Journal Opinion: Saluting Leadership

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Samantha Turner concluded her year as president of the Rotary Club of Youngstown June 30. 

The 3rd ward councilwoman – just the sixth female president in the 106-year history of the club and the first Black to serve in that capacity – took office at an unenviable time.

In July 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic kept many businesses at limited capacity and many individuals curtailed their activities outside the home.

By then, when many service clubs were conducting meetings virtually (or not at all), Youngstown Rotary had resumed in-person meetings, with masking and social distancing in place, at the same time maintaining the virtual option for those not ready to meet in person.

Among Turner’s initiatives was a greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. At least one program every month during her tenure was devoted to those issues, at a time when awareness of such matters was heightened by racial justice protests.   

As many U.S. service clubs are struggling – Rotary’s U.S. membership dropped to 316,000 from 386,000 in 2004 – Youngstown Rotary saw a net gain in membership, with most of the eight new members reflecting the focus on diversity.

Guided by what could be accomplished safety and what state and local mandates permitted, the club resumed its community activities. Among them were roadside cleanups, raising more than $24,000 to provide winter coats for Youngstown schoolchildren and more than $12,000 toward Rotary International’s efforts to eradicate polio worldwide. Little Free Libraries were constructed at additional sites throughout the city, bringing the total managed by the club to 30.

Not content to continue what had been done in the past, Turner also guided the club into an initiative that reflected Rotary International’s adoption last year of a new focus: supporting the environment. Operation Pollination was introduced under past club president Elayne Bozick, Turner’s membership sponsor.

Under Turner’s leadership, club members began establishing pollinator sites, which support food production, clean air and economic growth. Working in partnership with other area clubs, pollinator sites now can be found on Youngstown’s north side and in Mill Creek Park.     

Turner is succeeded as president by Josh Prest.

Prest, who serves as the northeastern Ohio district representative for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, is making club history of his own as likely the youngest president of Youngstown Rotary. He plans a focus on those re-entering society and second-chance initiatives.

During a year when it would have been easy to just maintain the status quo, Turner took Youngstown Rotary to the next level. She built on the legacy of the club and its programming in ways that not only benefited Rotary but also the city and the broader Mahoning Valley.