© Copyright Human Rights for Kids 2023
CEO & Founder
James Dold is the Founder & CEO of Human Rights for Kids (HRFK). James oversees all of HRFK’s programming and operations work. Under his leadership HRFK has solidified itself as the national expert on human rights issues impacting children in the United States. He is the principal author behind The Fight for Our Soul: A Legislative Blueprint for Changing the Way the Criminal Justice System Treats Children, as well as HRFK’s Annual National State Ratings Report which assesses how well or how poorly states are protecting the human rights of children in the criminal legal system. These reports have inspired policymakers and advocates from across the country to pass laws to bring their states into compliance with human rights standards.
Prior to launching HRFK, James served as Advocacy Director and Chief Strategy Officer for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth where he developed and implemented the advocacy strategy that led to the quadrupling of states that ban life without parole sentences for children in the U.S. Hundreds of people who were told as children that they would die in prison have been released due to his efforts. James also served as Senior Policy Counsel at Polaris Project where he led successful state legislative campaigns resulting in the passage of 40 new anti-human trafficking laws across the country. A survivor of child labor trafficking and sexual abuse himself, James was also the architect behind Nevada’s AB 146 in 2013 which criminalized involuntary servitude of a minor which was based on his experiences as a survivor.
James received dual baccalaureates in Criminal Justice and Psychology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and graduated Cum Laude from the University of Maryland School of Law. He is licensed to practice law in the state of Maryland and is a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. James was a 2016 Halle Scholar with the Aspen Institute’s Justice & Society Program. He was also a finalist for the 2020 Grinnell Prize and 2021 Echoing Green Fellowship. In 2021 James was selected as a winner of the Paul H. Chapman Award by the Foundation for the Improvement of Justice and the Social Innovation Pitch Prize by Echoing Green and Barclays.
Director of Advocacy & Government Relations
Emily Virgin serves as Human Rights for Kids’ Director of Advocacy & Government Relations. In this role, Emily advocates for HRFK’s priority legislation in the states and at the federal level and assists James in strategic litigation.
Prior to joining HRFK, Emily served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She was elected to the state legislature in 2010 and reached her term limit in 2022. During her legislative tenure, Emily was elected by her peers to be the House Minority Leader.
During her time in the House of Representatives, Emily received awards and honors from Freedom Oklahoma, ACLU of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the Oklahoma Bar Association, and the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
Emily became passionate about human rights issues impacting children during her legislative career and began working with James and HRFK. She became a board member of HRFK and introduced Sara’s Law and other important legislation to improve the way kids are treated in the juvenile justice system in Oklahoma.
Emily attended the University of Oklahoma for both her undergraduate degree and law degree. She graduated magna cum laude from OU in 2009 with a degree in political science and a minor in criminology. Emily was also selected as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She graduated with distinction from OU Law in 2013 and was also a member of the Oklahoma Law Review.
Emily serves her home community of Norman, Oklahoma as a board member of Bridges of Norman, a non-profit providing housing to high school students. She is a past board member of Thunderbird Clubhouse, an organization serving those recovering from mental illness, and the Norman Arts Council.
Having experienced years of systematic, dehumanizing abuses since birth, Sara Kruzan has come to share from personal experiences the compassion of healing through God’s love. Though trauma memories, trauma bonding experiences, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences to this day, impact Sara’s life. It’s with courage and grace she offers her experiences through the pain and healing suggestions while sharing and working alongside others.
As a formerly incarcerated community member who was sentenced to Juvenile life without parole plus 4 years as a child and who has experienced child sex trafficking, indoctrination, various levels of human rights abuses, as well as additional trauma at the hands of a systemically flawed criminal legal system, Sara is uniquely qualified to lead this work. While in prison, Sara designed programs and opportunities that offered herself and fellow prisoners a chance to explore their trauma through art, dance, community building, groups and present conversations. She became a certified facilitator in Alternatives to Violence and created the Prison Committee for Youth where children were paired with mentors whom they met with regularly. At the time, these types of programs were nonexistent within correctional facilities and Sara was viewed as a leader in the space. As a founding member of Incarcerated Children Advocacy Network and one of the lead advocates on California’s Proposition 35, Californians Against Sexual Exploitation, Sara also engaged in advocacy efforts.
