Dayton Area Leaders To Be Honored For Service To Community
Several community leaders are being honored for their work providing decades of assistance to underserved residents in Dayton. The honorees will be part of the Access To Justice awards ceremony taking place at Sinclair Community College on Thursday, November 14, 2019 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
The Awards are presented annually by the law firms Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. (LAWO). The firms have partnered with the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project (GDVLP).
To get the details on this year’s award recipients, we spoke with ABLE Director of Development and Communications, Karla Garrett Harshaw:
Karla Garrett Harshaw: ABLE and LAWO are the nonprofit law firms of this community that serve economically disadvantaged people. We assist with helping them to avoid homeless, for instance, by avoiding evictions. We assist in preparing civil protection orders to keep survivors of domestic violence safe. We assist senior citizens being abused. We handle health care benefits, education issues, and also assist with defending the rights of immigrants and migrant workers as well.
All funds raised locally are used to provide free legal assistance to economically disadvantaged people of this community while located in Dayton for more than 50 years now, we're headquartered in Toledo and cover 32 counties in northwest Ohio.
Jerry Kenney: Some of those mission highlights that you mention are tied to the economy, and we've had some fairly good economic news in recent months, but I imagine this is something that is a constant for your organization and a mission that you will always have in front of you.
KGH: And that's unfortunate. But the reality is that many people in our community are living lives that we don't even know. There are people who are barely getting by, would not have the money to afford even an attorney to assist them in a time of need. So we see this as an opportunity to provide access to justice for disadvantaged people as well as for communities, because we handle individual cases, but we also handle systemic cases that may be affecting large numbers of people in the community.
In fact, one of our programs this year has focused on community lawyering, where we're going into neighborhoods, actually asking them what problems they see that are hindering their advancement. Interestingly enough, this year, driver's license suspensions was a big one. That's also now being identified by the state that's provided a driver's license amnesty program. We're sponsoring another clinic to even address that and assist people coming up just this Friday, in fact, on the 8th, but the problem is that the reinstatement fees have been so high that many people who meager means have a very difficult time paying those fees, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars. And that restricts them from having jobs or get a childcare, taking advantage of educational opportunities and even getting to doctors and getting groceries. So, we try to assist in any way that we can. The idea is to help stabilize people's lives so they can become as productive as they possibly can in the community. And that ends up being a service to the larger community because there's less dependence at that point on public assistance.
JK: Well, with 32 county coverage of all of the work that you do, you've got to have quite a large team, and coming up, you've got the Access to Justice Awards celebration, which will celebrate the work of three people. Before we talk a little bit about each one of those representatives, can you tell us a little bit about the selection process and how you choose to present this award?
KGH: Entries for the Access to Justice awards are submitted by the public. OK. And we ask if they submit entries for people who have done extraordinary things to help underserved residents of our area. We give a lawyer here a public interest law award to an attorney who's gone beyond to help with disadvantaged people. We also provide the Patricia Rousseau Community Advocacy Award, and it's named for deceased now attorney who wasn't the exceptional advocate for low income people. And we also provide the Community Impact Award to an individual or organization that's had a longtime impact on community development or initiatives that would help people to be stable and move forward in their lives.
JK: And the recipients of that community impact award this year are the Reverend Darryl Ward and Reverend Vanessa Ward - church pastors emeritus at Omega Baptist Church.
KGH: The selection committee was made up of people from the commune, leaders from the community, they very were very enthusiastic about selecting them because they have had a hand in so many things that have had a long term impact on this community, and just this year decided to retire from those but continue to be active in the community. They're engaged and even developing new housing stock in depressed areas, providing educational assistance for children involved in the health care arena as well, and are just fantastic inspirations to many people, very accessible and always engaged and helping to further develop our community and the people who live here.
JK: And they've been doing that work for many years here in the Miami Valley.
KGH: Oh, absolutely, for a very long time.
JK: The recipient of the Patricia Rousseau Community Advocacy Award is Dr. Gary Leroy, and he's being presented with this for his outstanding community service and assistance to disadvantaged people. Tell us a little bit more about Dr. Leroy.
KGH: Well, his professional position is as Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Admissions at Wright State's Boone's Blanchard School of Medicine. And there he has been an inspiration to many of the students who come on board. In fact, he's actually a graduate of that medical school as well. But in addition to that, he has devoted endless hours of civic engagement in the community, whether through foundations or in the medical practice, where he still provides medical services at the East Dayton Health Clinic, which is a part of the Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton. He was also selected to be one of the people to help in determining who would receive financial assistance following the mass shootings that unfortunately occurred in the Oregon District this year. He is certainly known far and wide in our community for all of his activities and sincere engagement in what he does and also happens that he's serving as the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
JK: And your final category is the Lloyd O'Hare, Public Interest Law award, and that will be awarded to a lawyer who has been helping people that our station has been particularly concerned with and done work within the past -disabled and veterans as well.
KGH: Yes. In fact, I was enthusiastic to learn about him. He was recommended by an associate in his firm because of how conscientious he is and reaching out in any way he can to help disabled and homeless veterans, even to the extent that he has provided pro bono assistance to them, just to make sure that they are receiving the help that he needs. These are people who have served our country, who find themselves on hard times and may not be getting the kind of legal help that they need to be able to move forward. Michael Rake has taken that charge on himself and has certainly dedicated an awful lot of practice of his practice to making sure that they are served.
JK: Obviously, you're utilizing people with a lot of knowhow, a lot of knowledge and a lot of care about the communities that they live and work in. How does your organization foster that as you move into the future with maybe, perhaps increased needs from the community? I'm assuming you're always on the lookout for people who might want to help your organization.
KGH: Often people ask, are we volunteers? And we are not. Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, our partner and nonprofit law firms that depend heavily on the support of the community through financial assistance to operate. Not only do we accept donations through our campaign for equal justice or general donations throughout the year, we also receive grant support. So, if there are foundations or major donors who have an interest in supporting our cause, we would really like to hear from them. And we also partner with the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project that coordinates assistance from community attorneys who are willing to devote some time to assist with some of our cases. So, we encourage people to be in contact with us if they're interested in helping. They can contact me, and we would be very happy to have their assistance.
JK: Well, great people can meet these honorees at the Access to Justice Awards celebration that will be held on Thursday, November 14, 2019 from 5:30 to 8:00PM at Sinclair Community College Conference Center, and how can people find out a little bit more information if they wish to attend?
KGH: Well, if they would like to purchase tickets for this event, they can go to www.campaign4equaljustice.org/a2J-2019.
JK: We've been speaking with Karla Garrett Harshaw with ABLE and LAWO. Karla, thanks so much for your time.
KGH: Thank you very much.