National Philanthropy Day Honors Generosity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Recognizing individuals and organizations whose philanthropic efforts aim to better their communities is important because it shines the spotlight on community needs as well as efforts to address those needs.

On Nov. 16, the Mahoning-Shenango Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals will shine its spotlight on individuals and organizations in eight categories at its 28th annual National Philanthropy Day luncheon at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center in Boardman. Co-chairwomen of the event are Landis Erwin, major gifts officer at Westminster College, and Chaney Nezbeth, development officer at the Youngstown State University Foundation.

“It’s important to recognize their philanthropy but it’s also an opportunity to remind people of the needs here,” Nezbeth says. “Not only do we recognize what these people have done but also who is benefiting from their generosity.”

“It was a tough decision,” Erwin says of choosing from among nominees this year.

What follows are brief profiles of the honorees in each of the categories.

Valley Impact: The Youngstown Foundation

Mahoning Valley industrial leaders formed the Youngs-town Foundation in the aftermath of World War I to address the issues of the day: poverty, substandard housing, disease and lack of jobs.

The 100-year-old foundation still aims to address community needs, although its approach differs from those early days, says Jan Strasfeld, executive director.

Jan Strasfeld holds a rendering of the amphitheater the city is building along the Mahoning River downtown. It will be named the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater.

“They were more involved in direct grants and not looking at the bigger picture and how to move the needle,” she says. “It was philanthropy as philanthropy was back in the day.”

Today the Youngstown Foundation has $120 million in assets, Strasfeld says. About 40% of its funds are unrestricted, while the remainder is composed of donor-advised funds and endowment funds targeted to specific organizations or service areas.

“The Youngstown Foundation has done so much for so many,” says JoAnn Stock, senior director of development for Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, who nominated the foundation for the Valley Impact Award. “They have absolutely made an impact on thousands of individuals in the Mahoning Valley.”

“We fund across the board,” Strasfeld says.

Priorities include arts and culture, education, social services, economic development, health and the environment. The foundation’s education-focused efforts include the YSTAR program, which provides last-dollar funds for Youngstown City Schools students to attend Youngstown State University or Eastern Gateway Community College.

“We spent some significant efforts to educate the broader community on philanthropy across the board, and we try to show by example how important it is to fund the creation of jobs as well as ensuring quality of life to attract jobs here,” she says.

The foundation also has provided money for the Youngstown Business Incubator and the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, and is collaborating with other local foundations on a pilot project to match people in economically depressed areas with jobs.

Outstanding Philanthropist: Diane Sauer

Diane Sauer, owner of Diane Sauer Chevrolet in Warren, admits there’s a selfish element to her philanthropy.

“I feel good about myself when I do something positive for other people or the community,” she says.

Sauer is being recognized as Outstanding Philanthropist.

“From an unselfish viewpoint, as a business person, it’s my responsibility to give back to the community that does business with me,” she says. “There’s so much need out there. And I’ve been fortunate in my career, and if it’ll help the community, we all benefit.”

Sauer has been involved in and contributed to numerous service organizations, including the Trumbull 100, United Way of Trumbull County, Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley and Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

During her term as president of the Rotary Club of Warren, the organization raised more than $150,000 for the Warren Community Amphitheater. She also worked on and contributed money to capital campaigns for the diocese, for which she personally contributed $100,000.

In addition, she has donated to or been involved with fundraising for Trumbull Regional Medical Center, Mercy Health–St. Joseph Warren Hospital and Children’s Rehabilitation Center, which she describes as a “favorite charity.” She has established several scholarships, including two at Ohio State University for students from Trumbull County and from Mercer County in western Ohio, where she was reared, and work-study opportunities at Youngstown State University.

Other beneficiaries of her generosity and leadership include the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. She and her husband have also established a fund with the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley for local projects and initiatives.

Corporate Philanthropist: Lewis Development Corp.

For decades, the focus of philanthropy at Lewis Development Corp. has been Northeast Ohio Adoption Services, which places special-needs and other hard-to-adopt children with families.

“We have a strong family connection to the adoption agency,” says Dennis Lewis Jr., president of Howland-based Lewis Development. Barbara Lewis Roberts – his aunt, and sister to the CEO of Lewis Development, Carter Lewis – started the agency with a federal grant in 1975.

“Their mission is incredible: taking children who were previously considered unadoptable and finding homes for them,” Carter Lewis says.

