Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

Promoting equitable access to justice and opportunity for all through research, collaboration, and advocacy

aka Massachusetts Appleseed   |   Boston, MA   |


Our mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. Through research, collaboration, and advocacy, we advance justice and opportunity across an array of complex issues, such as self-representation in the civil justice system, language access for immigrant families, the school-to-prison pipeline, and youth homelessness.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Deborah Silva

Main address

101 Federal Street, Suite 1900

Boston, MA 02110 USA

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NTEE code info

Research Institutes and/or Public Policy Analysis (R05)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (W01)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (B01)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Inequitable laws and policies perpetuate systemic racism, deny justice, cause preventable trauma in our communities, and create barriers that can be impossible to overcome. When marginalized and vulnerable people don’t have access to their legal rights and opportunities because of these barriers, they are unable to achieve their full potential and remain trapped in cycles of poverty and upheaval by the very institutions meant to provide a way out – our courts, schools, and government agencies. We seek systems-level change so all Massachusetts families and youth can exercise their legal rights, build pathways out of poverty and crisis, and achieve meaningful access to essential services and opportunities. By tackling complex problems at the policy and systems level, our work impacts as many people affected as possible across the entire state.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Access to Justice

Inequitable policies and structures in Massachusetts’ legal systems and administrative agencies have worsened disparities between wealthy and poor litigants and contribute to unjust outcomes based on an individual’s race or English language proficiency. MA Appleseed identifies how we can hold these systems accountable and ensure all MA residents have equitable access to legal rights and protection through two key areas: court reform and language access. Our court reform projects aim to empower low-income, unrepresented litigants to successfully navigate the civil justice system and achieve a fair outcome, with a particular interest in the role technology can play. With respect to language access, we seek to ensure all families interacting with state agencies can receive information and services in the language they speak. This work includes research and advocacy focused on the child welfare system, where a lack of language access can lead to the wrongful separation of families.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people

The school-to-prison pipeline pushes students towards the juvenile and criminal justice systems, rather than providing them with support and care. Through zero-tolerance policies, the deployment of police to patrol school hallways, and the criminalization of disorderly behavior, schools do not represent institutions of learning for many students. Rather, they are the starting point of a long, painful relationship with the criminal justice system. Harsh discipline practices are disproportionately applied, as students of color and students with disabilities are excluded and arrested at much higher rates. MA Appleseed works with educators, young people, and coalition partners to protect students’ rights, promote racial justice, and keep all students in class where they are safe, supported, and available for learning. Currently, we’re focusing on the disproportionate discipline experienced by girls of color and the damaging impact of exclusionary discipline on MA’s youngest students.

Population(s) Served
At-risk youth

Young people experiencing homelessness and chronic poverty face unique barriers to housing, education, healthcare services, and more. Youth of color, youth in foster care, immigrant youth, survivors of abuse and neglect, and youth identifying as members of the LGBTQ+ community are overrepresented within this population and face daily challenges to achieve safety and stability. We provide policy recommendations, advocate for greater investment in supportive services, and develop resources to ease systemic barriers that harm vulnerable young people. The LEAP (Legal Education, Advocacy, and Protections) Project for Youth Experiencing Homelessness builds off the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, our online know-your-rights guide for youth experiencing homelessness developed in collaboration with pro bono and community partners.

Population(s) Served
At-risk youth
Young adults
LGBTQ people
Homeless people

Each legislative session, the Board of Directors at MA Appleseed selects and approves a limited number of legislative and budget initiatives to support. These bills and budget line items aim to increase access to justice, disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, and support youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. Often working with statewide coalitions, we view the State House as a vehicle to enact sweeping change on a broad scale and fully fund the services our most vulnerable communities rely on.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
At-risk youth

Where we work

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of research or policy analysis products developed, e.g., reports, briefs

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Holding steady

Estimated number of supportive policies secured for the sector

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

At-risk youth, Economically disadvantaged people, Immigrants and migrants

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Holding steady

Context Notes

MA Appleseed is an active member of the coalitions that helped pass these policies.

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

We take our work wherever we believe we can do the most good, whether that’s in the courthouse, at the State House, in schools, or in the community.

Access to Justice
•Organize leaders across the legal community and collaborate with the Trial Court to create a comprehensive online legal help center that empowers unrepresented, low-income litigants to successfully navigate the civil justice system
•Improve court practices and processes in virtual hearings to ensure vulnerable litigants can fully participate in their hearings, achieve a fair outcome, and avoid exploitation
•Continue coalition-led efforts to advance legislation that would strengthen language access at state agencies across the Commonwealth and ban disparate impact discrimination committed by state agencies and other government entities
•Compel the federal government to enforce federally-mandated language access in the Massachusetts child welfare system, preventing the wrongful separation of immigrant and limited English proficient families

Educational Justice
•Promote youth-identified policy solutions to reduce disciplinary disparities between girls of color and their white counterparts, as well as raise awareness of the discriminatory discipline girls of color face and the traumatic effects it has on their well-being and academic success
•Educate policymakers about and advance legislation to combat the harmful effects of suspension, expulsion, and school-based arrest on students in pre-K through 3rd grade
•Disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by effecting positive policy change that creates safe, welcoming, and supportive schools for all students

Youth Homelessness
•Continue to strengthen and conduct outreach and trainings on the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, our online know-your-rights guide for youth experiencing homelessness
•Assist in the creation of a stronger legal safety net that helps youth experiencing homelessness better navigate day-to-day and long-term problems on their journey towards safety and stability

MA Appleseed fights to expand equitable access to justice and opportunity for Massachusetts families and youth through multiple strategies, including policy analysis and research, coalition building, education and training, community organizing, and advocacy.

