Local Charities Awarded Money From Lawsuit

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The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court distributed more than $6 million to 226 Ohio charities last Thursday.

As part of a civil action heard by Judge John J. Russo, more than $11 million in total is being distributed by The Honor Project to charities in Ohio.

The Honor Project is a "cy-pres." If there are unclaimed funds in a class action settlement a judge can use the cy-pres doctrine to distribute funds that remain for beneficial use.

The Athens County Habitat for Humanity was one of the charities to receive grant money from The Honor Project – a total of $55,000.

Kenneth Oehlers, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, said the money was major for the organization. The southeastern branch of Habitat for Humanity is in a period of rapid growth, and they plan to use the grant money to make the dream of home ownership possible for ten families.

"We are mainly funded through individual contributions so if you take Athens, for example, Athens County, the average cost to build a home in Athens County is $70,000, which means that we have to get one dollar from every man, woman and child that lives in Athens County," Oehlers said. "A $55,000 grant goes a long way in just one house, but when you divide it into ten houses, you know, $5,000 here, $5,000 there, it really helps us get to the goal of getting those ten houses built."

More than 2,000 charities applied to receive funds, according to Oehlers. The bulk of the charities to receive awards were located in Northeastern Ohio, but Oehlers was quick to point out that the courts distributed money based off of population.

"They tried to spread it as best they could based on the population. I understand that completely."

Among the charities to receive awards, the Ohio Health Appalachian Community Visiting Nurses Association received $35,000. According to Kathy White, an executive assistant for the association, the grant money will be used for staff education, such as special end of life education and training for new nurses, as well as for clients who have chronic conditions that require a lot of medical attention.

The New Beginnings Outreach Ministries received $35,000, which Senior Minister Barry Pelphrey said will be used to help fund the 47 inpatient residents that utilize his drug and alcohol ministry.

"This is the first grant we've ever received. We usually work off of donations, and we don't charge anyone for our services," Pelphrey said. "The judge responsible for this should be commended."

Lyn Mizer, the director of the United Way of Coshocton, received a $12,000 award. She says the money will be used for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program – a free book program from children in Coshocton County in which a child is sent one free book per month in the mail.

The Honor Project resulted from lititgation pursued by the Ohio Attorney General Office in State of Ohio, et al. v. American Internation Group, Inc., et al. Upon settlement of all claims with the Defendants, excess proceeds ("disgorged funds") remained.

Judge Russo, upon the request of the Attorney General's Office, created the Honor Project Cy Pres Initative, which outlined how the funds would be applied for and distributed.

There are three phases to the Honor Project. The first phase included over $2.5 million towards companies involved in litigation and companies who could have suffered damages. In the second phase, almost $2.5 million was provided to companies who agreed to hire new employees in order to reduce Ohio's unemployment rate.

The third and final phase next month involves the distribution of the remaining money to Ohio charities that were selected after an extensive application process.