Carter and Dennis Lewis Jr. own Lewis Development, honored as Corporate Philanthropist.

Three years later, Lewis Development began its efforts on behalf of Northeast Ohio Adoption Services by donating office space to the agency.

NOAS has placed more than 1,300 children with families. Contributions of Lewis Development to the agency have ranged from direct donations of money and equipment to staging annual golf outings and other benefits.

At the fundraisers, NOAS representatives “do a very good job of getting their core message out about helping these kids,” Dennis Lewis Jr. says. “When you see the kids in need and the results, and you actually meet some of them, it becomes personal, that you have to help.”

The Lewises have also enlisted their friends, including a board member whom they convinced to retire from her job and join NOAS as its staff accountant, he says.

Through one of the fundraisers sponsored by Lewis Development, representatives of Millwood Inc. in Vienna Township got involved with the Bridges program, which collects and provides furniture and other items for young adults who have aged out of the adoption system.

The company CEO would only say that between gifts and forgiveness of rent that Lewis Development’s donation to the agency was “significant.”

Other organizations Lewis Development helps include Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, the American Red Cross and Mercy Health.

Small Business Philanthropist: Braydich Dental

Braydich Dental contacted Beatitude House, which helps disadvantaged women and children, last year. The Hubbard dentistry practice, operated by brothers Rudy and Mark Braydich, wanted to use Beatitude House as its “charity of choice” for its annual Smiles for Charity, which raises money for organizations through the sale of $100 teeth-whitening kits.

The event raised $21,000 for the nonprofit agency, development director Kathleen Moliterno reports.

“We wouldn’t survive if we didn’t have people like the Braydiches,” she says. “They are making a direct impact on those who are disadvantaged in our area.”

Rudy and Mark Braydich and their dental practice are the Small Business Philanthropist.

Having lost their father at an early age – Rudy was 15 and Mark just a year old when he died – the brothers focus much of their philanthropy on children, including charities and schools.

“A lot of people helped us out, whether it with mentorship or just people looking out for us,” Mark Braydich says.

“I’ve seen similar situations that I’ve tried to help the families out the best I could,” adds Rudy Braydich.

In addition to Smiles for Charity, which this year benefited Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, Braydich Dental also conducts Dentistry from the Heart, a daylong event during which people can receive various dental services for free.

“We start at 7 [a.m.] and we’ll probably go until 5 o’clock,” Mark Braydich says.

Other beneficiaries of the brothers’ philanthropy include Operation Christmas Child of Samaritan’s Purse and the back-to-school tennis shoes ministry at the Chestnut Ridge Church of God.

“We just do what we do because we love what we do. I’m sure the other people who are receiving an award are doing the same thing,” Rudy Braydich says. “They want to make a difference and that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Legacy Award: Thomas and Maria Fok

The building formerly known as Alumni House at Youngstown State University features a unique tribute to the late Thomas and Maria Fok.

Underneath the words “Fok Hall,” the new name of the building, are a series of Chinese characters in traditional vertical script.

Maria Fok wanted the name on the building in both English and Chinese, “which is really neat,” says Paul McFadden, president of the YSU Foundation, one of the organizations that nominated the Foks for the Legacy Award.

The Foks fled to the United States in 1947 to escape the Communist revolution China. A civil engineer by training and chairman of Thomas Fok and Associates in Austintown, Thomas Fok, who died in 2013, served on the YSU faculty and on its board of trustees. His wife, who died the following year, was a physician.

Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel met with Maria Fok before her death.

Before her death, Maria Fok arranged for her estate to donate $2.5 million to YSU to establish the Thomas and Maria Fok Scholarship. In addition, she donated $500,000 to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and $950,000 to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

“We want to honor the Foks and to thank them,” McFadden says. “Selfishly, we want other folks to see the power of legacy gifts and hope the example that the Foks set will encourage others to follow their lead.”

During meetings with McFadden and YSU President Jim Tressel before her death, Maria Fok made clear the importance of education, the YSU Foundation president recalls. “They saw education as the key to a person’s future. They were huge advocates and proponents for education,” McFadden says.

Volunteer Fundraiser: Lori Sherman

Lori Sherman has raised money for nine years for the Hempfield Volunteer Fire Department in Hempfield Township, Pa., but her association with the Mercer County department goes back much further.

It was the Hempfield department that saved her home when a fire ignited there 27 years ago and she pledged to pay the department back.

