Philanthropy Comes from the Hearts of Business

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Taking a turn on a runway as a fashion model wasn’t an item on Genie Aubel’s bucket list, but the president of St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital can cross it off anyway.

Aubel was among the business and community leaders and local celebrities who walked the runway in the Jeanne D. Tyler Grand Ballroom for the Stambaugh Pillars’ 18th annual fashion show.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” she remarks, conceding that her participation was “a little out of our comfort zone” as well as for some of her fellow models.

Several businesses also donated items for the show’s raffle and gift bags to each who attended, notes Kelly Fertig, Stambaugh director of marketing and advertising. Support from businesses is very important to the auditorium, she says.

“As a nonprofit venue, we rely on the support of the whole community,” she points out.

Participating in events such as the Nov. 4 fashion show is among several ways local companies and their representatives support local philanthropic efforts.

Philanthropy has been an early focus for Magic Tree Pub & Eatery in Boardman, which co-owner Sandy Reda describes as a “not only for profit” business.

“It actually started when we designed a fundraising program for local nonprofits,” Reda says. “We designed it so that they can come in here and have their wine or beer taste.” Such organizations are charged less than their ticket price. Magic Tree also often gives money back to the organization, she says.

Additionally, Magic Tree presents the annual Big Tap In craft beer festival, which has raised more than $100,000 for charity over the past five years, Reda says.

Jeffrey Ryznar, owner of 898 Marketing in Canfield, and his wife, Dr. Meredythe McNally-Ryznar, vowed to give back to the March of Dimes after experiencing firsthand the work that the organization does. In 2012, their first daughter was born six weeks early and spent three weeks in neonatal intensive care.

During that time, the March of Dimes was “a constant source of comfort and brought a sense of normalcy back to a situation that was not only stressful but something that we did not know if we could handle,” he recalls.

Long-time supporters of the March for Babies, the Ryznars “jumped at the opportunity” when asked to be co-chairmen for the Signature Chef Auction, Ryznar says.

The auction, held Nov. 2 at Stambaugh Auditorium, was “a success by all objective and subjective measurements,” he remarks, with the greatest attendance, most corporate partners and highest amount raised of any Signature Chef Auction in the March of Dimes regional section, based in Cleveland.

The auction raised just under $60,000, reports Connie Knight, local community director for the March of Dimes. “We have an extremely generous community,” she remarks.

When Allen Ryan started at Covelli Enterprises in Warren more than a decade ago, one of the first things he recalls owner Sam Covelli asking him, “If the people who have success don’t give back, then who will?”

“Because of the support in our communities where we do business, he feels a certain responsibility of giving back to the community through projects that the communities care about,” says Ryan, the company director of corporate affairs.

Autism and breast cancer are two causes important to Covelli Enterprises and special products are sold in its Panera Bread stores to raise funds in their support. The most notable, Ryan says, is the annual Panerathon.

Other causes the company supports are the Animal Welfare League, Toys for Tots and the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, which Covelli partners with on its Imagination Library.

The Strimbu Memorial Fund Foundation continues the philanthropic model of Nick Strimbu Jr. The late owner of Nick Strimbu Inc., a trucking company in Brookfield, “devoted a lot of his time to philanthropic efforts” in the community, recalls Strimbu’s son and company president, Bill Strimbu.

Nick Strimbu died in 1989 and a request for donations payable to the Shenango Valley Foundation generated $65,000. Before the proceeds were disbursed, local business leaders approached Bill Strimbu about establishing a memorial fund in his father’s honor. A donor-advised fund was established with the Shenango Valley Foundation.

The memorial fund generates additional money from the annual memorial barbecue, which began 27 years ago. “Since that time we’ve given out $2,720,000 and also established a sizable endowment,” Bill Strimbu says. Over the years the fund has provided money in a widening geographic area for scholarships, donated to local nonprofits, built wheelchair ramps and supported economic development projects.

The Oaks Foundation is the fundraising arm for Copeland Oaks and Crandall Medical Center in Sebring. “Everything that we do helps to improve the quality of life of those who live here,” says foundation administrator Lisa Gentile.

In addition to money for capital improvements, the foundation raises funds for the Life Care program, which allows residents to continue living there after they’ve exhausted their assets. “Many people are living longer than they might have saved for,” Gentile says.

The VEC Community Fund, a component fund of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, was established three years ago by VEC Inc. in Girard, says Linda Kostka, coordinator of development and donor services for the Community Foundation.

“We were looking for a way to give back to the community as a team,” says Tricia Ferry, culture and team relations manager with VEC. Establishing the fund created an opportunity for VEC employees to support the community.

The fund is a good model of employer and employee involvement, Kostka says. VEC puts money into the fund and employees contribute as well through payroll deduction, and they decide as a group which organizations they want to award grants. Among the beneficiaries are Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology and Sister Jerome’s Poor.

Most donor-advised funds the Youngstown Foundation manages were set up by successful local business people, says Jan Strasfeld, its executive director. Among them is the Warren P. Williamson Jr. Fund, established by the founder of WKBN. His sons continue as advisers and make recommendations, she says.

One role the foundation plays is educating those new to the concept of philanthropy. Recently she worked with the siblings of the late Michael Kusalaba, who were left to advise the fund established by their brother.

“It was a sizable fund so it was a lot of responsibility,” Strasfeld says. The fund recently made a $1.68 million donation to the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County for a new West Side branch to be named for Kusalaba.

“We really spend a lot of time educating [newcomers] on philanthropy and on critical needs of the community,”

In 1949, industrialist Raymond John Wean established the Warren-headquartered foundation that bears his name. The Raymond John Wean Foundation distributes about $2.5 million annually, reports President Jennifer Roller. That includes grant making, technical assistance and capacity building to help other local nonprofits work more effectively.

About $1 million of the foundation’s annual distributions support community revitalization, one of its four strategic priorities. It works though partners such as Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. to “reshape the physical landscape of the cities of Warren and Youngstown,” she says.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.