New youth health attorney, Equal Justice Works fellow join the legal staff

The Law Project at CCH welcomed two attorneys to its legal team in September.

From left, Alyssa Phillips and Tanya Gassenheimer (Photo by Claire Sloss)

Tanya T. Gassenheimer serves as the Youth Futures health attorney. Alyssa Phillips holds a two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship, focused on assisting children and teens facing educational barriers. 

Tanya worked at LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation) this past year, representing and advising low-income clients facing housing, benefits, and family law issues.

Through the Youth Futures mobile legal clinic, Tanya will offer outreach and legal aid to homeless and unaccompanied youth seeking access to Medicaid, health care, and public benefits.

Said Tanya, “I was attracted to CCH’s model combining advocacy and legal work. I’m interested in using the privileges I have to help those who don’t have the same privileges. Combining a knowledge of the indirect power of the law and direct service effects the greatest amount of change.”

A Georgetown University graduate, Tanya earned dean’s list honors, completing her law degree in 2015. She also graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown with a bachelor’s in Spanish and sociology. Tanya holds a master’s in social work from Columbia University.

As a student, Tanya interned for the American Psychological Association, the Washington D.C. Superior Court Mental Health Community Court, the D.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She speaks several languages, including fluent Spanish.

Alyssa’s project is one of 77 funded this year through Equal Justice Works, a prestigious national fellowship selected from more than 400 proposals.

The third EJW fellow to be placed at the Law Project, Alyssa’s fellowship is sponsored by AbbVie and Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Prior EJW fellows were former youth attorneys Graham Bowman and Zenaida Alonzo.

Alyssa’s work will expand Law Project outreach and legal aid to students and youth living in suburban Chicago. She also will advocate on Chicago Public Schools policies impacting homeless student enrollment in preschool, charter and magnet schools.

“I wanted to work with low-income people and educational rights,” Alyssa said. “People have so much potential, but our societal structures can prevent people from having access to education. I want to use my education to help people reach their full potential.”

Alyssa earned a law degree in May from the University of Notre Dame, and holds a bachelor’s in political science from Wheaton College. She was a Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) intern with CCH in summer 2016, assisting with outreach in schools and family shelters. She also has interned with the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The Law Project is staffed by Director Patricia Nix-Hodes, Associate Legal Director Beth Malik, Staff Attorney Diane O’Connell, Intake Specialist Roberto Martinez, StreetLight Chicago content manager Bridget Newsham, and Street Outreach Worker Ali Simmons. A search is underway for a senior attorney to succeed the Law Project’s founding director Laurene Heybach, who retired in August.

– Cydney Salvador, Media Intern