Commentary: I’m from Here, Too

By Stacia Erdos Littleton

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – After a short hiatus, I am honored to be back contributing to The Business Journal as a monthly columnist. What keeps me coming back is actually a who – Andrea Wood.

Andrea has been a trailblazer for women in Youngstown, not only in journalism, but in business as well. She is a true pioneer who has made it her mission and livelihood to spotlight those risk takers like herself who continue to persevere and push the Mahoning Valley to thrive. She’s continued to do so since this newspaper began publication 37 years ago.

Like Andrea, I am one of those people who did not grow up in Youngstown, but has made the Mahoning Valley my home. There are a lot of us living among you. We feel an inexplicable connection to this city. We see beauty in the arts, the parks, the festivals, the neighborhoods, and in the entrepreneurial spirit. And frankly, we get angry when someone dismisses the city without knowing it. Our gut reaction is to “Defend Youngstown” (shout out to Phil Kidd).

I first came to Youngstown in 1990 to work for WYTV during arguably one of the worst decades in the history of the city. I discovered a tough city and tough people with a vision to make it rise again.

I covered countless stories about the out-of-control murder rate, gang violence, the influx of crack, corruption, the deserted downtown, the poverty and the skyrocketing unemployment. As the 1990s came to a close, I suddenly found myself unemployed with layoffs hitting WYTV. And on exactly the same day, my husband received his layoff notice from Weirton Steel. What was the universe trying to tell us?

With my career flat-lining and a baby to support, I turned fear and desperation into determination and set my sights on Pittsburgh. It would be a big leap to a top-20 news market. But I had nothing to lose. I sent resumes to all of the stations, but got no response. I followed up with calls to no avail.

Finally, I made a life-changing decision – I got in my car and drove to Pittsburgh. I would just show up and hope for the best. As I sat waiting in the lobby at WPXI (for perhaps a chance meeting with the news director) I watched confident news anchors with seemingly perfect hair and makeup walk by.

I’ll never forget the wave of self-doubt that suddenly surged through my body. I felt nauseous, and ridiculous. Just as I was about to leave, I heard the words, “She’ll see you now.”

I don’t’ remember the exact conversation, but there was something about “usually not seeing people without an appointment,” and a reporter who had “literally just quit and walked out the door.” She said she was “in a bind, short-staffed … Christmas was coming … a flurry of vacations.” I heard something about giving me a “try over the holidays – very short term, weekends, early mornings, overnights, no promises.” I grabbed the offer and hung on for dear life.

By mid-January, I was full-time and anchoring the weekend news. I worked in Pittsburgh and commuted from our home in the Valley for the next 10 years, covering major events from the crash of Flight 93 on 9/11 to the Steelers Super Bowl win in Detroit. When it became too much, with two young children, I decided it was time to find a job closer to home.

When I met Andrea in her big corner office in the Ohio One Building in downtown Youngstown, we talked about launching the video platform for The Business Journal. Alongside reporter Jeremy Lydic, the Daily BUZZ was born. Proudly, my first hire was Michael Moliterno who 12 years later now sits in that same big corner office at Ohio One as chief operating officer. 

The transition from the news business to the world of nonprofit was something I had thought about a long time. I spent six rewarding years at the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Then last spring, like a lot of people living through this pandemic, I reassessed.

I became acutely aware of the effects of isolation, especially on young people who had had their lives turned upside down. More adults, too, were struggling with their mental health and it was at a crisis level. I am now proudly working for the nonprofit Coleman Health Services that is helping nearly 7,000 mostly low-income people here in the Valley emerge from despair, and serious mental illness, to live successful independent lives.

Working downtown for the past 12 years, I’ve witnessed the changing landscape and felt the positive energy swirling through all of those guardians of the city (you know who you are) who continue to “Shout Youngstown!”

There are a lot of us not from here. We are Rotary members. We eat brunch at the Bistro. We go to concerts at the amphitheater, Stambaugh and Covelli Centre. We tailgate at YSU games and kayak at Mill Creek Park. We shop at the Youngstown Flea, and at the end of the day we enjoy a Penguin City Beer or two.

And like me, many have now lived most of their lives here. So perhaps it is time to proudly shout, “I’m from Youngstown, too!”