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News > Mill Hill & COVID-19 > COVID-19 in NYC


Life in New York through the eyes of OM Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes (Priestley 2008-10)
The situation in New York City where I have lived for the last three years developed incredibly rapidly - within a week it felt like everything had changed beyond recognition. While at the time of writing infection rates have thankfully appeared to plateau, more than 500 New Yorkers are still dying every 24 hours. Recently, the Governor has mandated that everyone wear face masks when they leave their homes – only adding to the already dystopian aesthetic.

I have worked as a Grant Writer at The Legal Aid Society of New York City for just over two years. We provide legal services and representation to vulnerable individuals while also conducting affirmative and law reform litigation – directly serving more than 300,000 people and impacting millions through our work each year. Since starting, I have worked on everything from securing funds to represent detained undocumented clients facing deportation by the Trump Administration to supporting efforts to expand access to vital healthcare services for the uninsured. COVID-19 has focused my work even further: even without working at an organization that takes an explicit social and racial equity lens, it is impossible not to see the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on communities of color, noncitizen individuals, and low-income people in New York. Across the city, cases are concentrated in areas of Queens and the Bronx that are overwhelmingly non-white, low-income, and made up of individuals in unstable and low-wage employment. These are our client communities, and the communities that will live with the consequences of the pandemic and associated economic slow-down long after the infections and ambulances retreat. At the start of the crisis, we successfully advocated for a state-wide residential and commercial eviction moratorium and secured blanket extensions of orders of protection – court orders used to protect survivors of domestic violence from their abusers. Our focus has since shifted to expanding our legal helplines and capacity to assist with applying for state and newly established federal benefits.

Successfully navigating crises such as COVID-19 requires tenacity, strength, and high-level strategy. But on a more individual and human level, it requires a fundamental commitment to kindness and to being guided by the better angels of our nature. When the initial crisis subsides and activities shift to re-building, this focus on kindness is even more important. Looking back on my time at Mill Hill, I see an overriding emphasis on decency, fairness, and friendship: there is a clear line between this and the work I do now.


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