438 Main Street l 7th Floor l Buffalo, NY
(716) 847-0662

VLP Staff

Office Management
& Finance

Lauren Dietterich
Debbie Held
Joseph Sieracki
Cheryl Wilmet

Pro Bono Program

Maria Valeri


Executive Director/CEO

Gretchen Gonzalez, Esq.

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 331

Ms. Gonzalez has dedicated her career to civil legal services, and brings experience from a wide variety of substantive legal areas. Ms. Gonzalez started with VLP in 2012 and previously worked as a Senior Staff Attorney in VLP’s Positive Families and Individuals project providing representation to clients impacted by HIV and as VLP’s staff attorney for Community and Economic Development working with not for profits and small businesses in WNY. She was promoted to Deputy Director of VLP in 2018. She has worked in New York City as a trial attorney in the housing unit of both the Legal Aid Society’s Harlem Community Law Office and Queens Legal Services. Ms. Gonzalez has also worked as a Staff Attorney with the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project where she represented clients with severe and persistent mental illness in cases related to public benefits. She clerked with the ACLU National LGBT Rights Project and Children’s Legal Services. Ms. Gonzalez holds a Bachelors of Arts and Juris Doctor, cum laude, from Boston University, as well as an MA in Psychology, cum laude, from City University of New York Hunter College. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Club of Buffalo’s Non-Profit Management Program. She is the Co-Chair of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Committee on Legal Aid, and a member of the NYSBA President’s Committee on Access to Justice. She is a board member of the NYS Legal Services Coalition and sits on the board of the Road Less Traveled Theater in Buffalo NY.

Deputy Director

Nikole Wynn, Esq.

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 313
Nikole Wynn on LinkedIn

Before joining VLP, Ms. Wynn worked in private practice as a criminal defense attorney where she represented individuals in a variety of criminal and traffic court matters. In 2014, she joined VLP as a staff attorney in VLP’s Positive Families and Individuals program, where she served individuals and families impacted by HIV in a variety of legal matters. Ms. Wynn’s cases included child custody and visitation, child support proceedings, unemployment matters, name and gender changes, debtor-creditor issues, housing matters, divorce proceedings, discrimination, HIV confidentiality violations, and end of life planning. From 2020 – 2021, Nikole worked as VLP’s Civil Supervising Attorney. Presently, Nikole is VLP’s Deputy Director. In this role, she utilizes the extensive institutional knowledge she has gained through her tenure with VLP and is responsible for supporting the Executive Director/CEO in the overall management of VLP.  

Nikole holds a BA in legal studies with a minor in political science, magna cum laude, from the University of Buffalo. She also holds a Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, from the University of Buffalo Law School where she received the Adelbert Moot scholarship for academic excellence. She has been recognized by Buffalo Business First, sat on the Board of Women Lawyers of Western New York, and is passionate about providing quality legal services to low-income people.  

Supervising Attorneys

Kerry Battenfeld, Esq.

Supervising Immigration Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 338

Kerry Battenfeld started at VLP as a 2017 Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow. She represents individuals in removal proceedings and assists survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other crimes pursue immigration options before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She is a 2017 graduate of the University at Buffalo JD/MSW program and was the recipient of the Law School’s John N. Bennett Award for highest scholastic achievement in her graduating class. As a student, Kerry served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Law Review and as an Oralist on the Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Team. She completed internships with the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center and the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Prior to graduate school, she worked as a case manager for human trafficking survivors at the International Institute of Buffalo and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. She is fluent in Spanish.

Brenda Cisneros Vilchis, Esq.

Supervising Immigration Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 204

Brenda Cisneros Vilchis joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project in March of 2016. Ms. Cisneros Vilchis received her LL.M. Degree from SUNY Buffalo Law School and her Licenciatura en Derecho (the equivalent of a law degree) from the Facultad Libre de Derecho de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. She joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project full time in March 2016, and has focused her legal work on representing unaccompanied minors and detained individuals in removal proceedings before USCIS, EOIR and ICE. Before joining the Volunteer Lawyers Project, Ms. Cisneros Vilchis practiced in the private sector, focusing on immigration removal proceedings and representing injured workers before the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board.