Sherman, who operates Sherman Group Day Care in Greenville, subsequently joined the fire department as a volunteer in 2008. “I felt it would be a way to give back,” she says.

As a volunteer operation, the fire department gets some assistance from the township. “But to keep the doors open we also need to raise money,” she says.

Sherman does that in several ways – golf outings, craft shows, fundraisers with Dairy Queen, gun raffles and boot days. “We’re going to be doing a car cruse and airplane fly-in,” she says. The golf outings alone typically raise around $10,000 each year, she reports.

Sherman’s efforts have allowed the department to buy items large and small, including firefighting gear, equipment and recently a $34,000 brush truck. She also solicits donations of food and water for the firefighters working to contain and douse active fires.

And Sherman’s philanthropic efforts extend beyond the fire department. She also has hosted benefits for families of deceased soldiers, among other causes.

In all, she has raised about $347,000, according to the award nomination documents.

Volunteer Fundraising Group: Recipes of Youngstown

What began as a joke has raised nearly $200,000 over the past few years.

Bobbi Allen and her husband moved from Youngstown when the mills closed in 1977 and he lost his job, eventually ending up in California.

“For 34 years I did not have a decent pizza or a decent bowl of spaghetti,” she says. “People in California can’t cook.”

Beginning with a group of 11 unwilling relatives in April 2013, she started the Recipes of Youngstown group on Facebook that now has more than 12,000 members, each sharing recipes and often poignant family stories associated with them.

In August that year, she and her husband, both retired, returned to Youngstown. During a visit to Lanterman’s Mill in Mill Creek Park, she learned that the mill was in danger of closing because its wheel was in poor shape and replacing it would be expensive.

Over “a couple glasses of wine,” she and other members of the Facebook group discussed putting together a cookbook. “We got it in our heads that we were going to donate the money to the park,” not only to help fund restoration of the wheel but to call attention to its plight, she says.

The initial order of 2,500 books sold out the day it arrived from the printer. So far, that first book, which remains in print, has allowed Recipes of Youngstown to donate $82,000 “and growing” to the park.

The group has followed up with two more cookbooks, one raising money for the Tyler History Center of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society – $73,000 so far – and the other for veteran-focused scholarships to Youngstown State University.

The goal for the third book is $100,000, says group member Keith Evans.

“When we reach that goal next year, we’ll have donated a quarter of a million dollars in five years,” he says.

The group also holds tastings based on the collected recipes, says Kathy Culver. “Our food traditions here are just amazing,” she says.

Although there is talk of a fourth cookbook, Allen so far isn’t on board.

“I haven’t had that much wine yet,” she jokes.

Young Philanthropists: Ricky and Mackenzie Pasco

Ricky and Mackenzie Pasco know they are going to miss out on many opportunities in life, but that isn’t preventing them from trying to make life a little brighter for others.

The Hubbard siblings both have Common Variable Immune Deficiency, a condition that makes them particularly vulnerable to infection. Once a month, they receive plasma-based therapy.

Because of their condition, each was granted a wish by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and each chose the same, taking trips to Walt Disney World in 2009 and 2010.

Ricky and Mackenzie Pasco raise funds to grant the wishes of children who need help.

Upon returning from Ricky Pasco’s Disney trip in 2009 – he was diagnosed first – the siblings saw a notice in a now-closed Hubbard restaurant about hosting fundraisers there.

“Ricky and I decided we really wanted to,” says Mackenzie, a junior at the Trumbull Career & Technical Center.

Now, through their annual Ricky Mack Giving Back fundraisers, they raise money to help fund wishes for other children.

“Everything we experienced was just phenomenal,” says Rick, who turns 21 Oct. 31. “We wanted to give the experience that we had.”

The Pascos stage the fundraiser at a local venue such as a restaurant or, more recently, the Hubbard Veterans of Foreign Wars post. They collect gift baskets and other items donated by local businesses for a Chinese auction at the event, which also has a 50/50 raffle and other fundraising activities.

So far, they’ve raised $75,200 and helped give nine children their wishes, their mother, Kim Pasco, reports. “They’ve always been giving kids. And it didn’t surprise me that they wanted to give back to other kids,” she says.

Her son doesn’t see it so much as giving back or paying it forward, and doesn’t think his sister views it that way, either. If he were down, he would want someone to help him up. “I want to be there to help someone else up,” he says.

Pictured above: Kathy Culver, Keith Evans and Bobbi Allen belong to Recipes of Youngstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.