PREBLE COUNTY — Tipp City graduate and Miami County resident Keelie Gustin is using her career to focus on helping others, becoming an advocate for those in need in Preble County.
Gustin recently became the county director for the Preble County Community Action Partnership, which is managed by the Community Action Partnership of Greater Dayton.
Gustin explained that every county in Ohio has a Community Action Partnership that receives state and federal funds in the form of a block grant to provide assistance to those in need in the county, and her responsibility is to manage the one in Preble County.
“My piece of the puzzle is that I’m the director of Preble County, so I oversee how we spend those funds, what services we’re providing in Preble County,” Gustin said.
Gustin graduated from Tipp City High School in 2008, going on to receive her undergraduate degree in sociology and women’s studies from the University of Dayton in 2012 and her law degree from the University of Dayton in 2015. After receiving her law degree, she hit a bit of a crossroads deciding if she wanted to pursue a career as a lawyer or a choose a different path for herself.
“When I got out of law school, I did a little bit of time at private practice. I did some time at Child Support Enforcement in Montgomery County, and I just didn’t want to be a lawyer,” Gustin said. “Nothing about it interested me. It was more the advocacy piece of the law that I liked.”
Gustin said how she was not attracted to the idea of working as a sole practitioner in a small town or working as a member of a large firm doing research, but it was the aspect of helping people that she wanted to embrace further.
“This position provides me with an opportunity to advocate for a certain group of people, which we work mostly with low-income individuals, and to advocate for them for resources to help them improve their quality of life,” Gustin said. “That’s what I liked about it.”
Gustin is also able to utilize her law degree in running the Community Action Partnership.
“This position allows me to use my law degree, which is beneficial when it comes to … writing grants and reading the material they have coming in and interpreting it, but also getting to be an advocate for a group of people that often goes unnoticed in a lot of our counties and communities,” Gustin said.
The people aspect continues to be Gustin’s favorite part of the job, including seeing the relief on people’s faces when they are able to help find a solution to their problem.
“I think just interacting with people overall that are in need of services that we can and do provide is my favorite part,” Gustin said.
Of the resources they offer, Gustin said their main one is utility assistance.
“We work with the utility companies, Vectren and DP&L, to reduce their monthly utility payments while they’re going through a hard time and they don’t have the income to pay it in full,” Gustin said.
People involved in the program also receive a credit to their account to provide them a year of paid utilities to help them get back on their feet and off of needing assistance.
They also provide weatherization services for those in need of insulation or smoke detectors for their home. They also do have emergency food services, but Gustin also mentioned that they have many community groups and churches that also help provide food assistance as well.
One of Gustin’s duties includes also expanding the types of services that they offer.
“Preble County’s unique right now because I get to expand the services and kind of figure out what I want to do with the dollars that we have and what the community needs, so that’s where I’m at right now,” Gustin said.
One of the potential focuses is looking at providing assistance with home improvement and maintenance. Gustin also discussed helping provide assistance with other utilities such as water.
“We’re looking at water assistance. We’re looking into bringing in a group to help rebuild some of the homes over the summers,” Gustin said. “I have a volunteer group looking to come in a few years … to stay for a week, and in that time, the 400 volunteers can renovate up to 60 homes, which is really exciting.”
Their Dayton office is also in the process of opening up a legal clinic, which Gustin said she would like to see modeled in Preble County as well.
“It would be free of charge to the clients and it focuses specifically on employment barriers,” Gustin said. “So individuals that had their driver’s license taken away for some reason and have accrued all these fines, we’re trying to be the middle person and work with the court to get those fines taken away, get their license reinstated, so they can drive to work, so they can go to their jobs.”
The clinic would also be there to help people learn the difference between a felony offense on their record or multiple misdemeanors.
“Clarifying that for them and kind of allowing them to see this is where you fall into the legal puzzle and making those laws a little more accessible, that’s something our vice president is working on at our Dayton office and that I’m really hoping to bring out into Preble County,” Gustin said.
Overall, Gustin hopes to continue on this path on being an advocate for others in the community and finding solutions to people’s needs to help them improve their quality of life.
“It’s a great thing, but it’s a lot of work,” Gustin said.
Gustin also hopes never to stop learning in order to bridge that gap between practical knowledge of working in the field and theoretical knowledge in regard to solving problems for those in need in the community.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336