Officials Outline Initiatives at Good Morning, Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mayor Jamael Tito Brown emphasized quality-of-life initiatives during the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Good Morning, Youngstown breakfast.

During Thursday’s event at Stambaugh Auditorium, Brown, in his second term as Youngstown’s mayor, discussed programs ranging from workforce development and a roofing program to help keep senior citizens in their homes to addressing issues such as mental health and infant mortality.

“Martin Luther King said it best when he said genuine leadership is not about searching for consensus – it’s about molding consensus,” Brown said.  “Right now we’re at a point in this community where we need to figure out how to mold what we’re doing and continue moving forward. I want to be the molder and the shaper, as the mayor of the city of Youngstown, to figure out the next thing for us in this community.”

Pointing to the near-completion of downtown road projects and remediation work at 20 Federal Place, progress on removal of blighted houses and finishing payments on the Covelli Centre, the mayor said he started thinking about what comes next, what he could do to “mold the next generation” and the city’s next chapter. That led to focusing on issues such as mental health, affordable housing, access to housing for the homeless, unhoused citizens, workforce, educational attainment, infant mortality and senior citizens.

“As mayor, I want to make sure we put those topics up front and foremost, because I find that those topics are what’s hurting or affecting our community the most,” he said. He wants to use his time as mayor to outline what needs to be done and determine what part he can play.

Among the initiatives launched during his administration is a program to provide new roofs for senior citizens who don’t have the resources to repair them on their own. Oftentimes, people who can’t afford house repairs simply abandon the properties until they fall into blight. At an upcoming meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ task force on homelessness in Washington, he and other city officials will advocate for additional federal funds to address housing issues.

Another initiative, which grew out of discussions within his cabinet to provide mental health resources in the community, will address directing some resources for city employees, he said. The city is developing QR codes to be placed throughout City Hall that will connect city employees with information on topics such as depression and grief.  

He also said he wants to work with Youngstown City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor and Youngstown State University President Bill Johnson and convene a “towns and gowns” meeting to determine how to help prepare people to fill the 160,000 vacant positions in Ohio.  

“They say when opportunity knocks, don’t even ask who it is – just open the door. That’s what I want us to do in the city of Youngstown – just open the door,” he remarked.

Other initiatives Brown discussed included plans to establish a community resource center that will include a clinic to help address infant mortality in the former Bottom Dollar Food store on the South Side and a senior center in a former Meridian HealthCare building on Ridge Avenue.

Preceding Brown, Batchelor provided attendees with an update on happenings in the city school district. One of the focuses has been creating the “Youngstown excellence experience,” which means “creating an opportunity for our scholars and those families to choose Youngstown every day,” he said.

“We live in an environment where education has changed,” he continued. He recalled reading a 1984 article recently that put district enrollment at 15,000 students, compared with “a little less than 5,000 within our district” now and another 4,000 or 5,000 students “who choose to be educated elsewhere.”

Youngstown City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor speaks during Thursday’s event.

According to a district spokesperson, the district’s active enrollment is 4,667 students, plus 1,618 who are on open enrolment or foster/court placed out and not educated by the district, and 3,065 who are actively enrolled in a community school with the city district as the district of residence.

“We absolutely respect that, but we also want it to be known that we believe that we are a choice, and there are things that we’re offering that everyone should know about and have the opportunity to be present and know so that they can make an informed choice, he asserted.

Batchelor acknowledged that the district’s performance on the state “report card” is “still not where we want to be,” but “continuous improvement” has been taking place. No other urban district in Ohio surpassed Youngstown’s 2.5-star rating. “So we’re on par with our peers,” he said.

Among the district’s offerings the superintendent highlighted was the establishment of a record label at Choffin Career & Technical Center, which provides royalties back to the student artists; continuation of the Y-STAR scholarship program; and expansion of district sports programs to include soccer, bowling and wrestling to offer opportunities for students beyond football and basketball. He also talked about his new podcast, “Batch to Basics.”

Additionally, the superintendent addressed the “big elephant in the room”: district finances. “Obviously, we have to work on some things, but we’re not broke,” he said. He also anticipated potential ratification of an agreement with the union representing teachers as soon as Friday.

Those attending the chamber breakfast also heard from representatives from two other schools, the Rich Center for Autism at YSU and Potential Development School for Students with Autism, in recognition of Autism Acceptance Month in April.

Mike Latessa, who recently was named executive director of the Rich Center, noted that collaboration, not competition, is the focus in the autism community. With an autism spectrum diagnosis of 1 in 36, there are “several thousand” children in the area affected.

“So it really does take a community to treat, educate and make sure that our special people have the services and the quality of life that they deserve,” he said.

“In the fall, we’re probably going to be looking at an enrollment of almost 300. Space is a desperate need for us, so we’re continuing to look for space to serve more students,” said Paul Garchar, CEO of Potential Development.

Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, highlighted the upcoming Streetscape annual planting day June 1 and the new First Friday’s program.

“The partners have been working hard to put together a collection of fun, dynamic events all around downtown on the first Fridays of the month,” she said. Activities will include a night market on Phelps Street, entertainment to promote arts and culture and seasonally themed recreational activities.

Pictured at top: Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown speaks during Thursday’s event.

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