Our Towns

Streetscape Draws 700-Plus Volunteers to Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — You can take Phil Kidd out of Youngstown, but you can’t take Youngstown out of Phil Kidd.

Kidd, who stepped down in March as associate director of Youngstown CityScape to take a position in Cleveland, joined hundreds of volunteers to participate in the organization’s annual Streetscape planting and cleanup day Saturday morning. He still considers Youngstown his home and enjoyed being back to help out with the event.

“This is what’s special about Youngstown. I don’t see this level in Cleveland as far as the scale of this type of community involvement,” he remarked. “It’s invigorating to see this and to continue to participate here.”

More than 700 people from around the Mahoning Valley turned out on a mild and sunny first day of June to participate in the 22nd annual event, which focuses on downtown and the surrounding area

The theme of this year’s event was “Spruce Up Youngstown,” as reflected on the T-shirts worn by most of Saturday’s volunteers.

Individuals who volunteered on their own or represented local businesses and community groups pulled weeds, spread mulch, planted flowers and performed other tasks related to beautification at 56 stations. CityScape purchased $15,000 worth of plants and 100 yards of mulch for the event, said Sharon Letson, Streetscape executive director.

The participants ranged from Streetscape veterans and individuals with longstanding ties to downtown community to newer members of the community and first-time participants.

This year’s group represented one of the largest to participate in Streetscape since the event started, said Pete Asimakopoulos, Youngstown market president for First National Bank and president of the CityScape board of directors. Asimakopoulos has participated in nearly every Streetscape planting event.

“People from all over the community come for one common goal, to beautify downtown Youngstown,” he said. “It’s a little overwhelming.”

Frederick Coombs, a retired attorney whose offices were downtown, said he has participated in at least 16 Streetscape events. “I’ve got the shirts to prove it,” he laughed.

Coombs retired about two years ago. “This is still my town. I grew up here and I like to give back,” he said.

Among the many participants new to the event this year were Aspasia Lyras, co-owner of Penguin City Brewing Co.; Emily McHenry, community engagement and training specialist with Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries; and Victoria Lehn, an accountant with HBK CPAs & Consultants.

Lyras, whose Penguin City Beer began brewing at the B&O Station two weeks ago, said she heard about Streetscape after the fact last year and vowed to participate this year. “I want to do my part for the city of Youngstown and make it look beautiful for the summer,” she said.

“It’s wonderful that it’s a beautiful day,” she added. “To see all these people definitely gives me a boost of energy this early Saturday morning.”

Although this year’s was McHenry’s first Streetscape, Goodwill has longstanding ties with the event. She was one of about half a dozen Goodwill employees, ranging from professional-level staff to clothing and textiles handlers.

HBK, which moved from downtown to Canfield in 2014 when it consolidated three offices, “has always had a team come out and volunteer” for the event, said Lehn, who joined the firm iin October.

“I enjoy community service and it’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day so we might as well make downtown look more beautiful, too.”

Carol Sherman, co-owner of Sherman Creative Promotions, Boardman, has participated in several Streetscape events but not in recent years. “I had the time and it was a good opportunity to give back to the city, so here I am,” she said.

Sherman was part of a group of volunteers organized by the Rotary Club of Youngstown.

Also participating through the Youngstown Rotary group was Aimee Fifarek, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County. Fifarek enlisted her husband, Jason Boland, to pitch in.

“This is great. I’ve not participated in anything like this before,” Fifarek said. “It’s great to have people from all over the community coming out to plant and weed. It’s for the public good and that’s what the library is all about. So it fits right in with my personal mission.”

It also fits in with Fifarek’s personal interests. She maintains a vegetable garden at her home in Canfield. “I like digging in the dirt and making things happen that you can actually see grow,” she said.  

Among the areas volunteer crews tackled was the John Young Memorial, Letson said. Knotweed was cleared from the hillside and trees removed, and masonry specialists from Edison Lighting in Poland cut stone to make a cap to cover the top of the memorial to prevent water deterioration to the memorial.

“I can’t even put a dollar figure to that,” she said. 

The involvement of so many volunteers didn’t surprise Letson.

“I’m not surprised because they’ve been doing it for years,” she said. “Not only do they come and work but they financially support the work. Then they watch all summer to see what they planted, how its growing and how we’re taking care of it.”

Pictured at top: Amy Fifarek, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, participates in her first downtown planting day.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.