Since leaving prison, Sara has devoted her life to making changes in the criminal legal system, with an unwavering focus on justice for victims of sex trafficking, indoctrination, compounded post traumatic stress disorder, and psychological abuses who become involved in criminal circumstances themselves out of desperation.
In addition, Sara’s Law has been introduced in more than six states and in the U.S. Congress. It was also the basis for Virginia’s HB 744 in 2020 which eliminated the harmful impact of mandatory minimum sentences on children who are prosecuted as adults.
In April 2021, Congressman Bruce Westerman reintroduced Sara’s Law and the Unfair Sentencing of Minors Act (H.R. 2858), which would grant judges complete discretion to deviate from any mandatory sentence or suspend any sentence they would otherwise be required to impose when sentencing child victims whose “crime” was perpetrated against their abuser.
Sara has worked with HRFK since its inception in 2017, and has known and worked with the founder, James Dold, for seven years.
An example of their collaboration is recent efforts to pass Sara’s Law in Maryland by recruiting, organizing, and prepping formerly incarcerated survivors to testify and tell their stories from a safe comfort level at bill hearings in front of the state legislature. Sara organized a similar panel of survivor-witnesses for a Congressional Listening Session last summer in support of Sara’s Law and the Unfair Sentencing of Minors Act at the federal level. Sara often works with James and other coalition organizations to write and place op-eds, sit on panels, and conduct trainings.
Through all of this work Sara has forged relationships with organizations and individuals in the juvenile and criminal legal reform space as well as developed a network of current and formerly incarcerated advocates. Having Sara as a Stoneleigh Fellow our project will formalize and deepen work that Sara has already been doing on a regular but ad hoc basis across several organizations and at times, alongside other paid work. With grace and love we can heal together while offering an opportunity to focus full time on formalizing a survivor advocates network, and creating and implementing an advocacy strategy alongside partners that would allow for significantly more impact. And for Sara personally, it offers a transformative career and continued healing.
Operations and Program Associate
Aiden Lesley is the Operations and Program Associate for Human Rights for Kids. In this role, Aiden provides support to HRFK staff in operation endeavors, as well as leading and assisting in advocacy, research and legal pursuits.
Growing up just a few miles from our Nation’s Capital, Aiden was raised with a strong commitment to the value of service and advocacy. Both his mother and father worked as civil servants in government before moving into the nonprofit field to fight for public policy issues important to cancer and children’s health, respectively. His grandmother was a teacher, women’s rights advocate and fierce believer in the value of every person’s potential to be extraordinary with the right support. He hopes to carry those values with him, helping realize HRFK’s goal of a country that provides support to every child in America.
Aiden attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his undergraduate degree. While in college, he helped provide an assessment and policy recommendations to Racine County, Wisconsin regarding their Youth Care Facility Operations Manual. He graduated in 2022 with a double major in Political Science and Legal Studies from the Letters and Sciences Honors College.
Board of Directors
Representative Barbara Rachelson
Representative V. Lowry Snow
Assemblyman John Hambrick
Delegate Dana Stein
Fmr. Delegate John Ellem
Senator Missy Irvin
Representative Greg Leding
Representative Rebecca Petty
Representative John Mizuno
Fmr. Senator AJ Griffin
David Stewart, M.A.
Suzanne La Pierre, J.D.
Johanna Olivas Benavides, M.A.
Tony Torain, II, J.D.
- Elizabeth Barnert, M.D.
- Michael Mendoza
- Daniel Mendoza-Jacobo
- Ashlie Bryant
- Mel Wilson
- Patrice Smith
- Ron LeGrand
- Nate Balis
- Maggy Krell
- Maheen Kaleem
- Jane Narich
- Jessica Trease
Partners & Advocates
Our partners are essential to our impact. We work with a variety of partner organizations and individuals to advance human rights for kids across the country. Want to help make a tangible impact? Learn how you can become a HRFK partner today.