United Returning Citizens Expands Services at New Site

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Marques Jones got involved with a troublesome group of friends when he was 16. His mother eventually took him out of East High School and enrolled him in the Academy for Urban Scholars where he began to see a lot of progress. 

Some issues during college led to Jones returning home where he ended up getting involved with his old friends from high school. He spent three months in county jail, followed by a five-year probation and an additional three months in jail for breaking parole. 

“I [was] a felon now, and I can’t really pursue the dream that I went to school for,” Jones said. 

Jones was introduced to Carshara (Keke) Bradley, housing coordinator for United Returning Citizens, in January and is now able to pursue his dreams as a human resource manager.

Marques Jones, human resource manager for United Returning Citizens.

“I had a lot of resources and I had a lot of good people in my life telling me to do right. But because they were telling me to do right, I wanted to do the opposite,” he said.

Jones wanted his chance to re-enter society and wishes to help others going through similar struggles to also achieve their dreams. He now works with outreach, community service and cleaning up records. 

“There are a lot of people in the community that are willing to help you and want to help you,” he said. “Do your research and use your resources. Don’t turn to the streets or turn to negative things. There are a lot of organizations like URC that are willing to help.”

His story is one of many success stories that was shared at URC’s open house Thursday at its new location, 611 Belmont Ave. The 1,100-square-foot building will allow it to function as a “community hub,” said Dionne Dowdy-Lacey, executive director. 

URC was based at the Oak Hill Collaborative building for eight years. Dowdy-Lacey said she knew she wanted to reach out to more people, which required a bigger building.

Dowdy-Lacey said she had been looking at the new location for two years. 

“I knew it had a dock in the back for our lawn care services, and I knew it had all of these offices for my team,” she said.

The back of the building has an additional open space where Dowdy-Lacey says she intends to operate her mentorship program and youth training.

Dowdy-Lacey said the organization has now helped more than 3,000 people. This year, 526 of those connections were made.

“Our mission is to help anyone with barriers to show sufficiency through entrepreneurship, education, soft skills and life skills,” she said. 

Although the new building has only been open for about three months, Dowdy-Lacey said it has already made a huge impact.

A new youth workforce program was started this year at URC. It has supported 26 kids who will now be able to receive money to go back to school or support their families.

While a lot of work has already started on the building, Dowdy-Lacey said the organization is still raising funds to complete the project. Funding has come from local foundations. So far, $74,000 has been raised and spent on the project.

“We are looking for another $82,000 to be able to finish on the other side,” she said. 

Dowdy-Lacey said in addition to finishing floors, renovations and painting, URC is still working toward creating a computer training room, a safe space and more.

Zion Monice said she has been with URC for about a month. She is now working on the second of two murals in the building. 

Artist and URC member Zion Monice stands in front of one of the murals she is creating at the organization’s new building.

“When I was speaking to miss Dionne, she kept saying ‘hope’ and ‘united,'” she said. “For me, that looks like togetherness, and that means standing in a circle, doing extra services for your neighbor.” 

Monice said the murals are to represent an ideal future. She is currently working on another mural for The Vapers Choice in Boardman.

“I am hoping to create opportunities for people and children and returning citizens to understand themselves through art,” she said.

The organization supports people of all ages with various barriers in life. 

Tanae and Delbert (who gave only their first names) spent some time looking for a place to go after being forced to leave where they were previously living. Running out of options, the couple began staying in the garage port of the new URC building. 

A few weeks ago, the couple was offered a fresh start through the URC. 

“They have been a great help,” Delbert said. They welcomed us with open arms, and it’s been a blessing since we came here.” 

Delbert said the organization gave them clothes, food and shelter. It has also helped resolve other issues and fill out paperwork for housing.

“We’re still going through the process and there is still a lot they [URC] want to do for us. But they have been helping us out with everything from A to Z,” he said.

“These barriers are sometimes just knowing who they are as young people. So we empower them and give them creative outlets and tools to find who they are and what they like to do,” Downey-Lacey said.

For more information or to make a donation, visit unitedreturningcitizens.org

Pictured at top: From left are Tanae and Delbert, community members impacted by United Returning Citizens, and Dionne Dowdy-Lacey, the organization’s executive director.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.