United Way Breaks Ground on $3M Volunteer Resource Center

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Outgrowing its downtown headquarters on Watt Street and operating food deliveries from an outdoor location, the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley broke ground Monday on its new $3 million Volunteer Resource Center.

“Come June, barring a crazy winter, we will have a Volunteer Resource Center that will help us continue the impact efforts for the people of the Mahoning Valley. And for us, it’s just the evolution of what we do – the work that we do and something that is needed,” said Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

The James and Coralie Centofanti Charitable Foundation provided $1 million of the funding for the new facility.

Another $1.5 million came via the federal funding package signed into law in March 2022 and secured through the efforts of Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

While the local United Way headquarters will remain downtown and Hannon said the organization remains committed to that location, the new space will provide 11,000 square feet of much-needed, additional space in the form of a prefabricated steel structure at 8133 Market St.

About 3,000 square feet will be used as meeting space, where the United Way and other organizations can host events, such as a Red Cross Blood Drive, to help the community.

“Boardman is such a great central location that we see many of our partner agencies also taking advantage of it,” Hannon said. “We want it to be a community volunteer resource center, not just a United Way resource center.”

A rendering of the future United Way Volunteer Resource Center.

The remaining 8,000 square feet will be more warehouse space, needed due to several initiatives started in recent years to provide items and food for those who are struggling to obtain them. That includes a volunteer program that started a few years ago, when COVID made it difficult for families and the elderly to obtain food, especially if they had no transportation. The warehouse will be named after Father Tim O’Neill to carry on his legacy of feeding those in need. The Difference Makers, which O’Neill founded, will be under the United Way umbrella. 

“The vision and the leadership of Mr. Ed Muransky started this in COVID,” said Eric Carlson, a United Way board member. “April of 2020 was our first Saturday of Caring. There were a lot of places for people to go and get food, but there was nobody that was delivering.”

The United Way changed that, starting with between 50 and 100 families. Volunteers packed food and physically drove it to the homes. Now 450 families continue to receive food assistance on the third Saturday of each month.

Both Carlson and Hannon said families receiving food and the volunteers delivering it have formed a close relationship.

“It’s a social-emotional relationship as well,” Hannon said, adding none of this would have happened without Muransky.

But a lack of space makes the program difficult to pull off each month. Carlson said volunteers arrive on Saturday morning to package up the bags of food in the canopy area between the hospital and main office building, which provides limited protection from the wind, rain and cold.

The new facility will allow some volunteers to package items during the week. It also will allow the United Way to receive large food donations, including those that must be kept cold, by providing them with dedicated space. Often, those items need a place to go, and the United Way’s current facility is packed full.

Breaking ground for the United Way Volunteer Resource Center on Monday are, from left, Jordan Pennell, northeastern Ohio regional representative and special projects coordinator for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office; Carol Potter and David Centofanti, both trustees of the James and Coralie Centofanti Charitable Foundation; Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley; Joe Centofanti, Mark Graham and Joe Mosca, all three trustees of the James and Coralie Centofanti Charitable Foundation; and Eric Carlson, member of the board of directors at the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

“Bombas socks are getting ready to give us a donation, pallets and pallets and pallets of socks,” Carlson said. “We can’t receive them at the office. … We actually have a storage pod out in the parking lot of the United Way because there isn’t enough space.”

With volunteer space that is too full to work in and box trucks that have to be brought in and parked in the lot for additional storage over the holidays, the United Way has determined it has a need for this space.

“This is really going to allow the creative minds of the staff to be able to go out and get more opportunities, more things that we can be able to share with the Valley in a more regulated time frame,” Carlson said, adding the facility will allow for additional opportunities to volunteer throughout the week.

“We’re blessed with more than 500 volunteers,” said Hannon, who added many come from Boardman, Canfield, Poland, South Range and Springfield, and will find it easy and convenient to come to the new center.

Donations meant for the giving efforts of the United Way are not being used to fund the project, which Hannon said is being paid for with private funding and the money from Brown’s office.

“I like to call it unselfish giving,” Hannon said of the efforts of those who give to the United Way and gave even more in recent years. He added even those who were struggling a bit during COVID gave or volunteered because they figured someone else was struggling more.

“We’re very blessed at the United Way to have major corporations, very generous donors that want to support United Way and support our work. And now our goal is to make sure we make them proud and we fulfill our mission.”

Pictured at top: Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, speaks at Monday’s groundbreaking.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.