Streetscape Planting Day Brings Good Vibes to a City with a Heavy Heart

YOUNGSTOWN –  Amid heavy hearts from the tragedy earlier in the week, Streetscape had a large turnout for much needed  “Greenery and Good Vibes” on Saturday morning.

“I can’t tell you how much Youngstown needed to see your smiling faces today,” said Sharon Letson, executive director of CityScape, as she addressed volunteers gathered at Penguin City Brewing Co. at the start of 27th annual planting day, this year titled “Greenery and Good Vibes.”

About 1,000 people signed up to participate. Letson said it was a difficult decision whether to go forward after the gas explosion Tuesday ended the life of Chase Bank employee Akil Drake. The morning started with Letson asking for a moment of silence for Drake and the seven others injured in the horrific blast at the Realty Tower building that rocked downtown

“What we heard from our volunteers and our supporters was they wanted to go forward and they wanted to do something positive,” Letson said. “This is a way to move the city forward, to do something positive.”

Volunteers spread out throughout downtown and the neighborhoods, pulling weeds, clearing brush, planting flowers and mulching. While the immediate area around the Realty Tower remains closed off to public, Letson said some plants were held back and when the time is right, volunteers will plant in that block, which includes Central Square.

“This event makes you feel good anyway because you’re doing something positive for the city. But you’re doing it as a community,” Letson said. “And especially this year, we needed it.”

As the sun warmed, volunteers made their way to their assigned areas and worked with organizations, their co-workers, family and friends.

Constance Burgess and Bruce Chatman are new to the area and met another first-time volunteer, retired teacher Carol Gallo, in a flower bed in the middle of Federal Street. Burgess and Chatman are enjoying gardening in their new yard, learning about seasonal differences in Youngstown and the plants that grow here.

Burgess said she wanted to share her love of gardening by helping her new community, especially in light of the tragedy earlier in the week.

“We’re trying to redirect our energies into something positive,” she said.

Down the street, Heather Champion was mulching with her family and another group that included some young children barely big enough to carry a cup of mulch. Champion pointed out the importance of helping to keep Youngstown clean and how gardening together as volunteers teaches the children the importance of giving back to the community.

Samantha Orvis, a relationship manager with Premier Bank, brought her boyfriend, James Agrusa and his daughters to help. Orvis notes they focus on their garden at home. So it only makes sense to spend a day focusing on the gardens downtown.

On the hillside, several groups were clearing brush and working on mulch, including a group of 20 students from Youngstown Rayen Early College High School. Saedah Hadi, one of the teachers, said this is the fourth year the school has brought incoming freshmen to help, which she said opens their eyes to the positive experience of helping in the community.

That same joy of giving back and the importance of holding planting day in spite of tragedy was echoed throughout the city.

“I’m glad they didn’t postpone it,” said Matt Laury, who was volunteering with colleagues from BSHM Architects on the hillside. “I’m glad they decided to still do this.”

Pictured at top: Several teams tackled the hillside between downtown and YSU campus, including representatives from GPD Group, an architectural firm in Youngstown; American Institute of Architects of Youngstown; BSHM Architects, Inc., of Youngstown; and 20 incoming freshmen from Youngstown Rayen Early College High School.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.