We research and identify the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents and collaborate with community partners to identify solutions and advocate for their implementation. Operating as a critical resource for peer organizations and policymakers, we work in partnership with communities to shape policy, convene stakeholders, and advance initiatives that move us closer to a Massachusetts that is just, equitable, and inclusive. Our mission is intentionally expansive, enabling us to remain dynamic, respond to emerging and enduring issues of injustice, and go where our communities need us most. We bring data collection and robust analysis, broad networks of partners, and pro bono legal support to our advocacy. Throughout our work, we are guided by our commitment to centering the lives and voices of people most affected.

With a dedicated staff, community partners invested in MA Appleseed's work, pro bono partners who expand our capacity, and effective relationships with policymakers at the statewide level, we are uniquely well-positioned to accomplish our goals. By leveraging partnerships within the legal and court systems and among service providers, we have continued to push past project milestones and enact substantial change for our communities.

For 30 years, MA Appleseed has successfully produced powerful solutions to our states most pervasive social justice problems. Examples of MA Appleseeds impact and project milestones include the following:
We investigated the harm cell phone bans at courthouses cause civil litigants who cannot afford an attorney, published our 2018 report, Cell Phones in the Courthouse: An Access to Justice Perspective, and successfully advocated for the elimination of these unjust bans.
Our 2019 report, Turning on the Lights: How the Massachusetts Trial Court Could Deploy a Virtual Court Service Center to Assist Self-Represented Litigants, provides a roadmap for creating an online legal help center that would empower the thousands of people facing civil legal crises alone to successfully navigate the courts and achieve a fair outcome. This report has continued to serve as a go-to resource during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trial Court has released plans to create a comprehensive online portal to provide legal help for unrepresented litigants that aligns with what is envisioned in our report.
Our 2021 report, Families Torn Apart: Language-Based Discrimination at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, exposed the Massachusetts child welfare systems failure to provide language access to immigrant and limited English proficient families a failure that denies parents their right to due process, increases the likelihood that they will be separated from their children, and leaves children traumatized.
Policy recommendations from our 2012 report, Keep Kids in Class: New Approaches to School Discipline, were incorporated into state law.
We successfully advanced provisions to decriminalize nonviolent incidents of student misconduct and clarify the roles of school resource officers to ensure their inclusion in the states landmark 2018 criminal justice reform law.
We translated and reprinted our know-your-rights resource, When My Child is Disciplined at School: A Guide for Massachusetts Families, to make it accessible in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole, and distributed more than 450 copies to community partners, attorneys, and social service providers.
In 2020, we published a collaborative report with fellow Appleseed Centers, Protecting Girls of Color from the School-to-Prison Pipeline, detailing the disproportionate discipline that unjustly pushes Black girls out of their classrooms. The Massachusetts Congressional Delegation issued letters to Governor Charlie Baker and then-U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, citing our report and urging action to address the disciplinary disparities impacting girls of color that it laid bare.
With pro bono and community partners, we developed the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, an online know-your-rights guide with 20+ chapters to help youth experiencing homelessness overcome legal barriers and achieve safety, stability, and self-sufficiency.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We take steps to get feedback from marginalized or under-represented people, We aim to collect feedback from as many people we serve as possible, We act on the feedback we receive

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?


Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

Board of directors
as of 02/26/2024
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Melanie Todman

Mass General Brigham

Christopher Hoyle


Carolyn E. Crowley

Eastern Bank

Micah W. Miller


Amy M. Karp

Martha Mazzone

Center for Advancing the American Dream

Jennifer A. Sunderland

Sunderland Law LLC

Melanie L. Todman

Mass General Brigham

John A. Shutkin

Jessica L. Ellis

Samuel R. Gates

Hirsch Roberts Weinstein LLP

Alison V. Douglass

Goodwin Procter LLP

Wesley T. Gee

ArentFox Schiff LLP

Laura E. Martin


David A. Michel

Sherin and Lodgen LLP

Michelle R. Pascucci

Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar, LLP

Peter P. Tobani

Liberty Mutual Insurance

Kerry L. Timbers

Sunstein LLP

Ryan LaRue


Carolin Hetzner

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? No
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 2/12/2024

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender
Sexual orientation
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or other sexual orientations in the LGBTQIA+ community
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

Transgender Identity

Sexual orientation


We do not display disability information for organizations with fewer than 15 staff.

Equity strategies

Last updated: 05/27/2022

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We analyze disaggregated data and root causes of race disparities that impact the organization's programs, portfolios, and the populations served.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.