Community Legal Aid Adjusts Focus to 5 Key Areas

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In light of the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, the Community Legal Aid board of trustees has passed a resolution turning the nonprofit’s focus to five areas for the remainder of the year.

The five focus areas are preventing evictions, removing barriers to employment, building financial assets, assisting with debt relief and protecting victims of violence.

“We’re taking a hard look at the areas in people’s lives that are being most affected right now, like their jobs and ability to pay rent,” said Executive Director Steven McGarrity in a statement. “Our hope is to focus our expertise in ways that can help people struggling with these issues — like by helping people who may be having trouble getting unemployment or other public benefits that can make all the difference right now.”

Board President Dionne Dowdy added that Community Legal Aid is working to address racial injustice that has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks.

“First and foremost, we want people to know that we strongly support our black community, always, but especially during this time,” she said. “Our core mission is ‘justice,’ and that’s just not possible to achieve in a culture of racism and structural inequality.”

The nonprofit is examining its advocacy efforts through the lens of racial justice, Dowdy and McGarrity said. In the coming months, board members will re-examine Community Legal Aid’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies and initiatives, as well as work with a consultant to identify gaps in its services and organizational culture.

“I don’t think we’re any different from any other nonprofit grappling with this issue, or that we have it all figured out,” Dowdy said. “On the contrary, I think we have a long way to go. But one thing we can do is take a look at our own bias, our own structure, our own processes, and ask ourselves: How can we do better?”

All staff members will be participating fully in the review, McGarrity said.

“When we started these conversations shortly after I became director, we knew it was going to be a long road,” he said. “Race is a hard thing to talk about. And as a white man, I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I also know that it’s critical for us to be conscious of these issues and willing to confront and address them, not just internally, but within our community, if we’re going to have any chance of breaking down these systems that perpetuate inequality.”

Anyone in need of legal help can apply anytime at or by calling its HelpLine at 800 998 9454.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.