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Nonprofit Spotlight: Community Legal Aid


Community Legal Aid (CLA) believes that everyone should have access to fairness, equity, and justice. The nonprofit provides free legal advocacy in several areas, from housing and health to immigration rights and tax issues.

Attorneys stand in a courtroom

One example is the HEAL program, a medical-legal partnership that provides critical advocacy for residents who can't afford an attorney or other legal representation. With Akron Community Foundation grant funding, Community Legal Aid provided vital legal services over the past year to 139 Summit County clients to help them resolve civil legal barriers to health and avoid eviction. As part of the HEAL program, CLA partners with health care providers like Akron Children's Hospital, whose pediatric residents were trained by CLA on the social determinants of health and health equity.

"CLA operates within a complex legal system where having representation by an attorney is essential to protecting your rights," said Steven McGarrity, executive director of Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. "CLA is the only organization in our community protecting those rights." 

The HEAL program is just one of the many facets of the nonprofit's mission. CLA also offers classes on wellness, infant mortality, institutional racism, housing and redlining. In addition, the organization works with local families to help avoid adverse childhood experiences, like lead poisoning and bullying.

"It is hard not to be motivated when you see people's lives transformed because of your work," McGarrity added. "Several years ago, a CLA attorney successfully represented a single father who was trying to protect his daughter from sexual abuse from the child's mother and new boyfriend. It was a complex case involving multiple states, medical evidence, and counselors. And this past Christmas Day, the client called the attorney just to leave a voicemail expressing his gratitude for the life-changing legal services CLA provided and to report how well his daughter is doing now that she is protected from abuse. I don't know what could be more motivating than that."

McGarrity said that ACF funding has been pivotal to CLA's work addressing social determinants of health and improving infant vitality, helping to reduce chronic disease in the Greater Akron area. Additionally, "ACF has been a great help in establishing our endowment fund at ACF and providing support and training to grow the endowment," he added.

When asked how community members can best help support CLA's mission, McGarrity said that community members and donors could learn more about the justice gap crisis. "We have laws to protect tenants, domestic violence victims, consumers, veterans, the disabled, seniors, education rights, etc., but most people who need an attorney to protect their rights have no access to an attorney. If more people understood the seriousness of the crisis, there would be more widespread support for addressing it."

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