Streetscape Volunteers Spruce Up Downtown, City

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The annual Streetscape event has seen both its scope and participation grow since the first one took place.

The more than 650 volunteers who took part in the 18th Streetscape yesterday was a far cry from the few dozen participants Sharon Letson reports contributed their time for the first one. And the onetime downtown-centric planting and cleanup event has spread to locations throughout the city.

“It’s like when you work at home. You clean up one thing and you notice something else that needs done,” Letson said. She is executive director of Youngstown CityScape, which puts on the annual event.

The theme of Streetscape 2015 was “Bloom or Bust.”

Several businesses and individuals donated food and drinks for volunteers, or money for supplies. In addition, Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology is offering free admission this month for volunteers who wear their Streetscape 2015 shirts, said Suzanne Barbati, executive director.

While downtown remains the focus of the event, volunteers spread throughout the city doing planting, weeding, mulching and litter pickup. The event drew both veteran and first-time volunteers from throughout the Mahoning Valley and around it, from people who work and, increasingly, live downtown to folks in neighboring communities.

“It’s just like at home. You want things to look right,” Letson said. “For 18 years we wanted things to look right in the city but the difference now is that other people want that and are doing this work around the city, and that’s exciting.

“Now we have the businesses and the residents,” she continued. “I guess in our vision 18 years ago this was what we were planning for. This is what we were hoping for.”

About 60% of this year’s volunteers were associated with businesses, nonprofit groups, organizations and even families, while the rest were unaffiliated individuals.

Saturday morning found Pete Asimakopoulos sweeping with a push broom in front of the downtown building where during the week he works as Youngstown market manager of First National Bank of Pennsylvania. Part of the group that volunteered during the first Streetscape event, he noted his bank has supported Youngstown CityScape since its inception.

“We just feel it’s a very important organization to our core city, to the community, and there’s pride here obviously,” Asimakopoulos said.

The bank usually has about a dozen volunteers participate each year, “even people that work in the branches, not necessary just downtown folks,” he said. This year’s group included someone from Hermitage, Pa. “It’s something we’re all committed to,” he remarked.

Another downtown business, FactSet Research Systems, was doing plantings and cleanup work over at the B&O Station Banquet Hall.
“We work downtown so this is our neighborhood,” said John Slanina, a senior content manager with FactSet. He has volunteered at Streetscape for eight years, including three years when he lived in Columbus before moving back to the area five years ago.

“I know it’s spreading citywide but we’re happy to be part of the positive change in downtown Youngstown,” he added.

Taking care of the West Federal Street Corridor was a group of 70 volunteers from the Youngstown State University Alumni Society and Pete’s Pride, the YSU-based volunteer initiative.

“We want to beautify the city. We’re proud of the city,” said Germaine Bennett of Youngstown, a retired educator and Pete’s Pride member. She was with a group planting flowers in front of the Downtown Circle convenient store. “We want the students to feel comfortable. We want people that live out in the suburbs to feel comfortable to come down here.”

“We’re proud of the downtown area and the downtown area of course is so close to YSU’s campus,” she continued.

A contingent of volunteers consisting of members of the American Institute of Architects Eastern Ohio and YSU students worked at the set of stairs that connects the YSU campus to the downtown area at West Commerce Street.
AIA Eastern Ohio has been involved in Streetscape since its first year, said John DeFrance, a member of the chapter’s board of directors who also has volunteered since the start of the event.

“As we started to see good changes happen [downtown] we saw this as an opportunity to amplify that and make sure that sometime visitors to the downtown saw that there were concerned citizens,” DeFrance, an architect with Olsavsky-Jaminet Architects, Youngstown, said. “And I’ll walk at noon. It’s nice to see a little color so I appreciate it myself.”

A self-described Streetscape “newbie” was fellow AIA Eastern Ohio member Bruce Sekanick, architect and secretary-treasurer with Phillips/Sekanick Architects in Warren.

“This is one big community. I don’t care whether it’s Warren or Youngstown, we’re all one and the same,” he remarked. “If you were at any other city like Cleveland or Columbus this would be just a neighborhood away. We sometimes think of this as a bunch of communities but we’re really one big community together. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Letson also noted the new elements incorporated into the event this year. Those included buses provided by the Western Reserve Transit Authority to help shuttle volunteers from worksite to worksite, and the participation of amateur radio operators. The Amateur Radio Emergency Services provided communications between sites and the base tent on East Federal Street.

“These are the same practices that we’d use if there was a disaster here in downtown Youngstown. We’re like the minutemen of communications,” said Frank Sole, a member of the Mahoning Valley Amateur Radio Association, one of three clubs affiliated with ARES that participated Saturday.

Volunteering for events like Streetscape gives ham radio operators the opportunity to practice so that if an emergency arises they aren’t responding in a “knee-jerk” fashion, Sole said.

Pictured: Joyce Martin, Sperry Rongone, Walter Zuhosky, Germaine Bennett and Julius Bennett were among this year’s Streetscape volunteers.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.