‘Day of Caring’ Cleans Up South Side Neighborhood

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Standing atop a black box truck, “REVITALIZE” emblazoned on each side, in the parking lot of St. Dominic Church, the executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., Ian Beniston, shouted instructions to the 400 volunteers.
By the time he and his five co-workers had climbed down from the truck a few minutes later, groups – some only five or six, others 20 or 30 – were filing out onto the streets, ready to begin the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley’s Day of Caring.

After months of planning, volunteers descended on nearly 90 houses in the Cottage Grove neighborhood, ready to clean out yards and sheds, board up windows and, in some cases, remove them.

Work for YNDC began about six months ago, the director said, by canvassing the neighborhood and determining which blighted houses needed work. The biggest logistical challenge, he said, was measuring windows on each houses to make sure the boards were cut to the right size.

“This is a huge amount of work in a relatively contained space. This is probably one of the largest blight fighting events we’ve done in the last five years,” Beniston said. “I like fighting blight. So to see 400 other people out here ready to do this, there aren’t really words to describe it.”

Volunteers from all walks of life poured into Cottage Grove: high school students, hockey coaches, members of City Council, waiters and waitresses, and factory workers all turned out for the United Way Day of Caring.

“It’s something that we’re excited to help the community out with,” said John Wroblewski, head coach of the Youngstown Phantoms. “It’s important to leave places better than you found them. If we can help people in the short term, and hopefully inspire people in the long term, then we’ve done our community justice.”

Twenty of the Phantoms were in the neighborhood shoveling debris and cleaning out empty garages, Wroblewski said.

Several groups of high school students were working to reduce blight instead of taking the day off as part of their Labor Day weekend.

“We all want to make this community a better place and represent what Youngstown and this area is all about,” said Kristen Fernberg from Boardman High School. “It’s good to give back every once in a while. None of us had school today, so we thought this would be a good way to spend the day. It’s a nice way to help people.”

Fernberg and her classmates were assigned to clean up trash and remove debris from the yards of houses.

The sheer number of volunteers played a big role in the success many deemed the Day of Caring.

“The manpower that’s out here today will do a tremendous job for us,” said Mayor John McNally. “The folks here today will provide a lot more work than the city can provide on a daily basis and have a longer-lasting impact.”

Rather than a few spots of blight remediated here and there, Beniston agreed, doing 88 in one day show the residents of the neighborhood what can be done.

“They can see a bunch of stuff happening in a single day rather than something here and there over a few weeks or a year,” he said. “It’s a quick impact.”

During the cleanup, shortly after the first volunteers arrived to gather broken branches, residents along Auburndale Avenue sat on their front porches to watch the volunteers.

In total, 675 volunteers from 53 companies and organizations spread across the South Side, participating in projects that ranged from landscaping to handing out free smoke detectors to working with kids.

Last year, there were about 600 volunteers, according to Bob Hannon, president of United Way of Youngstown. The number has been on the rise several years.

“The work in the community is rewarding and people are happy when they can go out and make a difference,” he said. “They tell their co-workers about everything they did, so more and more employees at our companies want to do it. The message is resonating about what United Way is doing.”

The day also marks the formal start of the United Way’s annual campaign. This year, the regional United Way is looking to raise $2.6 million by the end of the year. More than $800,000 has been raised.

At the kickoff breakfast, the president of General Motors North America, Alan Batey, announced that the automaker would match dollar for dollar the contributions GM employees make to United Way.

“We want to give back to the communities where we manufacture and where we live. It’s important to us,” he said.” But it’s not just about writing a check. It’s about doing things in the community. This is what it’s all about. It’s about giving your time to be part of the community. And we’re a big part of this community.”

Batey is also the global chief of the Chevrolet brand and the United States.

After the breakfast in Covelli Centre, he toured the General Motors Lordstown Complex.

“The opportunity to come here combined with going to the plant was one I couldn’t miss. I wanted to be here and be part of it,” he said. “It’s about our employees and UAW members who give through payroll deductions. I wanted to be here to say, ‘Thank you.’ ”

PICTURED: ValleyCare of Ohio employees at  3321 Erie St. From left, Trish Hrina, Kelly Earvin, Mary Ann Hall, Carla Durina,Tom Cosper, Denis Robinson.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.