Shenango Urban League President Receives National Recognition
MERCER COUNTY, Pa. — As the Shenango Valley Urban League heads into 2022, President/CEO Erin Houston, reflects on the past as she and her team plan for the future of the civil rights and urban advocacy organization.
“For 2022, our focus is to maintain our organization during these times of uncertainty and limited funding that the pandemic has presented to us,” said Houston, who has led the organization since 2015. “Keeping the organization strong and moving in the right direction through these times, keeping the staff safe, those are my main goals.”
Houston has led the organization since 2015, and joined in 2007 as program coordinator for its Summer Youth Apprenticeship Program. Her longtime work with the Urban League was recently recognized by the National Urban League when she was given the Excellence in Leadership Award during the 2021 virtual Whitney M. Young, Jr. Leadership Development Conference.
This year, Houston is also mindful of those opportunities that are centered around the history of the organization, now in its 54th year.
“We want to continue to advocate for voting rights and social justice, because being a civil rights organization, this is really what the foundation of this organization is about,” Houston says. “And with the national political climate as it is, we’ve really made it a point to pay more attention to the climate locally and ensure that our black community has a voice.”
Urban League Board President Autumn L. Johnson, first assistant public defender with the Mercer County Public Defender’s Office, agrees. “The dignity of a community is a direct reflection of the opportunities it provides.”
Some of the ways the organization ensures the marginalized have a voice is by its initiatives, including the Housing & Life Readiness Program offered in partnership with Mercer County Children & Youth Services specifically for families in the CYS system.
“CYS works on the family unit and their needs as a family, and we work on keeping the family housed,” Houston says, adding that it is part of their housing program that includes helping people with rent payments and providing foreclosure counseling by HUD-certified housing counselors.
The Urban League continues to provide candidate and community forums in collaboration with the Shenango Valley Ministerial Association and the NAACP, as well as administer the Women, Infants, and Children Program in Mercer, Forest & Venango Counties. Concerns that the WIC program would leave its umbrella of services were allayed when the Pennsylvania Department of Health ended the bidding process and to keep all the WIC programs in the commonwealth where they are currently housed, Houston explains.
Youth/education programming will continue this year, including the Summer Youth Apprenticeship Program, which has been virtual for the past two years and will likely be so again, Housing says. Winners for the Urban League’s Black history essay contest, now in its 48th year for 5th and 6th grades in Mercer County school districts, will be announced in March.
The organization has expanded its public outreach efforts to promote its programming.
“We have a broader reach of people now with social media, not just with our clients but our partner organizations,” she says. “We are able to highlight more of what we are doing than we did in the past and we’ve just evolved in a way to provide new services, such as Facebook Lives, instead of in-person forums.”
Opportunities to support the Shenango Valley Urban League include volunteering at events and programs, making donations to the nonprofit, as well as purchasing a membership.
“I see us growing and bringing in new programs so that we can provide more services to the community,” Houston says. “The focus is on growth for this affiliate. I feel like we can really expand upon what we already do and enhance the programs we offer while also looking for future opportunities, even during a pandemic.”
“I’m looking forward to the Shenango Valley Urban League expanding its programing in 2022 to address a critical need in our community with workforce development,” Johnson agrees.
Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.