he loves, serving his community, with far less financial worry.
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, Eugene, OR
LRAP Recipient 2012, 2013, 2014
John Mellgren has devoted his life to the pursuit of a career in public interest, specifically related to environmental law. During law school, John demonstrated his dedication to this goal by interning for Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente, an environmental law nonprofit organization located in Santiago, Chile; externing for the Oregon Attorney General where he worked on a variety of environmental actions; and working for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental litigation organization. Following the bar exam, John spent several months working for Our Children’s Trust, an organization that works to protect the atmosphere from further degradation.
John has succeeded in obtaining his dream job and is now working as a project attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) Wildlands Program where he litigates to protect and preserve forests, rivers, wildlife habitat, and wilderness areas in the West to ensure their health and survival for future generations.
With WELC, John is embarking on what he plans will be “a long and rewarding career representing nonprofit organizations and community groups in their pursuit to protect, preserve, and enhance our natural environment. It is my plan to continue working for WELC, doing this same work, for as long as I am capable of doing so.
Although my law school debt load is a serious consideration that has always been in the back of my mind, with recent loan incentives for public interest work and the University of Oregon LRAP program, this burden can be significantly eased, enabling me to continue to pursue my passion of protecting the environment. I look forward to building my career in the public interest and to working with various community groups to do so. I know that without the support of the University of Oregon School of Law, I would have never been able to make this a reality, and with the support of the University of Oregon LRAP program, I can continue to make this dream a reality.”
Jia Min Cheng, Attorney and Legal Director, San Francisco Medical-Legal Partnership (SFMLP) at Bay Area Legal Aid
LRAP Program 2012, 2013, 2014
Jia Min Cheng has been nurturing her dream of becoming a lawyer since she was a child: “Through the years my vision for my career has evolved, but one thing that has remained constant in my vision is that I wanted to be able to help protect people as a lawyer.”
Originally interested in protecting the public as a prosecutor, she eventually developed an interest in human rights law: “I was captivated by the idea of doing human rights law, and of collaborating with state and local authorities to remedy harms done to the most vulnerable populations.” Jia Min nurtured this interest with experience at International Educational Development, the National Housing Law Project, and Bay Area Legal Aid.
Jia Min now serves as the SFMLP’s sole staff attorney: “I conduct trainings for the medical care providers and other community-based organizations in order to build relationships and garner support for the MLP.”
Jia Min also works directly with the SFMLP’s clientele – even attempting to learn Spanish to better serve them. In this capacity, she screens families in the San Francisco General Hospital pediatric asthma clinic for health-affecting legal issues. She advises these clients on their legal rights; when appropriate, she helps enforce their legal rights, and secures housing transfers or repairs.
Of her experience with the SFMLP, Jia Min says, “I have learned that although there are many systemic problems that plague low-income persons in San Francisco, we can effect some improvement in the lot of our clients.”
The LRAP grant has been a tremendous help to Jia Min, and her family, as she pursues her work with the SFMLP: "The LRAP grant has really been the final push toward financial independence from my parents since the loan payments hanging over my head were quite high.” She continues, “my family's situation has improved in that they don't have to dip into their savings in order to provide for all their children and help me with my loans.”
Tim Ream, Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Program
LRAP program 2012, 2013, 2014
Tim Ream hates to lose. As Staff Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, he works to win courtroom battles on behalf of the Earth: “Through a combination of cutting edge law, science, and media work, the Center has won protection and habitat for so many species.” His projects there include litigation to protect the Earth’s climate by stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, and prevent the spread of bat white-nose syndrome among western caves.
Even before joining the Center for Biological Diversity, Tim spent more than two decades working for the public interest. Tim’s diverse experience includes stints as: a Peace Corps science teacher in Lesotho; Environmental Protection Specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency; and, grassroots organizer for forest protection and anti-corporate globalization campaigns. In Tim’s words, “public interest work is what I do and what I will always do. I didn’t go to law school to become a lawyer. I went to become a more effective environmental activist.”
Tim's LRAP grant helps him balance the cost of living in San Francisco, his law school debt, and his “activist’s salary.” Although this hasn’t been easy, Tim admits that he is exactly where he wants to be. As he says, “There is a big team working to make [public interest] law possible and I am glad to be on the team.”
Nicholas Reynolds, Judicial Clerk, King County Superior Court
LRAP Program, 2013, 2014
Nicholas Reynolds was raised in a tight-knit Catholic community where public service was viewed as a responsibility for all. As a result of positive leadership and dedicated role models in his youth, Nicholas held numerous public service positions before and during law school—setting a very natural pathway into a legal career in service.
Though certain of his goal to work in public service, it was a personal tragedy—the death of his college roommate at the hands of an alleged drunk driver—that cemented his intent to become a prosecuting attorney. A shockingly short sentence due to insufficient evidence deepened his conviction that he has an important role as a future advocate for victims of violent crimes.
Nicholas’ judicial clerkship “has been an incredible experience thus far and has reaffirmed [his] commitment to serving the public interest.” In Nicholas’ words: “Being in the courtroom for hearings of all different varieties keeps me grounded and reminds me of the staggering depth of legal authority” vested in the courts. As important, with the valuable training he is receiving into the court system, Nicholas has set a clear goal of working “within a unit of the criminal division that represents the State against perpetrators of violent crimes.”
With substantial student loan debt, Oregon Law’s LRAP program is helping Nicholas pursue his dreams with less financial stress.