Ms. Cisneros Vilchis is admitted to practice in New York State and Mexico, and she is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association – Western New York Chapter, the New York State Bar Association, the Bar Association of Erie County and the University at Buffalo’s Law Alumni Association. Brenda is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French.

Hollis DeAbreu, Esq.

Deputy Supervising Immigration Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 211

Hollis received her law degree from Florida A& M College of Law and her undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University at Buffalo.

Prior to joining VLP, Hollis worked in private practice focused on immigration defense in Western New York.

She has worked in many areas of the law throughout her legal career including clerking in criminal state court in Connecticut and worked as an Attorney for the Federal Small Business Administration in Washington, DC.

She has dedicated her legal career to public service and nonprofit work. Her main goal is to provide legal services to those under-served with the integrity and respect they deserve.

Christine McMenamin, Esq.

Supervising Attorney for Housing
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 348

.Christine McMenamin, Esq. is the Housing Supervising Attorney representing tenants facing eviction as well as in other legal issues surrounding their tenancy.  She also trains local attorneys and volunteers on landlord-tenant law.

Before joining VLP, Ms. McMenamin spent over eight years representing Western New York tenants.  She also recruited and trained both law student and attorney volunteers.  Previously, she represented both claimants and insurance companies in workers’ compensation cases at a private firm. She also served as a Legislative Fellow with the New York State Senate in Albany and as a Legal Intern for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Manhattan.

Ms. McMenamin holds a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, from Syracuse University and a Juris Doctor from the University at Buffalo Law School.

Kristopher Sigeti, Esq.

Supervising Attorney for Family Law
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 305

.I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I graduated from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and then earned my bachelor’s degree at Canisius College. After college, I worked in the healthcare field then in the e-commerce field for a local up-and-coming business. During that time, I went back to Canisius College and earned my Master’s in Business Administration in 2009. I went on to pursue my juris doctorate full-time at the University at Buffalo Law School. During my second year at UB Law, I was elected by my peers to serve on the Student Bar Association’s Executive Committee as Parliamentarian. Then in my third year, I was elected to serve on the executive board of the Buffalo Intellectual Property Law Journal as Notes Editor.

In 2013, I opened and ran a solo law practice focusing on criminal, family, and estate law. Then, in March 2022, I sold my practice and accepted a staff attorney position with the ECBA Volunteer Lawyers Project in the positive individuals and family’s unit. And in January 2023, I transitioned to the supervising attorney position of the family court unit.

In my free time, I love playing with my kids and playing baseball in the summer and skiing in the winter.

Sara Stoessel, Esq.

Supervising Attorney for General Civil Unit (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 354

Sara Stoessel joined VLP in October of 2016. Sara completed both her BA in Social Sciences (magna cum laude) and her JD from SUNY at Buffalo, where she graduated cum laude. While completing her JD, she was active in the Domestic Violence Task Force in the University at Buffalo’s Family Law Program.

Ms. Stoessel has worked extensively at private firms, as a legal assistant, law clerk, and from 2014 to 2016, as an associate attorney at the Sperrazza Law Firm, where her focus was on Family Law.  She also has experience with not-for-profit law firms, having interned at Neighborhood Legal Services and Legal Services for the Elderly and Disabled. She is a member of New York State Bar Association, as well as the Bar Association of Erie County, and is on the latter’s Matrimonial and Family Law, and the Practice and Procedure in Family Law Court, committees. Ms. Stoessel is also on the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence.

