OUR TEAM

Tanya Woods, Esq.
Executive Director

Tanya hails from the Westside of Chicago near the same neighborhood where she is the Executive Director of the Westside Justice Center, a non-profit, holistic legal aid clinic in East Garfield Park. She is the principal of her own solo law practice and a certified Mediator and Trainer at the Center for Conflict Resolution. She also enjoys teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Loyola University School of Law, her alma mater. 

Prior to becoming a licensed attorney, Tanya enjoyed a lucrative career in the higher education, non-profit and corporate sectors. When she is not working Tanya marries her passion for advocacy with her profession by serving on boards, in civic organizations, her church and bar associations.  But her most important role to date is that of mother of two young adults: daughter Kyra - a social and environmental engineer at the Sierra Club and son Cameron – emerging filmmaker and executive intern at Disney TV.

Adi Lerner 
Deputy Director

Adi is a Human Rights Attorney from Israel, who has spent her career supporting and working with communities as an organizer, educator, and advocate. Currently, Adi is the Deputy Director at the Westside Justice Center, where she leads a team developing an innovative model for community based legal support and holistic approach to justice.
 

During law school, Adi led a Crisis Intervention Center at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, a non-partisan non-profit organization, dedicated to promoting the rights of undocumented migrants and refugees, and eliminate trafficking in persons in Israel.
 

Working as an attorney in Israel, Adi represented clients in a variety of cases, including Immigration law, state accountability for torture, criminal justice and prisoners’ rights. Adi received her LL.B from Tel Aviv University, and a Master of Laws in International Human Rights from Northwestern University School of Law.

Charise Walker
Program Officer

Charise Walker received her BA in Criminal Justice with a Minor in English and a BA in African American Studies from Loyola University of Chicago. She is currently working to complete a Masters in Accounting at Concordia University with a minor in Non Profit Business Management. Charise has an astounding  25 years of experience in HR with 5 years teaching experience and 3 years as a bookkeeper.

 

Charise volunteered with Westside Justice Center for 5 years fulfilling needs of the organization and the residents they served. Charise does this work because she enjoys being able to help others. As a Program Officer at Westside Justice Center,  Charise oversees our Illinois Access to Justice Program and sub grantees, assists with budgeting and special projects, and helps to build the WJC network and the A2J program.

 

Charise is a wife, mother of 3 and very active in my church The Next Level of Faith Christian Center International. She is also a teacher and mentor for the ICARE Ministries Out of School Time Program.

Mathilda de Dios
Program Officer

Mathilda de Dios received her BA in Political Science from Colorado College with a Minor in Urban Studies from the ACM Urban Studies Chicago program, and obtained a Masters in Education focused on Youth Development and Restorative Justice from the University of Illinois Chicago. Mathilda is a Program Officer at the Westside Justice Center with the Illinois Access to Justice Program where she supports grantee efforts to build capacity to mitigate the impact of incarceration

 

Mathilda has a background in youth, community, and labor organizing. She is a researcher, writer, and editor. Publications include Filipino American psychology: A Collection of personal narratives (ed. Nadal, 2010) and the Know Your Rights Curriculum (2013) with the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law. Mathilda is a Mitigation Specialist for legal defense teams working on capital and juvenile resentencing cases.

 

Mathilda collaborates with practitioners to develop equity through conflict resolution, trauma-informed, and healing-centered practices for the past two decades. Inspired by mutual aid efforts that have prominently emerged during the pandemic, Mathilda launched the Sister Sustainability Fund in an effort to support other women of color.

Laura Saltzman
Data Analyst

Laura Saltzmen received her BA in Sociology from UW-Madison where she was a research assistant for two years on a BMT caregiver study. She has completed coursework towards a Masters in Program Evaluation through Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Administration at George Washington University, developing essential skills in policy.

 

While in school she conducted research focusing on the outcomes of alternative sentencing for juveniles. Most notably in her work with data, Laura built a database that gathered and analyzed census data to communicate the effects of repealing healthcare on people with disabilities and their families within every state and house district in the country. The database has been used nationwide. She has also worked on legislation to provide alternative services for emergencies and people in crisis.

 

Laura is currently on the board of Chicago of Women Take Action and a member of DITI Disability and Immigration Task Force of Illinois. Laura is a born and raised Chicagoan from Rogers Park. Like many Chicagoans, Laura is a relentless booster of the city and has been a chef and baker on and off since she was 15.

Benjamin Meyer, Esq.
Program Manager

Benjamin Meyer graduated from DePaul University College of Law in 2010, and obtained his license to practice in Illinois in the same year. He worked with private law firms for seven years, assisting clients with family law, foreclosure defense, criminal defense, probate, small claims, civil rights, personal injury, and administrative matters. Ben worked  with First Defense Legal Aid's 24-hour jailhouse hotline doing police station house defense as a Staff Attorney from 2015 to 2019. Ben volunteers with the National Lawyer's Guild Legal Observer Program, and assisted at direct actions against police brutality throughout the summer of 2020 to protect protesters' First Amendment rights. 

 

Ben currently works with the Westside Justice Center as the Program Manager of direct services, where he supervises the legal services program, Before the Law, as well as the Community Advocates Program, the Project Homecoming Program, and the Movement and Justice Gallery.

