Father Ed Commentary: Our Youth, Our Choice, Our Future

By Edward Noga

I note, with a sad heart, comments last weekend following the most unfortunate tragedy involving yet another young teenager unnecessarily caught in the middle of mayhem involving adults. 

As stated by members of our local police department, parents need to be challenged, chastised and held accountable for these unnecessary losses among our young people. It is truly heart-wrenching as we witness the potential of our young literally snuffed out.

One city council person mentioned the possible need for a place for our young to be welcomed, nurtured and mentored. We were given a sad reminder that many of our youths do not have a supportive place in their lives or people to guide them. Thus, a new community place where the young can be mentored and encouraged was suggested.

May I offer the following thoughts. In my humble opinion, we have new school facilities, a Boys & Girls Club, United Way resources, the Jewish Community Center, the YMCA and YWCA, a city park system and other sites that are sometimes underused. Again, in my humble opinion, might funding to aggressively recruit young people into what we have be a better use of money? 

Making sure that we recruit and hire qualified, energetic and innovative youth leaders who reach out and connect and visit our local schools and worship communities could provide a major influx of our youths into tried-and-true programs that are already present. In addition, our local school and worship community youth mentors and leaders can help facilitate such an influx of participants. 

We know that in modern society, our young people – and everyone for that matter – are bombarded with invitations on many different levels to participate in activities and organizations. Opening the doors to an existing or brand new facility does not guarantee an automatic surge of interest and participation. Yes, there is a unique excitement about NEW, but I feel that we are blessed with the people, tools and places that just need a supportive jump-start. 

I note, and I could be incorrect, that the recent total wellness concept that has driven two important projects in Campbell and Warren may have been partially generated because those communities lack some of the activities and infrastructure that we are blessed with in Youngstown and our Valley. In addition, consideration needs to be always in the forefront that NEW also means new personnel, new funding and the all-important regular maintenance and sustainability component.

The recent Hope Conference at the Covelli Centre reminded us of the depth of resources and opportunities we have. I’m sure the leaders and participants of that initiative would love to have the challenge of having to extend the hours – or days – of what they provide because of the public response. Yes, the Hope Conference was geared to adults. But it gives us a useful analogy as to what is available for our youths.

Drawing together the leadership mentioned above, and including the leadership of organizations like the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches, ACTION, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation and others, can be a driving force and challenge to personally pick up the mantle to increase attendance at what already exists in our city. 

Energy can be channeled to develop a competitive spirit as to how many young people each organization moves into the various programs. A regular reporting session of the entities involved can not only encourage greater participation but can also let the community at large actually monitor how the effort is progressing. Periodic community gatherings can chart and celebrate the success.

We speak of foundation and government funding, especially during and after COVID, as a resource that can help to focus our energy for generations and be transformational. We are blessed with groups, organizations and facilities that are up and running and have dedicated personnel and volunteers for long-lasting potential in mentoring those who will be in charge of our community in the next generation. Those before us began these wonderful avenues for growth, mentoring and interaction. They built the buildings and funded the programs. The wheel has been created. Do we need another wheel? Maybe. Maybe not. 

I think the wealth of resources are in sight. Looking down the road to plan, design and construct a new building and programs will involve a necessary time line. Our buildings and resources are here right now, and their doors are already open.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.