Our Towns

In Search for Director, City Club Advances Local Mission

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The City Club of the Mahoning Valley, with about a year and half under its belt, is moving into its next phase.

Launched as a satellite of the City Club of Cleveland, the Mahoning Valley chapter is in the process of hiring a locally based program manager who would work with the Mahoning Valley chapter’s volunteer advisory committee to develop programming.

“Almost all of our programs have pretty much been at capacity,” Tim Francisco, City Club of the Mahoning Valley co-founder and an advisory committee member said. “There’s a need for further programming. We want to take on regional issues more. We want to do different kinds of programming.”

Beginning in September 2016, the club hosted three “main stage” programs at Stambaugh Auditorium focusing on economic development, the consequences of the 2016 election and education. Earlier this year, it launched a series of smaller-scale Brews & Views events at Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts downtown addressing issues that included racism, immigration, the political divide and climate change.

“We want to be the go-to organization for conversations of consequence in the Mahoning Valley, whether that’s us putting together the programming, partnering with organizations, whatever it may be,” said Phil Kidd, co-founder and advisory committee member. “That’s where we see our value.”

The local effort aligned with the City Club of Cleveland’s strategic plan, which involved creating a chapter in another community, Kidd said.

“It’s been great so far. It’s really exciting,” Dan Moulthrop, CEO of the City Club of Cleveland.

So far, the programming – whether the main stage events or Brews & Views – has been fantastic, he added.  

“The key to all of it is people who care and people who have a good sense about what’s going on in the community,” he continued. “I knew we were working with great people but I wasn’t familiar enough with the Youngstown community to know how many people would show up to things and how engaged they would be.”

The Mahoning Valley club was launched with seed money from the Raymond John Wean Foundation, which authorized a planning grant of up to $5,000, said the foundation’s executive director, Jennifer Roller.

When Kidd and Francisco first discussed the concept with Roller, she was interested in the passion they shared about inclusiveness and accessibility.

Having “all folks have a part of that conversation and be at the table was really a conversation we hadn’t heard in that way before and we wanted to learn more,” she continued. The more she heard, the more what was being discussed aligned with the foundation’s objectives.

 The Mahoning Valley club’s evolution and the need to hire a full-time individual to manage the local program both come from what Francisco characterizes as “tremendous” support and buy-in from the community.

The expansion of the club’s programming into Brews & Views was organic, Francisco said. Because admission to those is free –the main stage events required a fee – the events drew broader cross sections of the community, Francisco said.

Following the three events at Stambaugh and the launch of the Brews & Views, the club’s advisory committee knew raising funds to hire a full-time local program director was going to be the next step, Kidd said.

“We recognized the need,” Kidd said. “It’s quite an undertaking.” The committee members all have full-time jobs. Kidd is associate director at Youngstown CityScape and Francisco is an English professor at Youngstown State University.

“It’s a big commitment,” Francisco said. “By putting a [local program director] in place there will be greater communication with Cleveland and that will bring greater opportunities for shared speakers and some of those regional issues.”

Funding for the new position is supported by a combined $70,000 from Wean, the Youngstown Foundation and YSU.

“We haven’t had a problem with making the pitch to funders for money,” Kidd said. “They see the value in being able to hire [a program] director now because they realize that this is a quality organization.”

“We’re just really grateful that the community has seen the value in this and bought into it in such a big way,” Francisco said. “We’re excited to move onto the next phase.”

Earlier this week conducted initial interviews with its pool of candidates. The goal is to have the position filled in early 2018, Kidd and Francisco said.

Among the requirements for the position are strong public speaking, writing, fundraising, grant writing and social medial skills, as well as a good working knowledge of national and statewide current events.

“We’re looking for someone with deep knowledge of the Youngstown community,” Francisco said.

“We want to discuss these national and state issues but in a local context, so it’s very important that that person can see those angles,” Kidd added. The local program director would also be able to coordinate with Cleveland and capitalize on the parent organization’s resources, including speakers.

The Wean Foundation views the affiliation with the Cleveland club as a positive one, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel, but having someone “walking the streets and on the ground” locally sends “a clear message that this is specific to the Mahoning Valley, Roller said.

In addition to the early seed money, the foundation this summer provided $25,00 toward salary and benefits for the local program director, she reported.

Having such a forum to discuss important issues and discuss ideas from different perspectives in a civil manner “has taken on a new meaning and a new importance” in the present fractured political climate, Francisco affirmed.

“We are so far apart on even just a basic agreement of what even facts are, let along what the right path forward on any particular issue,” Kidd added. “It’s the conversation piece that is severely broken right now for a number of reasons, so our organization hopefully would be able to contribute to [fixing] that. In a place like the Mahoning Valley, we’re not short on any number of issues that we need to talk about.”

There is need across Ohio for this kind of civil civic dialogue around important issues, Moulthrop agreed.

“We provide the venue and vehicle for engagement that makes democracy work better, and now is a time when we really need democracy to work really well,” he said. The City Club provides a forum to broaden individuals’ points of view and hear from people they otherwise couldn’t hear from.

“There are so many partisan divides across communities and across our country,” he said. “We bring a very special and important set of values that are about listening across difference and finding common ground, sharing ideas and finding solutions to the challenges that we face collectively.”

The concept is “a great platform” to bring together a diverse representation of the comm. Unity to discuss critical issues, said Jan Strasfeld, executive director of the Youngstown Foundation. The foundation contributed about $30,000 to the Mahoning Valley club, she said.

Strasfeld became familiar with the concept when she and her husband lived in Cleveland.

“The climate has ended up where we absolutely want to create opportunities for dialogue,” she said.

In addition to bringing on the Mahoning Valley program director, the local club plans to host another main stage event during the first two months of 2018 at Packard Music Hall. “We have a couple of different ideas in the works, so it’s largely a question of which one comes together first,” Francisco said.

Realistically, the Mahoning Valley club can stage at least six main stage events per year, Kidd said, with programming expanding as the organization grows. The club also is looking at the possibility of venue-specific events, such as at the Youngstown Business Incubator or the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center to discuss topics related to the site.

Partnering with local businesses on programs also is a possibility, as well as with other local organizations, he said.

Pictured: City Club of the Mahoning Valley co-founders Phill Kidd and Tim Francisco.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.