Iowa Legal Aid, Legal Aid of Nebraska, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid & Legal Aid of North Carolina Present: Partnering on Disaster Relief

  • Attorneys/Legal Services
  • Disaster Relief


While North Carolina is still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Florence last fall, our Midwestern neighbors are currently struggling with historic flooding and the resulting fallout.  This nationwide Disaster Relief training will discuss current disaster relief efforts across states, issue spotting common legal scenarios encountered by natural disaster survivors, and how volunteer attorneys are crucial in responding to disasters.  We will also cover identifying and referring survivors to available services, effective communication strategies for survivors  who have been affected by natural disasters, dealing with common homeownership and landlord tenant issues, disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and the disaster Unemployment Insurance benefits programs. This training will be useful for all attorneys responding to disasters or working in areas recovering from natural disasters.

AGENDA *Times in EST

11:00 am OPENING REMARKS  - George Hausen, Executive Director Legal Aid of NC (LANC), Bob Carlson, President,  American Bar Association,  Karen "Kelly" Abrams, Dean, Duke University School of Law

Introductions & Review of Disaster Relief Efforts, George Hausen, LANC

Why Volunteers are Crucial to Disaster Relief Efforts, Nathan Koenning, Pro Bono Coordinator, Disaster Relief, LANC


11:15-11:45 am

A - Identifying Available Services and Referring Survivors

Role of the American Red Cross Post Natural Disaster                      

James Jarvis        Executive Director, American Red Cross-NC Region
Sam Rodgers      Regional Disaster Officer, American Red Cross-NC Region

American Bar Association/Young Lawyers Division, Disaster Legal Services
Andrew VanSingel, Special Advisor to the Disaster Legal Services Program, ABA Young Lawyers Division

Assisting at DRCs- Completing FEMA Applications and Appeals 
Khin Htwe, Individual Assistance Program Manager, Recovery Division-FEMA 

11:45 am-12:15 pm

B - Connecting with Legal Aid Programs/Disaster Relief Managers and How to Volunteer

Shirley Peng, Managing Attorney, Disaster Relief Project, Nebraska Legal Aid
Lisa Gavin, Managing Attorney, Disaster Relief Project, Iowa Legal Aid
Lesley Albritton, Managing Attorney, Disaster Relief Project, LANC

12:15-12:45 pm 

C - Communicating with Survivors of a Natural Disaster

- Getting the word out to Survivors
- Communicating with Victims of Trauma
- How Attorneys Can Use Social Workers

Sara Hicks-West    Recovery Executive Hurricane Florence, Red Cross
Luz Sanabria-Reyes, Executive Director of Cumberland Disaster Recovery
Katie Haberman, Social Worker, Golden Leaf Disaster Relief Project, LANC
Emma Smiley, Staff Attorney, Golden Leaf Disaster Relief Project, LANC

12:45-1:15 pm

D - Resources

Resources Available to Legal Aid Programs           
Martin Costello, Program Counsel – Disaster Grants Administration, Legal Services Corporation

Resources Available to Volunteer Attorneys   
Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Disaster Response Legal Fellow, Pro Bono Net 


1:15 -1:45 pm 

Overview of FEMA and the Assistance Available through FEMA

Chris Harich, FEMA Field Attorney, Hurricane Florence


1:45 -2:30 pm 

Common Ownership and  Landlord- Tenant Issues 

Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  (D-SNAP)
Disaster Unemployment Benefits (DUA)
Flood Insurance
Tracy Figueroa, Staff Attorney, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid

Shirley Peng, Disaster Relief Program Manager, Legal Aid of Nebraska

Lesley Albritton, LANC Disaster Relief Program Manager 

2:30   Q&A

2:45   WRAP-UP 


Bob Carlson is president of the American Bar Association, the world's largest voluntary professional organization with more than 400,000 members. Carlson has served in many national and state bar leadership positions, including as president of the State Bar of Montana from 1993 to 1994. He is also a former board member of the Butte Emergency Food Bank. Carlson's civil trial and mediation practice primarily involves insurance defense, products liability and insurance coverage. He earned his B.A. with honors from the University of Montana and his J.D. from the University Of Montana School Of Law.

Andrew VanSingel, Prior to his time as Special Advisor, Mr. VanSingel served as the program’s coordinator. Mr. VanSingel received his undergraduate degree from Western Michigan University in 2006, and his J.D., cum laude from Touro Law Center in 2010. Shortly after graduation Mr. VanSingel started working for Prairie State Legal Services, a legal aid agency, outside of Chicago managing a Low-Income Tax Clinic. He worked with other legal aid lawyers as tax law touches many areas of civil legal service– family law, housing, etc. He had a chance encounter with David Nguyen at a Young Lawyers Division (YLD) meeting in Maryland. At the time, he was running the DLS program and thought Andrew would be a good successor, given his background in civil legal services. Two years later, Andrew was appointed to the position by then YLD chair Lacy Durham. He currently volunteers his time as a Special Advisor to the Disaster Legal Services (DLS) team.

Martin Costello serves as Program Counsel at Legal Services Corporation. His work focuses on disaster preparedness and recovery. Martin comes from Rebuilding Together where he served as Senior Director of the Rebuilding Together National Service Program. He also served as a Senior Program Manager at Equal Justice Works where he managed the AmeriCorps program of almost 800 members. Other professional experience includes serving as a Staff Attorney/AmeriCorps Legal Fellow for Philadelphia VIP’s LawWorks Program in Philadelphia, PA.

