Education

Taft Neighborhood Improvements Celebrated

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Public and private officials gathered Tuesday morning near Taft Elementary School to celebrate the completion of federally funded infrastructure improvements.

The improvements, funded through the Safe Routes to School program, is one of a series planned for neighborhoods near elementary schools within the city over the next few years, said Tom Hetrick, planner with Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. YNDC, the city of Youngstown and the Youngstown City School District are partners in the project.

In 2015, Youngstown was awarded $200,000 toward funding $250,000 in infrastructure improvements, among them replacing broken sidewalk squares, installing new sidewalks and new signage, said Ian Beniston, executive director of Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. The goal is to make it safer for children to walk, ride their bicycles and otherwise get to school by other than a car or bus, he said.

YNDC, working with Youngstown and the school district, wrote the grant application that secured the funding for the improvements.

The program has been in place since 2005, said Christine Surma, Safe Routes to School program coordinator who worked with the Ohio Department of Development. ODOD receives federal funds for the program and then distributes the funds by assessing the merit of the applications. The 2015 funding round is the first year Youngstown received funding, she said.

The program is “looking at getting kids to be involved in active transportation,” Surma said. “They do note obesity rates and they look at it from that health side, too,” she added.

ODOD chose the Taft neighborhood because the school had the highest enrollment of students who live in the neighborhood. “So that means a majority of the students live within walking distance.” Beniston said.

“It’s a competitive statewide grant program. We’ve secured funding for the next two to three years,” he said. “You’ll be seeing improvements like this to the tune of near $1 million the next three years around other elementary schools.”

The infrastructure improvements near Taft Elementary are one component of the Taft Promise Neighborhood initiative, which is designed to bring “wraparound services” to students, families and residents, said Diane Gonda, an AmeriCorps Vista — Volunteers in Service to America — representative who works with the neighborhood.

“This is part of a broader effort to improve the neighborhood, not only for the residents but for the children, to provide them with an environment where they can succeed not only at school but in life,” Beniston said. The initiative also includes demolition efforts in the neighborhood and improvements to nearby Homestead Park.

The Taft initiative, Gonda said, has four councils — education, health and wellness, infrastructure and safety and citizen advisory.

“Within those councils, our coalition partners have surveyed the residents to find out what the needs are” and come up with programming to address those needs, she continued.

Youngstown City Schools CEO Krish Mohip applauded the city for making the schools a priority. Youngstown has several infrastructure issues that need to be addressed, and directing the “limited resources” available to the schools “shows that this city understands that our children are our most important resource,” he said.

Pictured at top: Mayor John McNally, Diane Gonda of the Taft Promise Neighborhood, Krish Mohip, CEO, Youngstown City Schools; Basia Adamczak, 7th Ward Council, and Ian Beniston, executive director, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.