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Each year Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, and the Toledo Bar Association host the Access to Justice Awards Dinner and Ceremony to recognize extraordinary service in the public interest and community advocacy. Individuals and organizations in northwest Ohio are honored for their outstanding contributions to promoting and providing access to justice for underprivileged and underserved people.

Please save the date for Thursday, June 20 for this year’s dinner at The Pinnacle in Maumee. A VIP reception will kick off the festivities at 6:00 p.m., followed by a public reception at 6:30 p.m., with the dinner and awards ceremony starting at 7:00 p.m.

Education reform activist, Erin Gruwell, is the featured keynote speaker at this year's Access to Justice Awards Dinner and Ceremony.

Education reform activist, Erin Gruwell, is the featured keynote speaker at this year's Access to Justice Awards Dinner and Ceremony.

This year's featured keynote speaker is Erin Gruwell. Ms. Gruwell is a teacher, author, and education reform activist who has been fighting for social justice for over two decades.

Gruwell first gained national attention in 1998 when she and 150 of her students appeared on an ABC special — “PrimeTime Live” — with Connie Chung. Ms. Gruwell’s students, affectionately called the Freedom Writers, came from backgrounds of poverty, gangs, and violence, and many were at risk of dropping out of school and becoming part of the school-to-prison pipeline. However, under Ms. Gruwell’s guidance, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and pursued higher education.

In 1999, Ms. Gruwell and the Freedom Writers published their book, “The Freedom Writers Diary,” which detailed their unique journey from hardship to hope. The book was a #1 New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a major motion picture, “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank as Ms. Gruwell. The film brought her work to an even wider audience, and she has since used her platform to continue to fight for equity and inclusion with her nonprofit, the Freedom Writers Foundation.

Ms. Gruwell’s work has been recognized with several humanitarian awards, including the Spirit of Anne Frank Award. She and the Freedom Writers have appeared on multiple shows to promote education reform, including, “Oprah,” “The View,” “Good Morning America,” and NBC’s “TODAY.”

We are very pleased to have Ms. Gruwell share her story with our guests at this year’s Access to Justice event.

The 2024 Public Interest Law Award recipient is the Honorable Michelle Wagner, the presiding and administrative judge of the Toledo Municipal Court. Judge Wagner implemented the court’s Driver’s License Reinstatement docket in 2013. Designed to help citizens navigating the BMV system to clear various blocks on their driver’s licenses and retest so they can receive valid driver’s licenses, the Driver’s License Reinstatement docket has helped hundreds of Lucas County residents regain their driving privileges and overcome hurdles such as reinstatement fees and license suspensions.

The Honorable Ian B. English is receiving a 2024 Community Advocacy Award for leading the life-changing Treatment Court, a specialized docket certified by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Treatment Court team, led by Judge English, educates program participants, and assists those who experience overdoses. The Treatment Court has diverted several low-level substance use-involved offenders to community-based treatment rather than incarceration. Through its innovative programming, the Treatment Court has helped community members with homelessness, employment, education, driver's license reinstatement, and generally experiencing a better quality of life.

A second 2024 Community Advocacy Award will go to Mom’s House, a nonprofit dedicated to guiding at-risk single parents through the process of achieving educational goals and providing parents with the critical tools and resources they need to provide safe and stable environments for their families. Mom’s House is led by Executive Director Christina Rodriguez, an active citizen and volunteer known throughout the community for her advocacy for underserved families. Under Christina’s leadership, Mom’s House has expanded its reach and formed partnerships with other social service agencies such as Sisters-in-Law and Habitat for Humanity.

Those looking to be inspired by this year’s keynote speaker and award recipients can purchase individual tickets online at

Current sponsors at the Associate and Partner Sponsorship levels are The Ability Center, Area Office on Aging, R. Jeffrey & Kathleen Bixler, Bowling Green State University, Dana Incorporated, Eastman & Smith, Gallon, Takacs & Boissoneault Co., LPA, Greater Toledo Community Foundation, Malone, Ault & Farell, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, Marshall & Melhorn, LLC, Ohio Access to Justice Foundation, Owens Corning, Owens-Illinois, RCO Law, Schaffer & Associates, LPA, Shumaker, Spengler Nathanson, the Trust Company Family Offices, University of Toledo College of Law. Nationwide Children’s Hospital-Toledo is a Community Partner for this event.

For more information, contact Carmen Vega-Pérez at ABLE: (419) 930-2515 or