As a staff attorney in VLP’s Positive Families and Individuals program, she serves individuals and families impacted by HIV in a variety of civil legal matters.  Ms. Stoessel’s cases have included child custody and access proceedings, child support proceedings, debtor-creditor issues, divorce, post-judgment matrimonial issues and end of life planning.  In addition, she routinely conducts community outreach and has provided to trainings to local providers on various legal issues.

Office Management & Finance

Joseph Sieracki

Controller/Grants Administrator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 311






Lauren Dietterich

HR Manager/Grants Manager II
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 308

Lauren joined Volunteer Lawyers Project in April 2016 and comes with many years of experience in administration, management and bookkeeping.




Debbie Held

Office Manager (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 347




Cheryl Wilmet

Office Manager (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 207

.Cheryl Wilmet joined the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project in August of 2017. After graduating with a Paralegal Degree in 1997, she worked with a private attorney but found her true calling while working with Non-Profit organizations.  Cheryl first started as a Paralegal in our Immigration Program and is now the Office Manager bringing years of legal experience to our Batavia, NY office.


Pro Bono Program Manager

Maria Valeri

VLP Pro Bono Program Manager
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 321

With over 25 years of paralegal experience in area law firms, Maria Valeri joined the Immigration Program at the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. (“VLP”) in 2015 and received full accreditation as an immigration representative from the Department of Justice in March of 2016.  Maria has represented noncitizens in affirmative applications, including survivors of domestic violence and trafficking, and provided deportation defense as part of our Batavia immigration team.

In early 2019, Maria accepted the position of the firm’s Pro Bono Recruitment Coordinator.  As such, she provides opportunities and hosts trainings for private attorneys to encourage their involvement in pro bono through VLP.  Maria also works closely with the University at Buffalo School of Law to integrate law students with VLP programs through internships and practicums.  She also manages the firm’s Pro Se Assistance Program with the Western District of New York, United States District Court.

Senior Staff Attorney

Blanca Owen, Esq.

Senior Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 221

Blanca holds a law degree from the Universidad Militar Nueva Granada (UMNG), in Bogota, Colombia as well as a Master of Laws degree from SUNY at Buffalo Law School.  Blanca is admitted to practice law both in Colombia and in the State of New York.   She has been handling immigration cases since March 2016. 


.Staff Attorneys

Natalie Behm, Esq.

Positive Families and Individuals Staff Attorney (Buffalo Office)

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 319

Natalie joined VLP as a staff attorney in February 2023.  She has worked as an attorney for many years in family law and civil litigation.





Charles Case, Esq.

Positive Families and Individuals Staff Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 315

Charles Case graduated from UB Law School in 2003. He has experience in government relations, commercial litigation, education law, municipal law, estate planning, mortgage foreclosure, creditor/debtor law, and family law. He has published two books, and he sits on the East Aurora Historic Preservation Commission, as well as the Western New York DDSO Board of Visitors as a gubernatorial-appointed advocate for persons living with developmental disabilities. He currently handles end-of-life planning, civil litigation, housing and landlord/tenant matters, consumer collections, HIV confidentiality and privacy, and a range of family court matters.

Victoria Jolicoeur, Esq.

Family Law Staff Attorney

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 355






Kaitlyn Lauber, Esq.

Family Law Staff Attorney

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 334





Zahra Salih, Esq.

LITC Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 316

Zahra joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project in November 2019. She holds a BA in Political Science from York University, and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law. Through her work with VLP, Ms. Salih represents low-income taxpayers with disputes with the IRS and New York State Department of Taxation. She also conducts outreach and education presentations to low-income taxpayers with the goal of equipping taxpayers with an understanding of the U.S. tax system, and their rights and responsibilities within the tax system..

Elena Spence

Housing Law Graduate

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 356

Elena joined VLP’s Housing unit in 2023. She holds a Bachelor of Liberal Studies, cum laude, from Boston University, and a Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, from the University at Buffalo, where she received the John N. Bennett Award for highest scholastic achievement in her graduating class..



