In less than a decade, Jesus Salas quietly has become one of the most respected and most sought-after members of Toledo's Hispanic community.
The lawyer and Texas native arrived here nine years ago to work for what was then called Advocates for Basic Legal Services. In that time, he has donated seemingly countless hours of services to nonprofit and community groups.
In a part of the country where few lawyers are Hispanic, Mr. Salas has made himself available beyond the call of duty, co-workers and community leaders say.
“He has been an important role model,” said Angelita Cruz-Bridges, who works with Mr. Salas at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality as well as with the Lucas County Latino Democratic Caucus. “It's been valuable for young people like me to see him out there. He's not just an attorney, but an attorney who's active in the community and who has really given back.”
Mr. Salas, who is ABLE's managing attorney, said his job is more about causes than the grind of a workplace.
“I enjoy trying to address the needs of poor people, as well as their concerns and issues,” Mr. Salas said. “Believe it or not, Toledo is not much different from most other cities.
“My job is to push the envelope. We're doing a lot of work in health-care delivery, but what we try to do is open up systems for those who have been shut out of them.”
For several years, ABLE has been out front on the issues of health and public agencies providing interpreters for their clients, issues Mr. Salas said have been resolved in other parts of the country for years.
Mr. Salas has worked 24 years for legal services agencies in Texas, Montana, Oregon, and Massachusetts. He was in the Boston area when he learned about the opening at ABLE.
“ABLE has a national reputation in the legal services community,” Mr. Salas said. “It was one of the first organizations to file suit against the fire and police departments for hiring women and minorities. It was like the gold standard. I knew of ABLE and applied for an opening here nine years ago.”
Mr. Salas grew up in El Paso, Texas, where he played high school basketball. He was coached by Nolan Richardson, who later won an NCAA national championship in 1994 for the University of Arkansas.
From there, Mr. Salas went to the University of Oregon, where he received his bachelor's degree in sociology/psychology and his law degree. He also studied at Oxford University in England and lived for 10 years in Mexico.
Mr. Salas said he has found his legal services work very rewarding and often encourages youths to enter the field. He said the field offers a way to have a strong impact on people's lives.
“I try to open the door to let them know what it would be like,” Mr. Salas said. “If people come to us, we don't mind mentoring. Working with poor people takes a real commitment. Poor people always need legal help.”
“I think that sort of collaboration with the African-American community is important,” Mr. Salas said. “Instead of our money going outside of our community all the time, this is a chance that we can recycle it within our own community.”
Mr. Salas has shared his skills, serving on the Toledo branch NAACP's Legal Redress Committee and the Thurgood Marshall Law Association.
Joe Tafelski, the longtime executive director of ABLE, said Mr. Salas has forever left an imprint not only in the Hispanic community, but the agency itself.
“People look to him for his leadership,” Mr. Tafelski said. “He's always able to see the big picture. He has been an excellent advocate and really a key asset to us.”
Mr. Salas has offered his expertise as a board or committee member to the Toledo Botanical Garden, Adelante, Inc., the Ohio Supreme Court Racial Fairness Committee, and the Regional Transportation Study Committee.
Mr. Salas, who has been married for 14 years, said he enjoys being a role model to his sons, ages 9 and 11.