‘A Breath of Fresh Air’: $5M Grant to Boost Tree-Planting Efforts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown and Warren may get a little greener, shadier and beautiful due to a $5 million USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Inflation Reduction Act grant awarded to the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.

The announcement made at a vacant lot at 1303 Glenwood Ave., comes with the expectation of planting 5,000 trees over the next five years. Additionally, the grant will fund maintenance or removal of about 1,000 dead or diseased trees and the creation of a tree inventory and management plan, as well as arborist training for people in the neighborhoods receiving the trees.

“I think the spirit of this, too, is also that people in the neighborhoods where we are doing the work benefit from the work, so we’re going to be training people and allowing them a pathway to become a certified arborist,” said Ian Beniston, executive director of the YNDC.

The grant came through the work of many partners, many of whom were on hand for Thursday’s announcement – The Mahoning County Land Bank, the city of Youngstown, the Trumbull County Land Bank, the Trumbull County Neighborhood Partnership, Youngstown CityScape, Healthy Community Partnership, the Youngstown Parks Department, Plant Ahead Ohio, Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District, the Trumbull County Metroparks, Mill Creek MetroParks, The Lifeguard Academy, the Good Project, Choffin Career and Technical Center and Community Corrections Association, as well as neighborhood groups helping to plant the trees such as the Handel’s Neighborhood Association, Commonwealth, the Lincoln Knolls Community Watch, the Seventh Ward Citizens Coalition, Trees Please, Northeast Homeowners, Upper North Heights Neighborhood Association, Know Your Neighbor Block Watch, the Idora Neighborhood Association and the Boulevard Park Block Watch.

“We’ve got a very strong core group of partners that are coming together to execute the work,” Beniston said, adding right now the city is getting the benefit of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corp., which has been staying in a house on Glenwood Avenue and doing work around the city, including cleaning up vacant properties and helping to plant the trees.

Kayshia Washington, community engagement fellow for the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, is one of the people leading efforts to add 5,000 more trees to the Mahoning Valley.

Naomi Brown, leader of the seven-person group from AmeriCorps, said they are finishing a 10-month project traveling around doing community service. They have been in the Youngstown area for two months, part of that time providing the muscle to plant many of the trees and board up vacant homes.

“It’s been great to be here,” Brown said. “We’ve really enjoyed working with YNDC and enjoyed this area.”

Additionally, Lola Lewis, a regional urban forester with the Ohio Department of National Resources’ Division of Forestry, was on hand for the announcement and said there are many benefits for tree planting efforts in the Mahoning Valley, including an increase in shared green spaces down the road and a reduction in pollution. Nearing the end of her own career, Lewis approves of training more people to care for the trees, noting while the trees in a forest may manicure themselves, those placed in a city environment, like the lot where the announcement was made, need good stewards to look after them.

For the past 10 years, the YNDC has been adding trees whenever possible but has been able to do only smaller planting projects because of a lack of resources. Beniston said this grant is going to allow them to greatly boost their efforts.

“Having a healthy canopy does many things for physical, social, mental health, but also reducing the urban heat island effect, keeping the city cooler and making neighborhoods more attractive. So there are many compounding benefits for what we are doing here,” Beniston said.

The location for the announcement was planted with three trees – an autumn brilliance, a crab apple and a redbud. All three provide not only green in the summer, but color in the spring and fall. The redbud is a favorite of Kayshia Washington, the community engagement fellow at YNDC.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air, like ahhh, brand new trees,” Washington said.

Washington has a list of the trees being planted this fall by YNDC, about 250 that will be going into the ground now, including a lot slated for along McCartney Road next Monday. She said she is excited that the grant will allow them to greatly increase their efforts.

Pictured at top: Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, left, and Ian Beniston, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, were among those who gathered Thursday for the announcement.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.