Anthony McCoy* was desperately trying to do the right thing. Like so many parents of children suffering from substance use disorder, Anthony and his wife, Brenda, were doing everything in their power to help their son. Although the McCoys had limited financial resources, they were willing to put every penny they had toward trying to save their child, even if it meant falling behind on their bills.

For so many Americans living in poverty, one crisis can set off a compounding ripple effect of stress. When the McCoys couldn’t pay their property taxes, they received a foreclosure notice on their home, which they had worked hard to own. Already down on their luck, their problems grew when Mr. McCoy was in a car accident. Unable to keep current on his car insurance, Mr. McCoy’s driver’s license was suspended because he was uninsured, limiting his ability to work and support his family.

January is National Poverty Awareness Month, an initiative to raise awareness and call attention to poverty in America. The Foundation is joining the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation’s National Poverty Awareness Month campaign, highlighting how access to civil legal services is imperative to eliminating poverty. Legal aid is a crucial tool for ensuring safe housing, protecting children and adult survivors of violence, and securing essential earned benefits.

In 2022, Ohio’s legal aids helped more than 132,000 low-income Ohioans with civil legal challenges. Legal aid helps prevent problems from spiraling by ensuring people can access professional advice, information, and representation to resolve civil legal issues to live safer, more stable, and financially secure lives.

When Mr. McCoy reached out to legal aid, he thought he was out of options. Fortunately, his legal aid attorney offered the professional help the McCoys needed. Legal aid helped Mr. McCoy file for bankruptcy, which removed the barriers he faced in reinstating his driver’s license. With a path back to a legal license, Mr. McCoy could continue to work and support his family. The bankruptcy also paused the foreclosure, giving the McCoys time to address the taxes so they could stay in their family home. Thanks to legal aid, the McCoys are stable and can continue helping their son.

This January, let’s remember that equal participation in our civil legal system is essential to eliminating poverty. As the activist, lawyer, and author Bryan Stevenson observed, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”

*Name and photo have been changed to protect client privacy.

The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation is the largest funder of civil legal services in Ohio. A gift to the Foundation supports legal aid’s work.