Our Towns

21st Streetscape Draws Nearly 600 Volunteers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Saturday was a busy day in Youngstown as nearly 600 volunteers turned out for the annual downtown planting and cleanup event on an overcast morning.

“This is exactly what we had in mind 21 years ago,”  said Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, as she addressed volunteers at a breakfast before they got to work.

As Letson noted, a parade and the annual Riverfest also took place Saturday.

Volunteers at the annual event, which is in its 21st year this year, take part in cleanup and planting activities throughout downtown and around it. Workers from the city’s wastewater department spray sidewalks clean and power wash the liners in trash cans.

“This is an event that many of you, like myself, anticipate,” said Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown. “We love to get out and show people how we work together.”

Known as Streetscape, it serves as an informal kickoff to summer in the city, Brown said. It also gives people the opportunity to come together, meet individuals from around the area and begin the beautification process downtown.

“Winter is gone. Now it’s time to start growing flowers and making it look clean and green for our visitors who come to the city,” he remarked.

“Streetscape Superheroes” was this year’s theme, and volunteers wore red-and-blue shirts with a logo modeled on the classic Superman logo.

About 60% of Streetscape’s volunteers are from local businesses and organizations, while the remainder are residents from throughout the region who want to participate.

Home Savings Bank was among the area companies represented Saturday, with seven employees volunteering. Among them was Lou Joseph, senior vice president of real estate facilities.

“It’s critical that we’re involved with anything CityScape does to help promote the city and make it look good,” he said.

Joseph said he was born and raised in Youngstown and pointed out Home Savings has been an institution downtown for more than a centur.

“It’s important to give back to the community and to continue to stay engage with the community,” said David Stillwagon, CEO of Community Corrections Association Inc. “Anything that we can do to make the city better is going to help out as a whole.”

Saturday was CCA’s fifth year participating in Streetscape, with 12 employees participating in addition to CCA clients, Stillwagon reported.

“It’s fun to see everyone get together,” Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel said. “Every year, we try to get as many helpers down here as we can,”

This year, YSU had 60 representatives, including staff and alumni, said Shannon Tirone, associate vice president for university relations.

Tressel said he enjoyed hearing people who have participated in Streetscape since the beginning discuss how change has slowly reshaped the center city, “in part because somebody had to start 21 years ago.”

This year’s planting and cleanup took on added importance with the opening of the DoubleTree by Hilton, said Pete Asimakopoulos, CityScape’s president and Youngstown market president for First National Bank of Pennsylvania.

The hotel, which opened last month, is bringing outside visitors to the central business district.

“Downtown is our front porch to the community and it’s more important than ever that we have a good appearance,” Asimakopoulos said.

Hotel guests Saturday morning took notice of the downtown activity, Chris Pruitt, a doorman at the DoubleTree, reported. “It’s inviting people to be downtown,” he remarked.

“This is wonderful,” said Diane Guarnieri of Brookfield, an overnight guest.

In front of the Youngstown Business Incubator’s main building, Vicki Thompson and Pearlette Wigley were doing planting and cleanup work.

Wigley — community development coordinator for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who has his Youngstown office in YBI – has been a Streetscape volunteer since 2005, despite not being “the outdoorsy girl,” as she put it.

“The bugs love me so I don’t love any gardening. I get bit immediately,” Wigley lamented. “Camping to me is a five-star hotel looking out at the woods.”

Nevertheless, Wigley was armed with insect repellent so she could help beautify the downtown and “be part of the renaissance, she remarked.

Thompson, assistant director of workforce at Thomas P. Miller & Associates, which has its local office in the incubator, is an avid gardener and was eager to try out the new gardening gloves she received for Mother’s Day.

“I like being able to come to work every day and see the colors coming in and out of the door,” she said.

In addition to downtown, volunteers worked on projects at the John Young Memorial, Smoky Hollow and Wick Park.

Turning Technologies has a group of volunteers for the first time, reported Katy Grubbs, manager of employee success.

“We have a small group but we’re hoping to keep doing it,” she said. “We’re one of the bigger corporations downtown and we want to be more involved with the community, so we’re looking for opportunities to do that.”

Among the volunteers at Wick Park was first-year participant Dani Dier, events manager and director of production services at Stambaugh Auditorium.

Dier is a member of the Portage County Master Gardeners, a volunteer organization that spreads information about proper gardening. She finds gardening relaxing, and it allows people to come “back to our roots, so to speak,” she remarked.

At Wick Park, Dier  worked with members of Mahoning County’s Master Gardener group, who answered questions and took the lead in their groups, Letson said.

“We’ve always had Master Gardeners but a lot of times they didn’t want to tell people what to do,” she continued. This year, they were encouraged to provide more direction.

Letson  isn’t surprised the event draws so many people who aren’t directly connected to the downtown or the city. “People care,” she said.

Pictured at top: Councilman Julius Oliver, CityScape’s Sharon Letson, downtown events coordinator Terrill Vidale, YSU President Jim Tressel and Mayor Jamael Tito Brown.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.