Community Action Partnership of the Greater Dayton Area on South Main Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Call CAP — not the cops — during these local life emergencies

Dialing 911 can’t help out in all crises, like when a single mother’s car breaks down and suddenly she has no reliable way to get to work.

Nor can 911 dispatchers prevent a family’s utilities from being shut off for unpaid bills.

But there is a group that specializes in aiding in just these sorts of emergencies — Community Action Partnership of the Greater Dayton Area, which serves several area counties.

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The agency has expanded its services to assist people with legal issues, so that a license suspension or unpaid court fines doesn’t end up putting someone in the unemployment line.

“We help with what we consider to be emergent needs that are potential barriers to employment — either continued employment or access to employment,” said Cherish Cronmiller, who is the new president and CEO of the local CAP.

CAP of the Greater Dayton Area tends to be known for providing utility assistance, which along with weatherization services are the agency’s two largest programs, said Cronmiller, who takes over for John Donnellan, who retired from the agency after 39 years.

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But CAP also gets money from a community services block grant that it uses for emergency services to prevent a one-time, unexpected life event or hardship from harming local residents’ self-sufficiency, she said.

CAP can help if someone’s car breaks down and they do not have money for repairs, which puts his or her job at risk.

The agency can help people who face eviction or are behind on rent or their water bills because of a personal crisis, Cronmiller said. One-time life events include the death of a spouse or a medical crisis.

Last year, CAP provided emergency services to 337 people. This year, CAP has helped people pay rent and utility bills and buy eye glasses and hire an exterminator. The agency also paid for driving classes or car repairs so that clients could get or keep a job.

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Clients must meet certain income eligibility requirements.

In June, CAP launched a legal clinic to help people who need hands-on, one-on-one support navigating the legal system, officials said.

CAP workers will accompany clients to the courthouse to make sure they understand their legal situation, how much they owe in fines and fees and how to get on a payment plan, officials said.

A large number of people who come to CAP for utility assistance do not have driver’s licenses, which limits their abilities to find work, Cronmiller said. CAP has helped multiple residents get their licenses reinstated and driving privileges restored.

CAP also has provided other aid related to record sealing, deed transfer, wrongful eviction and acquiring certificates of qualification for employment.

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CAP’s mission is to partner with local communities to eliminate the causes and conditions of poverty and support individual independence and self-sufficiency, said Donnellan, the agency’s long-time president and CEO who recently retired.

There are more than 1,000 community action agencies nationwide, which are a carryover of the Great Society that President Lyndon Johnson tried to create with a series of poverty-reduction programs, Donnellan said.

The war on poverty is winnable, and the legal clinic is one example of the creative ways that CAP of Dayton continues to try to meet community needs as poverty and the economy continue to change, said the 75-year-old Donnellan.

CAP has offices in a four-county area, including Montgomery, Greene, Darke and Preble. The agency provides weatherization assistance in nine counties.

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