Teen Partners with Prosecutor’s Office to Support Domestic Violence Survivors

BOARDMAN, Ohio — South Range senior Macenzee Gaal is changing the narrative around her generation by using her innate generosity to support domestic violence survivors.

Thanks to the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office, Gaal and several local schools and communities in the Mahoning Valley, 10,246 items and $1,000 in funds were donated to local agencies that support domestic violence survivors.

The idea came to Gaal last year when she came across the prosecutor’s office while perusing the booths at the Canfield Fair with her friends. The office was about to launch its first donation drive to support domestic violence survivors, and Gaal was in the right place at the right time, Chief Assistant Prosecutor and Public Information Officer Gina DeGenova says.

“We just on a whim decided that we were going to start this donation drive last year and Macenzee happened to be walking by and contacted our office,” DeGenova recalls. “I got a phone call and they said, ‘there’s this really nice girl from South Range that wants to partner up and help out with this drive.’”

Gaal has always felt called to help others and raise awareness around what some consider to be a taboo topic, she says.

“Domestic violence is one of those topics that is very hush hush. It doesn’t get talked about a lot. And just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean that it goes away. It just creates ignorance,” Gaal says. “I think it’s something that’s really important talk about, which is part of the reason why I really wanted to be a part of it.”

This is the second year Gaal has headed what has become a community-wide initiative to collect donations to benefit area domestic violence programs offered by the Sojourner House, Beatitude House, and Christina House in honor of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The donations, which include items like diapers, toiletries, cleaning supplies, pillows and bed sheets, help fill the gap of what food stamps don’t cover, Beatitude House’s government programs administrator Teresa Boyce says.

“The fact that it’s young students that are that are organizing it makes it so great. The young generation really gets it and understands people’s struggles,” Boyce says. “It’s so helpful because many of our clients have food stamps, which don’t pay for things like diapers, things like wipes or household products.”

Donations help the agencies help others, Sojourner House’s operations manager Audrey Walker says. She adds that donations help the agency’s budget, which allows it to focus on other matters.

“This is going to help us be able to help a lot of the individuals that we serve in the shelter. When they get ready to leave, we can also give them items to take because a lot of them are starting all over from scratch,” Walker says. “We leave an impression with them, and it’s an impression that they can take out to other people, like, ‘Hey, I stayed at Sojourner House and this is what they did for me. This is how they helped me and my family.’ This helps us to help others.”

During the entire month of October, the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office, along with members of the South Range, Poland, Canfield and Salem High School Key Club programs, helped collect donations.

With Gaal’s assistance, the prosecutor’s office expanded the donation drive regionally with area businesses, schools and organizations serving as drop-off locations throughout Mahoning and Columbiana Counties.

The idea for the drive stemmed from the prosecutor’s offices’ continuous efforts to serve victims of domestic violence, DeGenova says. The office has two prosecutors whose sole jobs are to prosecute crimes against women and children, she says, and the drive is a way to help victims in another way.

“I hold these types of causes near and dear to my heart just by the work that we do. So, we decided to do this and then we partnered up with Macenzee and she made it a million times more than we ever could have envisioned,” DeGenova says.

High school students from South Range, Poland, Canfield and Salem played a key role in fundraising efforts, DeGenova says, especially Gaal.

“What these students did and the initiative that they took is beyond amazing and impressive. It’s finally youth who want to get involved and who want to give back,” DeGenova says. “I couldn’t say enough about these children and I’m just very proud to be part of this initiative and very happy to have met all of them.”

The younger generation has unrightfully earned a reputation of being lazy, Gaal says, and she’s hoping to change that narrative.

“Something that I want to break is the stereotype around my generation in particular that we don’t want to help out, and we’re a lazy generation,” Gaal says. “I don’t think that’s true. There’s lots of us that want to do good in our society and make a change.”

Gaal hopes the drive continues, even when she’s away next year studying pre-law at Washington & Jefferson College — her dream school.

Pictured above: Macenzee Gaal stands in one of the rooms at Cornerstone Caregiving in Boardman that served as the collection site for agencies receiving the donations.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.