Staff Highlight: Arleen Berrios

Arleen Berrios has been with GLS for (almost) seventeen years and currently serves as the paralegal for the housing unit. Arleen has been extra busy since the COVID-19 pandemic began, taking on dozens of extra calls and working hard to make sure clients and community members feel supported. We are so proud of her dedication to her work, especially during these trying times.

Arleen was born in Long Island but moved to Puerto Rico at age eleven. Her mother was originally from the island and as their neighborhood in New Jersey grew more unstable and violent, she made the choice to move her and her children back to where she’d grown up in Cayey, Puerto Rico.

Cayey derives its name from the Taino Indian word for “a place of waters.” It is located in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges and is known for its cool weather and misty mornings, especially in winter. Arleen loved living in Cayey. Her family lived along the riverbanks and she frequently played outside and along the water.

In middle and high school, Arleen kept mostly to herself and focused on her schoolwork. She was “very disciplined,” and liked studying. Her favorite subject was Spanish. Having grown up in New Jersey, her school in Puerto Rico helped her learn about her native language’s culture and history.

After graduating, Arleen went on to attend National University College of Puerto Rico – Instituta de Banca y Comercio (Institute of Banking and Commerce) to obtain a Certificate in Office Administration. As soon as she graduated, Arleen’s mom passed away from cancer. She had been living in Florida for treatment, so Arleen sold everything she owned and moved to Florida with her two small children. She was the only one in her family that could speak English, so she immediately went out and found a job at a plant nursery. She was there for eleven years until they shut down.

In 2003, she came across an open position at GLS. She had always wanted to work in a helping profession – “That’s what drives me.” – and GLS seemed to be a good fit. She hadn’t known that free civil legal aid existed before then and was thrilled by the idea that she could be a part of an organization that helped people who otherwise would face their legal challenges alone.

After her interview, she was told she would hear back within two weeks, but by the time she got home, there was a message on her phone with a job offer. She began at the front desk and took it upon herself to learn everything she could. She describes herself as someone with a “Type A personality,” who likes to know everything about everything. It has served her well. As the receptionist, she had to know about all the units. She learned every grant and billing code. This knowledge is part of what makes her so valuable as a paralegal today.

Since then, Arleen has worked in almost every unit. She loves GLS because she is passionate about housing and finds it gratifying to help people avoid homelessness. “Eviction is such a large problem in Pinellas,” she says. “With so much happening, it’s rewarding to see your work save at least one person.”

Outside of work, Arleen stays busy with her family. She is a homebody and spends a lot of time with her daughter. She is also raising her grandson, Jimmy. He is autistic and they have faced many challenges together but she says that raising him has been incredibly rewarding. “He gives me so much joy.”

Her hopes for GLS are that we continue to grow and reach as many clients as possible. She also has a special passion for prison and reentry reform, and hopes to see GLS start a program addressing some of those issues, especially the fines and fees that impact returning citizens.

Arleen is the definition of reliable. She is the heart and soul of her unit. They can’t praise her enough for her hardworking nature and her investigation skills! She has also been instrumental in providing the GLS grant writer with historical knowledge, unit specifics, case stories, and pretty much anything needed to write a successful grant.

Thank you for your seventeen years of service, Arleen! We love you!