ABLE, Nonprofit Provides Legal Assistance to Low-Income Individuals

One area organization is working to make Ohio’s justice system fair and equal to all by providing free legal services to the most vulnerable members of our population.

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, or ABLE, connects people undergoing civil law cases with legal aid who may not be able to afford legal services. 

The organization focuses solely on civil cases, assisting and advocating for people going through housing, medical, education and other civil issues. The organization also works to assist agriculture workers and immigrant families with civil proceedings including issues with immigration and deportation. 

“On the criminal side. If you don’t have (a lawyer) and you don’t have the resources, then the state provides a public defender. Right?” Makiedah Messam, executive director of ABLE, said. “But there’s no equivalent for that on the civil side, and this is where we come in.”

“Under the Constitution, we are in our Bill of Rights. We are given the right to an attorney if we’re being accused of a crime right. That’s not necessarily clearly stated. Anywhere else like that, in these everyday matters,” Emily Desmond, Communication Specialist for ABLE, added.

Currently the firm is advocating for tenants of mobile-homes that were affected by the recent tornadoes in west-central Ohio.

“We’re filing suit on behalf of persons who live in a mobile home park to ensure that after this recent tornadoes that the owners have been mobile, live up to their responsibilities. visa vie our clients who are residents of the park,” Messam said.

The organization is not only working to provide legal aid to people in need but to empower communities to advocate for themselves as well in non-legal matters.

“I think in this pioneering firm we’re doing a lot more now to focus on what we call ‘community lawyering’ and the idea is not to swoop down and be savior,” Messam said. “The idea behind is to empower communities to be their own best advocates.”

“Because not everything faced by communities can be won in a court of law. But one of the unique things that we do in using our knowledge of the law is we can help them navigate,” Messam added.

The non-profit provides their legal and advocacy services to those that fall below the federal poverty line, which is $18,825 for a single person, with an additional $7,000 allotted for each family member. 

“There are about 425,000 persons living with what we’re calling ‘limited income’ in Northwest and Central Ohio. So that’s a big number. And currently, Ohio has 241 Legal Aid advocates which translates really to one Legal Aid advocate for every 6200 low income persons. So we are called on to serve a large demographic,” Messam said.

If you fall outside of the federal poverty line but are still in need of legal assistance, ABLE can provide materials to those interested in representing themselves in court.

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The work ABLE does stretches farther than Northwest and Central Ohio. ABLE serves low-income individuals and families in 32 Ohio counties, from Lucas County here in Toledo to Dayton in Montgomery County, however, the organization’s agricultural and immigrant work covers the entire state of Ohio.

“With the immigration and agricultural workers, we are a statewide program. And we are the largest legal aid program in the state covering the most amount of counties,” Desmond said. “There are other organizations like ours in other parts of the state, but we have our kind of slice of the state that we take care of.”

The organization is holding a fundraising event in Toledo on Thursday, June 20 at The Pinnacle in Maumee starting at 6:30 pm. The Access to Justice Awards Dinner and Celebration will include a special key-note speaker presentation, dinner, reception and awards ceremony where they will honor several community members and the work that they are doing, Christina Rodriguez, the director of Mom’s House as well as two local judges, Judge Ian B. English and the Judge Michelle Wagner.

This year’s key-note speaker is Erin Gruwell, award winning teacher, author and education reform activist, notably known for the Freedom Writers Project

“She is a person who has made a difference and she wants to keep making a difference,” Messam said.

Tickets to the event can be purchased on the website for $150. Tables and sponsorships are also available. 

Because the organization provides free legal services, the non-profit relies on fundraisers and donations to continue serving the people in our communities. Donations to the non-profit firm can be made on their website.

“We want to call attention to the work, not as self aggrandizing and not as praise for ourselves. But just to encourage people who can, to give so that we can assist or have our own community. We can assist our community in promoting stable families, stable homes,” Messam said. “We would like to help as many people as we can.”

For more information on ABLE, visit