Realtors’ Donation Moves Rich Center Forward

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In the midst of a $7 million capital campaign, a $16,000 donation to The Rich Center for Autism may be drops in the bucket, but they’re important drops nonetheless.

“It’s essential to what we do,” said the center’s executive director, Melanie Carfolo. “It was wonderful to get to know the realtors and to have them have an impact on the lives of our students.”

The donation from the Youngstown Columbiana Association of Realtors and the Beavers Creek Area Association of Realtors was announced Monday at The Rich Center. The funds will go toward the organization’s capital campaign, currently at 47% of its goal, to renovate Fedor Hall on the campus of Youngstown State University.

Renovations include a professional development center and family center. The Rich Center hopes to add a social worker to benefit families. Also on the list of planned additions are a therapy center, gymnasium, classroom spaces and a sensory room will also be a part of the renovation, Carfolo added. 

“We used to just have the first floor and now we have all three floors of this building,” she said. 

Through community service donations from members and the annual golf outing – which raised about $12,500 this year – the realtor associations were able to donate $16,000 to The Rich Center, said Jerri Florio. The optional $10 donation on the yearly membership bill is set aside for the president’s charity every year, said Julie Larson, CEO of the Youngstown Columbiana Association of Realtors.

Every year, when the association gets a new president, they decide which charity they want to support, Larson said. Florio chose to donate the proceeds to the Rich Center because autism is something she cares about; autism affects many families, including Florio’s, she said.

“We worry about children with autism, but you have to worry about adults with autism,” Florio said. “The Rich Center does a wonderful job and we’re doing better to prepare [those with autism] to live with everyone in the world.”

The Rich Center is doing a lot for research and for families, Larson said, adding that those who work there have a genuine heart for the work they’re doing.

“It’s exciting that we can give them this large chunk of money they can use to further what they’re trying to achieve for the children there,” Larson said. 

 Among the center’s upcoming fundraising events are Rock the Rich Center, which will be a lip sync battle in November, Purse Bingo in January and Temple Grandin, a nationally known speaker with autism will be at the Covelli Centre in April.

“We’re trying to get in contact with local donors to see if there is an interest in improving the lives of our children with autism,” Carfolo said. 

It’s everyone’s goal at The Rich Center for students to grow and develop in a way where they can cope with various facets of life, said Greg Boerio, associate director of academics and outreach.

“You and I, we understand things that might cause a struggle, we know how to change and adapt,” he said. “We have to support our students’ learning in a meaningful way in order to do that.” 

Providing the best practices in terms of academic, social, emotional and everyday living skills is available to students at the Rich Center, Boerio said. It was a “wonderful” experience to be able to work with the Youngstown Columbiana Association of Realtors, he added. 

“Any time organizations make it a point to donate money to us to demonstrate they want to be a cause of our mission, we promise to utilize that toward future goals,” Boerio said. 

Fifty-five students are currently enrolled at the Rich Center. Carfolo hopes enrollment will double after the project is finished, she said. The Rich Center employs 50, 36 of whom are teachers.

Pictured: Melanie Carfolo, executive director at The Rich Center for Autism; Greg Boerio, associate director of academics and outreach, The Rich Center; Jerri Florio, president of the Youngstown Columbiana Association of Realtors, Mike Latessa, Rich Center associate director of development; Julie Larson, CEO of YCAR; AJ Allen, Century 21 realtor; Sharon Drummond, Remax Valley realtor; Dale Miller, association executive at Beaver Creek Area Association of Realtors. 

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