Spring 2024 Newsletter


Dear friends,

Spring is here and there are numerous exciting developments here at GBLS! I am excited to announce the hiring of our new Deputy Director, Zoe Cronin. Zoe is likely a familiar face for many in our community, as she has had integral roles with both the Housing Unit and our Development team over the years (see below to learn more!). We are also excited to celebrate Manisha Bhatt, who was an attorney in GBLS’ Family Law Unit for many years, for her appointment as a Justice of the Probate and Family Court. 

We also recently held our annual GBLS Client & Community Lobby Day, where volunteers, advocates, and clients visited their representatives at the State House to push for statewide funding for civil legal aid and described the impact GBLS has made on their lives. If you would like to get involved with the budget campaign, you can sign up for action alerts at www.equaljusticecoalition.org/action. Thank you so much for your support of our work!

None of this would be possible without the support of our community. Thank you from everyone at Greater Boston Legal Services for partnering with us in this important work.




Low-Income Tax Clinic Working for Systemic ChangeHand holding pen above tax form

GBLS’s Low-Income Tax Clinic (LITC) works with community members to help with filing taxes and ensuring clients receive all benefits available to them. The clinic also works on systemic advocacy projects to create a fairer tax system in Massachusetts. Luz Arévalo, senior attorney and director of the LITC, shared the story below outlining the work of the clinic:

Tax Clinic gets results from systemic advocacy

A young mother, “Jessica”, found herself saddled with 6 years of federal and tax debt amounting to $317,262 federal and $72,000 state tax debt arising from her abusive husband’s metal construction business. During these years, Jessica lived with her husband who would give her a weekly stipend for food. He kept control over all other expenditures and bills. The husband would then list her in the company’s payroll to justify the stipend. All along, the husband filed joint tax returns without her knowledge or consent, making Jessica severally and jointly liable for the tax debt. With help from her oldest daughter, the client left her husband and secured a restraining order. After Jessica discovered countless collection and lien notices, GBLS' tax clinic brought an Innocent Spouse petition and during 2023 prevailed with the IRS, freeing her from this debt in full. Jessica is also guaranteed to receive relief from the state, thanks to the clinic’s advocacy that led to Massachusetts adopting the federal innocent spouse statute, effective April 2019.

CORI Project Celebrates Major Win in Supreme Judicial Court

On February 14, 2024, GBLS’ CORI & Re-entry Project achieved a big victory in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). The ruling stops the Commissioner of Probation from treating juvenile records the same as adult records, a practice that gave some children lifetime, never sealable records. This practice also made children wait seven years to seal certain offenses, at a critical time when they are transitioning to the workforce, school, and other opportunities. GBLS applauds this ruling, which gives young adults second chances. Thank you to Anderson Krieger, Citizens for Juvenile Justice, Northeast Legal Aid, MLRI, New England Law CORI Initiative, and UMass Human Rights at Home Clinic for their amicus briefs.

GBLS Lawyer Helps Erase Student Loan Debt

Photo of empty college lecture hall

In 1997, Sharon went to Cambridge College to receive her Master's in Education. When she first applied and spoke with a counselor, she was encouraged to take out a Federal Stafford loan of over $10,000 to pay for her degree.

The interest on Sharon’s loan ballooned, but her degree was from a for-profit college and didn’t help her earn a higher-paying job. A few years ago, Sharon contacted Bob Sable from GBLS’ Consumer Rights Unit. With Bob’s help, Sharon submitted a claim to the Department of Education asking for relief. As a result, her loan was fully discharged.

Sharon wrote a letter to Bob afterwards, saying that “twenty-seven years after the terrible experience and bad memories... I have received justice! I am very grateful for all the persistent effort... that Mr. Sable expended on my behalf to have my student loan forgiven! Thank you so much, Mr. Sable, for championing my just cause.” 

Get to Know Our New Deputy Director

Headshot of Zoe Cronin, Deputy DirectorZoe Cronin has worked at GBLS for over 10 years, working in both our Administration and Housing Units. In her newest position, Zoe is supporting the organization as Deputy Director. We sat down with Zoe to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and what her new role entails.

GBLS: How long have you been at GBLS? How did you get to the position you’re in today?

Zoe Cronin: I have been at GBLS since February 2008. At the beginning of my legal career, I worked for three years as a housing attorney and community lawyer in New York City. Then, I worked for three years at legal aid in Brockton practicing family, housing and disability law. I joined the GBLS Housing Unit in 2008 and when the Great Recession affected GBLS a year later, I joined the Development team in Administration to help raise money to support GBLS while maintaining my legal work in the Housing Unit. After six years, I became the Director of Development, and then in late 2016, I became the Managing Attorney of the Housing Unit. I started in this [Deputy Director] position in mid-January 2024.

GBLS: Why is this work important to you? What got you interested in legal aid?

