Ascend Justice Leadership Team
Margaret Duval has served as the Executive Director of Ascend Justice since 2012. During her tenure, the agency’s mission and work have expanded to better serve the holistic needs of survivors of domestic violence and to include advocacy for families involved in the child welfare system.
Prior to her role at Ascend Justice, Margaret worked at the DePaul University College of Law’s Center for Public Interest Law, where she served as the Director of the Pro Bono and Community Service Initiative. Before moving to Chicago, Margaret worked at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program, where she focused on pro bono management and family law. Margaret’s first legal job was a pro bono fellowship for the law firm of Hunton & Williams, where she worked at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, litigating divorce, custody, support and protective order cases of survivors of domestic violence.
Margaret received her B.A. with High Distinction at the University of Virginia and her J.D. at the University of Virginia School of Law, where she was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Public Service and the National Association of Women Lawyers Award.
Margaret is a mom of three and an avid runner during the months of May through September.
Sara Block is the Managing Director of Advocacy and Partnerships at Ascend Justice where she focuses on policy and systemic reform that impact families experiencing domestic violence. Sara is also the Academic Director for Child and Family Law Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. In the Masters of Jurisprudence in Child Law program at Loyola, Sara teaches Child Welfare Law and Policy, and Juvenile Justice Law Policy.
Sara was a Skadden Fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago with a fellowship focusing on the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare. Sara was awarded the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network’s Outstanding Partnership Award, the Family Defense Center’s Major Litigation Award for her involvement in Julie Q. v. DCFS, and the Jewish United Fund’s “36 Under 36” award.
Sara received her J.D., magna cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2007, where she was a Child Law Fellow and the Features Editor of the Children’s Legal Rights Journal. Sara received her B.A. degree with honors in American Studies from Northwestern University. Sara is the author of the book entitled Together Unbroken: Stories, Law, Practice and Healing at the Intersection of Domestic Violence and Child Welfare. She has two daughters and feels honored to be their mother.
Sara Gilloon has represented and advised hundreds of parents and caregivers in all aspects of child welfare investigations and litigation. Through federal civil rights and class action litigation, Sara has played a lead role in obtaining and enforcing significant improvements to rules, policies, and practices of the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, particularly relating to safety plans, mental health practices, families experiencing domestic violence, and the previously overbroad category of alleged neglect known as Allegation 74, “inadequate supervision.” Prior to joining Ascend Justice, Sara was the Director of Legal Services at the Family Defense Center, where she also coordinated the pro bono program. Previously, she practiced general litigation at Winston & Strawn, where her extensive pro bono work included successfully obtaining political asylum for a young mother from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 2021, Sara received the Kathryn Smith Matkov Award from the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. This award is bestowed annually on an attorney or judge who has demonstrated a lifetime commitment to excellence and accuracy in defining, illuminating and informing the public on critical issues to American society, particularly in the areas of children, the aged and minorities.
Sara received her J.D., with high distinction, from the University of Iowa College of Law where she earned membership in the Order of the Coif (awarded to the top 10% of the class) and served on the Journal of Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems. Sara received her B.A. summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Notre Dame. Sara speaks Spanish proficiently. She is also an avid tennis player and college sports fan.
Angelica Gonzalez-Lopez joined Ascend Justice in 2017 and has served as Managing Director of Immigration and Client Support Division since 2021. She maintains an active caseload of immigration matters for survivors of domestic violence. Before joining Ascend Justice, Angelica served as an adjunct professor at DePaul University, College of Law where she co-taught the one-semester Immigration Law Clinic and the Detained Clinic. At DePaul, Angelica provided training and technical assistance to community-based organizations on immigration law and policy. As a Clinical Professor, Angelica provided guidance and support to up-and-coming future immigration attorneys. She assisted students in learning best practices for representing clients and working within the immigration system. Angelica also served as the faculty guide and legal advisor for students participating in DePaul’s alternative spring break program to the U.S. Mexico border.
Prior to practicing law, Angelica served as a social worker advocating for survivors of domestic violence. As a social worker, Angelica worked in a domestic violence shelter providing direct services to children and families. Angelica also worked as a trainer and technical assistant to domestic violence programs throughout the state of Kansas, where her focus was on the needs of immigrant survivors of domestic violence.
As a social work graduate student, Angelica founded the Women’s M.O.S.A.I.C. Network, a network of domestic violence services providers that collaborate to educate and train the professional community on the needs of foreign-born survivors of domestic violence.
Angelica received her B.S.W and B.S. in Spanish, from Missouri State University; obtained a M.S.W. in Social Work Administration from the University of Kansas, and earned her law degree from Northwestern University School of Law.
Ashley Olson has dedicated her career to public interest law to serve those communities who are under-represented in the legal system. Her specific interest in serving survivors of domestic violence led her to intern at Ascend Justice while she was in law school. After graduating from the Chicago-Kent College of Law, she joined Ascend Justice as a Staff Attorney. She spent six years practicing in the Emergency Services Division and co-managed the walk-in Order of Protection Clinic. In 2017, Ashley was a leader on the agency’s team to re-vamp the clinic’s operational structure and streamlining process. As of July 2021, Ashley became Ascend Justice’s Associate Director and oversees the day-to-day administrative and programmatic operations of the agency. She received a B.A. in Gender & Women’s Studies and American Studies from Knox College in Galesburg, IL.
Danielle Parisi Ruffatto became an attorney with the goal of using the law to serve those who otherwise would be unrepresented, and she has spent her entire career advocating on behalf of lower-income clients, particularly women and children. In her current position as Ascend Justice’s Managing Director of Family Law and Protective Orders Division, Danielle manages all aspects of the agency’s services related to Orders of Protection, including our walk-in clinic and oversees our Family Law Program.
Prior to this role, Danielle served as Director of Pro Bono and Training. She joined Ascend Justice as a Staff Attorney, representing clients in Order of Protection, Divorce, and Family Law cases. Before joining Ascend Justice, Danielle served initially as a Staff Attorney and then Executive Director of First Defense Legal Aid. In those roles, she represented low income clients who were arrested or detained; trained and supervised volunteer attorneys; wrote grants and managed a variety of executive projects.
In December 2013, Danielle received the Kathryn Smith Matkov Award from the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. This award is bestowed annually on an attorney or judge who demonstrates a lifetime commitment to critical issues to American society, particularly in the areas of children, the aged, and minorities. In January 2012, Illinois Legal Advocate named Danielle its Advocate of the Month, and in June 2016, she was named Illinois Legal Aid Online’s Volunteer of the Month.
Danielle received a BA, with honors, from DePaul University and a JD from the University of Illinois. She currently represents the 12th District on the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues. Danielle also serves as a Volunteer Content Contributor for Illinois Legal Aid Online, a member of the St. Robert Bellarmine Parish Domestic Violence Ministry, and a member Neighbors for Affordable Housing.