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Washington, D.C., September 29, 2016 – Ayuda hosted its Welcome Breakfast on September 21 as its preeminent outreach program to community partners, civic leaders, and philanthropists in the Washington region. Sponsored by AmeriHealth Caritas DC, the event included more than 200 guests. WAMU’s senior reporter, Armando Trull, served as master of ceremonies.

 Live and video testimonials by former Ayuda clients provided vivid and gripping narratives about the plight of refugees and low-income immigrants whom Ayuda serves. Moussa, from Senegal, spoke of his experience as a domestic violence survivor. Sandra, from El Salvador, narrated the challenges she faced in trying to enroll for college. Julius, from Rwanda, recounted post-genocide violence that wrought immense personal havoc – witnessing friends and family die, attempts on his own life and despairing for his wife and children. The audience was visibly moved by their stories, which mercifully had joyful endings with Ayuda’s help.

 “Your breakfast event was very moving. It’s good to be reminded of how others are suffering around the world and that we all have an opportunity to affect change,” remarked a guest.

Armando Trull added that the migrant crisis happening in D.C.’s backyard is “the second worse migrant crisis after the Syrian refugee crisis.” He described the tens of thousands of Central American immigrants that have fled their home country due to gang violence and impoverished living situations.

Paula Fitzgerald, executive director of Ayuda, spoke of critical unmet needs because of limited capacity. “Ayuda is able to accept approximately 25 client appointments a day, but turn away 40 more daily. This organization feels a moral responsibility to help those in need and not to turn them away.”

Ayuda thanks guests for volunteering to promote Ayuda, making generous donations, and offering to provide pro bono services to help Ayuda build additional opportunities to serve more.

The Welcome Breakfast also showcased a new Ayuda video and engaged guests in small group discussions. The event raised more $18,000 from individual donors. Ayuda extends its profound gratitude.

Click here for the Welcome Breakfast photo gallery

Click here for media coverage of the event

Paula Fitzgerald

Ayuda’s Board of Directors Appoints Virginia Office’s Managing Attorney as Interim Executive

Washington, DC – Effective Monday, February 8, 2016, Paula Fitzgerald, Ayuda’s managing attorney for the Virginia office, will serve as interim executive director of Ayuda. This follows the departure of Ryan Dowd, who served as Ayuda’s executive for 14 months. Dowd resigned from Ayuda to return to his hometown Chicago for family medical reasons.

Paula Fitzgerald has been practicing immigration law for over ten years. Paula joined Ayuda in 2008 and helped build Ayuda’s Virginia office. Paula’s immigration legal work focuses on humanitarian relief, including VAWA self-petitions, U visas, T visas, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status petitions. She is also experienced in family-based immigration matters, consular processing, waivers and NACARA cases. She serves on the Fairfax County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. Prior to Ayuda, Paula worked as an immigration attorney at Hogar Hispano and Hunton & Williams LLP. Paula received her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2004.

The Board of Directors has formed a Search Committee to work with the Non-Profit Advisory Group (NPAG) as search consultants.

“We thank Ryan Dowd for his exemplary service these past 14 months and wish him and his family well. We also thank Paula for agreeing to serve as interim executive director of Ayuda. Her deep knowledge of Ayuda gives us confidence that Ayuda will transition smoothly and meet our organizational goals this year,” said Diego Marquez, chair of the Board.

For more information, contact Sarah Block at (202) 387-4848 ext.143 or at sarah@ayuda.com.

Interested in representing victims of notario/legal services fraud, who lose time, money, and sometimes immigration status because of a non-attorney’s actions?

If so, Ayuda welcomes attorneys to a PRO BONO TRAINING: Seeking Justice for DC, MD & VA Immigrant Victims of Notario/Legal Services Fraud.

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015 9:00 am – 12:00 pm at Bryan Cave LLP 1155 F St. NW – 7th Floor Washington, DC 20004

Registration: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7XJNZ63

Pro Bono Training

By: Clarissa Arevalo, Domestic Violence Staff Attorney

 Annette and her children came to Washington D.C. when her husband – a member of the military of a country in central Africa – was posted to the embassy. Already a violent man, he became even more violent in the United States, but he was protected from prosecution by diplomatic immunity. Ayuda’s Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault team was able to help where the police could not. First, after a contentious trial, we secured a civil protective order (“restraining order”) for Annette and her children. Later, Ayuda handled Annette’s divorce and custody case.

The violence had escalated to the point where, on one occasion, Annette’s husband smashed her head into a heater and threw her across the room. Annette was certain he was going to kill her. Their daughter called the police, but they could do nothing because of his diplomatic status. Fortunately, the next time the police were called, an officer suggested that Annette talk to an organization like Ayuda about getting a protective order.

The trial was difficult, but Annette was brave, and her Ayuda attorney was fearless. And in the end, she won both the protective order and the eventual divorce! Asked how her life has changed, Annette said, “I have never been as happy and free as I am now. And my children are so happy because our home is safe and peaceful. I am so glad I met with the staff at Ayuda!”

Attorney Rwanda Campbell provides pro bono service and helps Estella rebuild her life.

Arnold & Porter’s Rwanda N. Campbell has been a pro bono attorney with Ayuda for three years, representing clients seeking U Visas, which helps undocumented victims of crime gain legal status in the United States through their cooperation with law enforcement. Her first client is Estella from Ecuador, whose boyfriend nearly killed her. Campbell helped Estella escape the violence and rebuild her life: “Ayuda has allowed attorneys to connect with these strong and brave women who persevere through hardship for a better life.”

In 2012, I attended a pro bono immigration training session at Arnold & Porter led by Ayuda. The training focused on the U Visa process. Within a few months, I met with my first U visa client, Estella.

Estella was shy, with a quiet demeanor. She smiled often, but her eyes were filled with sadness. Over the course of several meetings, we often cried together as she told in detail the journey of her life, which led her to bravely travel to the United States from her native Ecuador in order to seek a better life for her three young children she had to leave behind with family.

While working, Estella met a man who would later become her abuser. Initially the relationship was wonderful as he supported and provided for all of her needs. Things quickly deteriorated when the physical violence towards her became a daily occurrence. Estella hoped things would change after having their first child, but the violence continued throughout her second pregnancy and well afterwards. An escalation of violence one night led to Estella’s two-night stay in the hospital after her boyfriend attempted to kill her. This final incident provided Estella with a newfound determination to escape from this horrific situation.

With the help of Ayuda, Estella successfully filed charges against her abuser, and testified against him at trial. Her cooperation with law enforcement allowed me to file a U Visa application for Estella and her children. We are still waiting on the approval of her U Visa, but have since received Estella’s work permit, which has opened up a whole new world for Estella and her family. Thanks to Ayuda, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for Estella.

The partnership that Arnold & Porter has with Ayuda has allowed many attorneys to help and connect with these strong and brave women who persevere through hardship for a better life. The experience is both beneficial and enriching to all parties involved. I am thankful for these life changing work opportunities provided by organizations like Ayuda.