Christopher Szczygiel, Esq.

Housing Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 344





Stephanie Verhage, Esq.

Housing Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 327

Stephanie Verhage is a Staff Attorney in VLP’s Housing unit, serving tenants facing eviction as well as assisting with other legal issues surrounding their tenancy.

Stephanie graduated in 2021 with her Juris Doctor from the University at Buffalo.  During law school, Stephanie served as President of UB Law’s OUTLaw chapter, Vice President of the Buffalo Public Interest Law Program, Submissions Editor for the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review, and a Senior Associate for the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal.  She also worked as a Summer Associate with VLP’s Positive Individuals and Families Program, and as a Law Clerk at Rich Products Corporation.

In addition to her JD, Stephanie holds a BA in Politics, Philosophy, and Law, summa cum laude, from Binghamton University.

Immigration Staff Attorneys

Aaron Aisen, Esq.

Immigration Federal Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 212






Rosalie Capps

Immigration Law Graduate (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 205

Rosalie Capps is an Immigration Staff Attorney in the Batavia Office where she represents clients detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility. Before going to law school, she worked as a paralegal at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Lowey in New York City. Prior to joining Fragomen, she worked at the Resettlement Legal Aid Project at St. Andrews Refugee Center in Cairo, Egypt. She holds a Juris Doctorate from Brooklyn Law School, a master’s degree in International Human Rights Law from the American University in Cairo, and undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Piano Performance from Hunter College..

.Crystal Eom, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 220

Crystal Soojeong Eom is an immigration staff attorney serving the New York Immigrant Family Unification Project (“NYIFUP”) in the Batavia Office. Before she joined VLP in June 2022, she had worked in the private sector and practiced humanitarian immigration relief, including the 42(b) Cancellation of Removal, I-601/I-212 Waiver, Battered Spouse Waiver, U/T Visa, VAWA self-petition, family-based immigration, naturalization, consular processing, I-290B motion to reopen/ reconsider, etc.

Crystal holds a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota Law School and an LL.B. degree from Seoul National University in Seoul, South Korea. She is licensed to practice in the States of New York and New Jersey, as well as the Eastern/Southern District Courts of New York.

Jason Gunning, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 349

Jason Michael Gunning is a Staff Attorney in VLP’s Immigration Unit since June 2021. He represents clients seeking asylum, removal defense, and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.

He is a 2018 graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Law where he served as a Pro Bono Scholar in his final semester working in the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo’s Criminal Defense Unit.

Following law school, Jason served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York where he primarily handled cases involving Sex Crimes and Crimes Against Children in the Special Victims Unit.

In addition to his Juris Doctorate, Jason holds a BA in History from Ithaca College and a Masters in History (MA) and a Masters in Teaching (MAT) from Binghamton University (SUNY) and was a formerly a teacher of History, Government, and Economics at both the Secondary School and College levels before transitioning into the law..

Natalie Lesniak, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 345

Ms. Lesniak is an DOJ Fully Accredited Immigration Representative at ECBA Volunteer Lawyers Project.  She often represents immigrant survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.  She earned a Juris Doctorate and Master of Social Work at SUNY University at Buffalo with a focus on trauma-informed care and restorative practices.  During law school, she was on the Human Rights Law Review and an intern for VLP’s Family Court Help Desk.  She previously clerked at New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and volunteered with the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition to implement restorative practices in schools and juvenile detention facilities throughout WNY.

Lucette Moran

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 215

Lucette Moran, Immigration Staff Attorney, holds a J.D. from American University (AU) Washington College of Law (WCL) (2021) and an M.A. in International Affairs from AU School of International Service (2021) concentrating in foreign policy and global migration. During law school, she participated in the T.M.C. Asser Instituut & WCL War Crimes Research Office’s program in The Hague studying international criminal law. She received a B.A. in International Studies from AU School of International Service (2016) concentrating in the Middle East & North Africa region, human rights, and global governance. She also received a minor in Arabic Language and previously studied French.