ZC: I love legal aid because the work is so meaningful, fast-paced and fun. I accidentally learned about legal aid in my fourth year of college. I did a January term project with GulfCoast Legal Services in Florida.  I knew I was applying to intern at a law firm, but I was astonished to meet a dynamic lawyer (dressed in sneakers and cut-off jean shorts!) who asked me to help her organize a class action lawsuit to defend a mobile home park located in downtown Sarasota from being forced to close by the city. The residents of the mobile home park were recent immigrants or elders who had nowhere else to live and could not afford to move. I immediately loved working closely with tenants who cared about their community, were willing to fight back and to join a very tiny team of lawyers and law students bringing their concerns to the media and court. Even when the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) restrictions came down and LSC-funded organizations could not do class actions or organizing, the attorney I worked with kept on with the case on her own time, from her living room. This dedication to law and justice is what first inspired me and continues to inspire me to work with GBLS advocates today. 

GBLS: What does being Deputy Director look like day-to-day? 

ZC: Being a deputy director involves meeting with people in their offices or wherever they are practicing, all day long. My main role is to support Jacqui [GBLS’ Executive Director]. I am currently supporting the managing attorneys, the Central Screening [intake] Unit, and updating and making GBLS' policies and procedures more easily accessible. [A team of us] are designing supervision supports and training for all advocates at GBLS. I assist HR on some interviews and issues. I will be involved in strategic planning. A big part of my role is to connect people at GBLS with each other and provide chances for people to socialize and work together. Ilana Gelfman, our Acting Advocacy Director, and I share an office and work together a great deal. Generally speaking, my role has more to do with the operations of the organization and Ilana's role involves our litigation and legal work. 

GBLS: What are you most excited about in this role?

ZC: I get so much energy from the powerful and committed work coming from GBLS and all of our staff and advocates. It's a privilege to see the whole organization. I like being able to bring together my administrative knowledge and background in law to help GBLS. We can all work together to pass on GBLS' amazing history and to engage everyone at GBLS toward our future. We have never been so big and so able to accomplish meaningful change.

GBLS: What do you like to do outside of GBLS?

ZC: I am mom to an 11-year-old daughter, Wren, and married to Eric. Wren is really into sports, especially soccer, and Eric coaches her team. I am an avid runner and compete in races from 1 mile to half marathons. Last year, I ran 26.True marathon (the real Boston marathon) and this year, I'll be volunteering at it. The race starts in Roxbury and runs through Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roslindale, JP, South Boston, downtown, Brighton and Allston, and is happening again this year again on April 13th -- it's very fun if you want to run or cheer at it.  Our family loves reading, skiing, backpacking and anything outdoors.

Congratulations to Justice Bhatt!

From left to right: Judge Angela Ordonez, Pauline Quiron, Abbe Hersheberg, Manisha Bhatt, Governor Healey, and State Representative Tram Nguyen
From left to right: Judge Angela Ordonez, Pauline Quiron, Abbe Hersheberg, Manisha Bhatt, Governor Healey, and State Representative Tram Nguyen

Congratulations to former GBLS attorney Manisha Bhatt for her recent confirmation as a Justice of the Probate and Family Court! During her time at GBLS in the Family Law Unit, Manisha represented survivors of domestic violence at HarborCOV and in the Suffolk Probate and Family Court. We are so grateful for all she’s done at GBLS and excited to see what she achieves in the future! 

GBLS Equality Fellowship Concludes First Year 

Photo of Kris Cho, Germaine Garcia, and De'Von DouglassThe inaugural GBLS Equality Fellowship concluded on Saturday, February 24 with a celebration of LGBTQ+ joy and coalition-building in service of fostering increased support and legal services. 

Generously supported by the Equality Fund of the Boston Foundation, the Equality Fellowship brought on two queer youth of color, Kris Cho and Germaine Garcia, to identify challenges faced by low-income LGBTQ+ people in the greater Boston area, and to develop greater understanding of the barriers they face in accessing legal aid and other direct services. During their Fellowship, developed and supervised by DEI Director De'Von Douglass and Pro Bono and Volunteer Coordinator Allie Cislo, the Fellows interviewed GBLS' legal units and projects, shadowed GBLS advocates, and built relationships with community partners such as Fenway Health, the Boston Ujima Project, and the Boston Alliance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth (BAGLY). 

While gathering qualitative data from advocates and community partners to enrich GBLS’ outreach and access efforts, the Fellows simultaneously planned a community event to bring together representatives from organizations and communities serving and comprised of LGBTQ+, BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color), and transitional-age youth. Attendees enjoyed performances by a local drag performer and spoken word artist, and shared experiences and strategies for empowering and impactful service provision.


Greater Boston Legal Services provides free legal assistance in civil (noncriminal) matters to low-income families and individuals in the Greater Boston area, helping people access the basic necessities of life, including shelter, healthcare, and safety from abuse.

Please consider making a gift to GBLS to help make "justice for all" a reality for our most vulnerable neighbors. Thank you for supporting civil legal aid!