Jeanne Ortiz is a bilingual attorney and Pro Bono Net’s Disaster Response Legal Fellow, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice by developing web-based technological tools to facilitate the provision of civil legal aid. Jeanne helps spearhead national disaster relief projects to empower the public with legal information and self-help tools, equip public interest advocates with resources to support their work on disaster relief and recovery, mobilize legal volunteers, and build national capacity around disaster legal aid. Before joining Pro Bono Net, Jeanne worked as a legal fellow at the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center and provided free legal representation and employment discrimination litigation on behalf of low-income LGBT individuals in Puerto Rico. She drafted proposals for the Puerto Rico Police Department on police intervention with the LGBT community and founded an award-winning Ms. JD chapter in her school to network over 200 law students and provide them with professional development resources. For three years, she led pro bono workshops around reproductive rights to low-income communities in Puerto Rico.

Matthew Lyttle is the chief of the Partnership and Engagement Branch in the Federal Emergency Management Agency Individual and Community Preparedness Division.  In this role, he works to engage local stakeholders, regional agencies, and national partners in various preparedness initiatives. Programs under his purview include the National Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program, Youth Preparedness, You Are the Help Until Help Arrives, Ready Business, and Higher Education Preparedness. Lyttle specializes in bringing non-traditional emergency management partners into community resilience and preparedness efforts. Lyttle's current projects include leading the technical assistance team helping to establish national CERT programs in South America, as well as undertaking research to better prepare historically underserved populations in the United States. Before joining FEMA in 2013, Lyttle served as the director of programs at local volunteer center, focusing on disaster volunteerism and youth service. He was elected president of the Northern Virginia Regional VOAD from 2010 until 2013 and has filled various positions on the board of his local Citizen Corps Council.  It is in these roles that Lyttle responded to disasters along the east coast of the United States, organizing volunteer and donations efforts during response and recovery

Lesley Albritton Lesley Wiseman Albritton is the managing attorney of the Disaster Relief Project for Legal Aid of North Carolina and the practice group manager for community economic development. Lesley attended Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, before transferring to Kenyon College, where she earned a degree in Political Science with a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies. She graduated with High Distinction from Ohio Northern School of Law in 2001. Before joining Legal Aid of NC in 2006, she clerked for the Ohio Court of Appeals, Third Judicial District, and practiced insurance defense with small firm in Farmville, North Carolina.

Shirley Peng manages the state-wide Disaster Relief Project. She has worked at Legal Aid of Nebraska since December 2009 and is passionate to the mission – to provide quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn. Shirley graduated in 2006 from the University of California – Los Angeles, with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and in 2009, obtained her Juris Doctorate from the Chapman University School of Law.  Her expertise is in representing clients in social security disability, bankruptcy, and other public benefits, consumer and tax cases. Shirley is licensed to practice in Nebraska and California, the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the United States Tax Court, the Ponca Tribal Court, the Winnebago Tribal Court, the Santee Sioux Nation Tribal Court, and the Omaha Tribal Court. 

Lisa Gavin has been a staff attorney with Iowa Legal Aid since 1995 working under a variety of different grants. In January 2015, she became the project manager of the Midwest Legal Disaster Coordination Project for Iowa Legal Aid. She graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law and Creighton University.

James Jarvis is the Executive Director for the Cape Fear Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.  His territory includes 13 counties in eastern NC that were heavily impacted by Hurricane Florence as all 13 counties were federally-disaster declared.  He worked closely with representatives of NC Legal Aid as many of their volunteer attorneys worked in our shelters across the Carolinas to help displaced storm victims address their legal needs.  His perspective will be from that of someone on the ground in the field working with volunteer attorneys coming into an impacted area. 

Sam Rodgers is the American Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer for the Eastern NC Region.  His territory is 53 counties (half the state of NC) and his perspective was from both the Disaster Relief Operation Headquarters as well as working with state emergency management officials to gain access to impacted areas with relief supplies, volunteers, and other resources.  He also oversaw the transition phase of our operations from Response to Recovery so he was directly involved in discussions with our community partners such as Hope 4 NC, Back At Home, that led to our awarding financial assistance to agencies to fund first & last month's rent, etc. for storm victims.

Sara Hicks-West is the American Red Cross Community Recovery Executive for Hurricane Florence overseeing our recovery operations including working with community partners to provide grants, the detailed casework that led to the issuance of more than $21 million in direct financial assistance to families impacted by the storm. 

Tracy Odvody Figueroa is an attorney and the Disaster Assistance Group Coordinator at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.  She obtained her law degree from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in 2001, and clerked for the Honorable Hayden W. Head, Jr., of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas from 2001 to 2002. She has been with TRLA for over 16 years, and her primary practice areas have been family law, wills and estates, and disaster assistance.  She has coordinated TRLA's response to over 16 federally declared disasters in its 68-county service area; provided trainings on disaster preparedness and recovery issues to local, state and national audiences; and has represented clients in federal litigation against the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Host organizations:

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity.

Iowa Legal Aid is a nonprofit organization providing critical legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable Iowans who have nowhere else to turn.

Legal Aid of Nebraska is a statewide organization and serves all 93 counties. They have over 80 employees in eight office locations in Omaha, Bancroft, Lincoln, Norfolk, Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff and Lexington. As the only Nebraska civil legal aid provider offering free services in every nook and cranny, Legal Aid of Nebraska has a singular view on the realities facing Nebraska’s poor.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid: Since 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has provided free legal services to low-income Texans. They bring access to justice to the people who need it - low-wage farmworkers, families, veterans, disaster victims, the elderly, and survivors of sexual assault.

*This CLE will be a live program and webcast. Please register below.

  • CLE Credit Comments: 3.25 hours of general CLE credit (pending approval by the North Carolina State Bar). Attorneys licensed outside of North Carolina will receive a certificate of attendance, which they can furnish to their state bar for CLE credit. Cost: Free. Please contact Nathan Koenning at for CLE-related questions.
  • Contact:
    Scheree M. Gilchrist
    Legal Aid of North Carolina