Marlo M. Pahl, Esq.
Lead Attorney

Marlo received their Philosophy degree from the University of Michigan in 2009 and graduated cum laude with a Public Interest Certificate from DePaul University College of Law in 2013. Marlo began their litigation experience as a 711 law clerk at felony trial with the Cook County Public Defender's office in 2012. Since 2013, Marlo has worked with the Transformative Justice Law Project’s monthly Name Change Mobilization, assisting clients in obtaining affirming identity documents.

 

They were Legal Director & Staff Attorney of the TransLife Care Program of Chicago House from 2015 to 2018, where they led policy and advocacy efforts and represented trans and gender non-conforming clients in criminal and civil matters. Marlo received training on trauma-informed care, harm reduction, motivational interviewing, and other evidence-based public health interventions. Marlo wrote and taught an interdisciplinary class on Trauma-Informed Lawyering at DePaul College of Law during the 2019 and 2020 summer semesters.

 

As Lead Attorney of Westside Justice Center’s Before the Law civil legal clinic, Marlo maintains their own caseload and oversees the design and implementation of WJC’s direct legal services. They are passionate about supporting the self-determination of historically disenfranchised communities and increasing access to legal, social, and medical systems.

Joseph DiCola, Esq.
Staff Attorney

Joseph DiCola received his BA in Philosophy and English Creative Writing at Loyola University Chicago and his JD at UIC John Marshall Law School in 2018. Previously, Joe worked with the Chicago Community Bond Fund, ran his own solo practice, and worked as Of Counsel with Shiller, Preyar, Jarard & Samuels, representing clients in section 1983 civil rights, contracts, and probate cases.  In addition to his role at Westside Justice Center, Joe serves as the Administrator for the Chicago chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild Legal Observer Program, where he trains volunteer law students and attorneys and ensures legal observer coverage for direct actions in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

 

As a Staff Attorney at the Westside Justice Center, Joseph practices primarily in the areas of tenants’ rights and probate estates, in addition to a variety of other civil issues. Joseph strives to use his legal knowledge and skill to protect the rights of community members on the Westside and to support grassroots social justice organizing across the city.

Dhara Shah
Project Homecoming Outreach Coordinator

Dhara Shah received her BS in Biomedical Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2012. After realizing she was more passionate about the design and implementation of social structures than medical devices, she obtained her MFA in Design for Social Innovation from the School of Visual Arts in New York, where she was awarded the 2020 Paula Rhodes Award for excellence in thesis conception. Her thesis centered around shifting power towards immigrant small business owners in gentrifying communities, examining how Black and Brown youth experience the police, and punishment culture in K-12 settings. In 2018, Dhara co-founded JustDesign LLC, a social justice design cooperative that is member-owned, multi-disciplinary, and focused on the public-interest through a rights-based framework, an anti-oppressive lens, and open access to resources.

As Project Homecoming Outreach Coordinator, Dhara establishes collaborative relationships with community-based groups and organizations to connect Project Homecoming clients with accessible, holistic referrals and support resources. She leads Project Homecoming's community outreach efforts to connect community members returning from incarceration with legal, social, housing, health, job development, and grocery support services. 

Lykendra Johnson was born and raised on the Westside of Chicago and received her BA in sociology from Michigan State University. She played basketball professionally overseas for seven years before returning to work at Western Michigan University as the Director of Operations.

 

Lykendra joins Westside Justice Center as the Client Relations Specialist. She focuses on client service and communication, ensuring that clients get the best possible experience which centers their needs and accounts for the barriers they often face in accessing legal support services.  In addition to her role at Westside Justice Center, Lykendra is the proud mother of one. She is excited to be a part of the Westside         

Justice Center and give back to the community that she loves! 

Lykendra Johnson
Client Relations Specialist

Sofia is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s degree in Law, Letters, and Society and Human Rights. She spent her time as an undergraduate familiarizing herself with politics, organizing, and activism in the United States, with special attention to critical race theory and gender theory. While in school, Sofia helped found and run a mixed-race affinity group to provide a community for multi-ethnic and multi-racial students at the University of Chicago, borrowing from restorative justice practices to facilitate open and honest conversations about race and identity and encourage involvement in campus organizing. Sofia completed her thesis on the role of creative activism in transformative justice movements and prison-industrial

complex abolition, focusing on the perspective of Black womxn artists and activists in Chicago.

 

At Westside Justice Center, Sofia works primarily with the attorneys in the Before the Law civil legal clinic to manage caseloads, ensure clients receive timely care and support, and assist clients in navigating both legal and non-legal issues. Working at Westside Justice Center is a big next step in Sofia’s goals of pursuing a lifestyle advocating for justice for Black and Brown folx, on both the individual and systemic levels.

Sofia Cabrera
Case Manager

Westside Justice Center (WJC) is dedicated to serving communities in Chicago. With your donation, we can continue to protect Constitutional rights, hold community events and ensure low-income people have access to  fair and just criminal justice system in courts and jails. 

CONTACT US

Westside Justice Center
601 South California Street
Chicago, IL 60612

(773) 940-2213

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 © Copyright 2018 Westside Justice Center | Bianca D. Parrish | WIX