CityScape Honors Small for Brightening Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Each  recipient of the the David & Pat Sweet Grass Roots Award has left their fingerprints on Youngstown CityScape and the city. Home Savings Bank has been an anchor partner of the organization since its inception, but it’s been President Gary Small who’s taken the partnership to the next level.

Among the biggest advancements he brought was the installation of Christmas lights downtown, brightening otherwise dark mornings for hundreds of workers during the winter months.

“I thought that would be perfect because I’m in at 7:30 a.m. It’s pitch black. A lot of my folks are walking into work,” he said. “It just lifts your spirits, it’s better safety and pretty quickly, CityScape was a solution set for so many things that we as downtown citizens are looking for. That brought me closer to the group and we’ve expanded our relationship since then.”

When Small became president of Home Savings six years ago, he wanted to get involved in beautification work on downtown’s west end. when he asked colleagues who he should talk to, he was pointed to CityScape time and time again. 

“We got busy sprucing things up and the next thing you know, it was winter,” Small said at CityScape’s Grass Roots Gala award ceremony. 

Since 2010, CityScape has honored an individual or group who has made significant personal and professional commitment to the organization’s mission of revitalizing downtown. 

“This is CityScape’s opportunity to celebrate the partners we’ve made along the 23 years we’ve been doing this work,” said Executive Director Sharon Letson. “Home Savings was a partner with us from the beginning — at a critical time when we went to a formalized organization.”

A strong downtown makes a community that much better, Small said. Each year, through the Home Savings Foundation, $800,000 is given to initiatives throughout the Mahoning Valley, he said, with 70% awarded to efforts in the city. 

Home Savings also provids financial support for the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, CityScape’s annual Streetscape event and for CityScape’s Sparkle and Evergreen Youngstown project. In the latter, Home Savings not only helped CityScape pay for the Christmas lights downtown, but got involved with local schools, Letson said. 

“When we were trying to get schools to come down to be in the parade, what I kept hearing when we reached out to the schools is that transportation costs were in their way,” she said. 

Home Savings offered the high school bands $500 for transportation and $1,000 for their music programs, Letson said.

“I always say that we need to celebrate the good things that we’re doing and partnering on,” Letson said. “Gary came to Home Savings with a vision about how we should look as a city. … He loved the work Streetscape did. He was in tune aesthetically to what was happening.” 

The downtown parade and the lights are consistent with the theme of making Youngstown a destination point and to attract people who wouldn’t normally be bringing their families to the central district, Small said. 

“That is probably my favorite endeavour of the things we do because it’s impactful. It’s fun and it has legs to create memories around the community,” he said. “You check a lot of boxes with that one.”

Now that Home Savings has merged with First Defiance Financial Corp., the bank still has an important role in the community, Small affirmed, and will continue its support of local programs.

“The tower down here is still just as filled with people as it was before, so the commitment to the community is still there,” Small said. “You’ll still see the same human capital and support, visibility and funding the community has become accustomed to.” 

Pictured: Home Savings Bank/First Defiance Financial Corp. President Gary Small received Youngstown CityScape’s Grass Roots Award. With him are Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and CityScape’s executive director, Sharon Letson.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.