The Brave House was born out of my lifelong commitment to serve others and solve problems. My parents celebrated and encouraged the pursuit of a career in public service for us kids. My mother’s side of the family emigrated from the Azores, and my grandparents helped found a local church in Boston where Portuguese immigrants could gather. Growing up, my mom told me stories of how that church community helped people with various needs, from a hot meal to help practicing English to learning how to file taxes. Out of these stories grew my understanding that a strong community enables immigrants to live joyful and successful lives.
This foundation led me to become an immigration attorney working with teenagers and children in New York, many of whom are survivors of gender-based violence. Through that work with my young clients, I started noticing many common concerns. Every day, they would ask similar questions—how do I get my GED, make friends, enroll in Medicaid, apply for ﬁnancial aid for college, etc. It became clear that, for clients to thrive, they needed support in all aspects of their lives, not just with their legal cases.
Founding the Brave House
In 2018, I founded The Brave House, a nonproﬁt that offers free legal aid, holistic support, and community to young immigrant women and gender-nonconforming youth, ages 16–24, in New York City. The Brave House addresses this population’s lack of meaningful access to critical resources and legal aid by offering a community of peers and reducing obstacles such as lack of information, English-speaking services, cultural stigma, and challenges of being a teenager navigating a large city like New York. We want to ensure that our members (today, totaling 104 young women and girls) have the tools they need to thrive and disrupt cycles of poverty and violence against women. This will result in more immigrant women’s voices in the cultural, social, and political spheres, empowering them to contribute their unique gifts and perspectives to their communities.
Empowering Young Immigrant Women and Girls
As a sisterhood and a hub for the legal, social-emotional, and educational needs of young immigrants, the Brave House seeks to empower our members to make their own decisions and take ownership of their futures. To provide resources directly to our members and address the limited capacity of a small nonproﬁt staff, our team designed and launched a custom Brave House app to support our members while promoting self-advocacy. Members can search for and access hundreds of vetted resources using the app. It functions as a referral resource to other internal and external services such as English lessons, mental health, housing, mentoring, public benefits, scholarships, employment counseling, and resume writing. It also serves as a platform for members to connect for social gatherings and support. Members can sign up for the Brave House events like career nights and receive reminders and push notiﬁcations. With the new app, young immigrant women are also more informed about their legal rights through their My Case section, which provides their upcoming court dates, attorney information, and easy-to-follow explanations of their immigration status. The app is completely free and safe—accessed exclusively by our members and staff. Since its launch in 2021, we have successfully onboarded every member with a smartphone onto the app and implemented changes based on user feedback and usage data.
The Power of and Funding for the App
One member talked about using the app to connect with another member she had met more than a year ago. She remembered a helpful and impactful conversation with this woman. Now, through the app, they share resource information, meet regularly, and support each other in their immigration journey.
Since founding The Brave House, creating a mobile app has been one of my dreams. In February 2021, we were awarded an American Bar Endowment (ABE) Opportunity Grant, which provided the resources to fulfill this dream, helping us scale and deepen our impact and improve the lives of our community members in a way that is unique for nonproﬁts. Thanks to the app, our holistic resources and communications are now centralized and streamlined. We couldn’t have done this work without the ABE grant, which was made possible by the support of ABE insureds and their donations of dividends. We are so grateful.
What Young Lawyers Can Do
I appreciate sharing my story with others in the legal community. I believe our app has the power to transform the way that nonproﬁts support their communities. One day we hope to open-source our app technology to other organizations who want to create a private community and resource hub for their constituents. If you are involved with an organization that might benefit from a tool like this, please reach out to me. If you live in New York and would like to get involved with the Brave House, there are so many possibilities! You can apply to become a mentor or volunteer on our website. We are also currently accepting new members. If you have a client or know a young immigrant woman who would like to join us, please share our information! You can also support our work with a contributionthrough our website. Finally, we are seeking a mission-focused Legal Fellow to join our team for the Fall of 2022.