At VLP, Lucette primarily works on removal defense in the Batavia Office serving detained and previously detained clients. Prior to joining VLP, she served as a student attorney in her law school’s Immigrant Justice Clinic and interned for Catholic Charities, Immigration Legal Services; U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Office of International Affairs; and U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Office of Immigration Litigation, Appellate. She received a fellowship to fund her internship with Catholic Charities through the WCL Equal Justice Foundation. During law school, she participated in the Administrative Law Review, Human Rights Brief, WCL Chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project, and ADVANCE (a peer-mentorship program for students who are among the first in their family to attend law school). She also has prior experience as a volunteer for the Ethiopian Community Development Council in Maryland and Students4Refugees in Israel..

Jamy Patterson, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 222

Patterson is an immigration staff attorney at VLP.  She received her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her undergraduate degree from Florida State University.   She worked many years as a criminal defense attorney in South Dakota before moving to New York. 



Ray Peters, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 217

Raymond Peters joined VLP in 2022. Raymond has been practicing law since 2008. He started his legal career representing criminal defendants. For years he fought to protect the rights of individuals accused of crimes. He eventually transitioned into the civil spectrum representing plaintiffs with their bodily injury claims. He has years of experience in personal injury law.

Raymond has dedicated his legal career to help individuals in need.


Patrick Salumu, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 223

Patrick Salumu is an immigration staff attorney with VLP. Patrick provides direct representation to non-detained immigrants in Buffalo and non-citizens detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, New York in their asylum, cancellation of removal, and other immigration defense matters. Prior to joining VLP, Patrick worked in private practice focused on immigration defense in Buffalo, New York. Patrick is admitted to practice law in the State of New York.

Patrick is a graduate of Indiana University, McKinney School of Law. He volunteered with BACI (Burmese American Community of Institute) and he was part of the immigration law clinic at the same University. Prior to his US experience, Patrick has acquired an extensive academic background rewarded by his law degrees from Belgium (Catholic University of Louvain) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Universite Protestante au Congo).


Jhoanna Sylio, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 226

Jhoanna Sylio is a staff attorney working on the New York Immigrant Family Unification Project in the Batavia Office.

Jhoanna graduated with her Juris Doctor from the University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 2022. While in law school, Jhoanna was a public interest law fellow with a special interest in immigration and refugee law. She completed more than 250 pro bono hours throughout law school and took part in UMass’ in-house Immigration Law Clinic. She interned for the City of New Bedford serving newly resettled Afghan families. She has also interned for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in both their San Antonio and Dallas offices. Before law school, Jhoanna was licensed by the Law Society of Ontario as an immigration paralegal and worked for Legal Aid Ontario in Toronto, Ontario as an immigration paralegal/caseworker.

Support Staff


Digital Marketing/IT Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext . 322
Conversational in French and ASL

Anita Garcia

Social Worker (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 218
Fluent in Spanish

Amber Mesita

Social Worker (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 213

Jazmin LaFay

Paralegal (Buffalo Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 346
Fluent in Spanish

Heather Kowalski

AOM Coordinator / Paralegal (Buffalo Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 353


Paralegal (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 310

Nohely Arteaga

Senior Paralegal (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 208
Fluent in Spanish

Jillian Nowak

Paralegal (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 306

Luis Santos

AOM Coordinator / Paralegal (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 350

Yareliza Guerrero-Pilalo

Paralegal (Batavia Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 212


Paralegal (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 214 
Fluent in Spanish

Emily Alvarez

Paralegal (Buffalo Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 342

Owens Perez-Rivera

Paralegal (Batavia Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 221

Claudia Villegas Ramos

Paralegal (Batavia Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 210


Ramona Corlette

Receptionist (Buffalo Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 335

Mark Miskovski

Immigration Pro Bono Coordinator  
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 317

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