Trumbull United Way Kicks Off Annual Campaign with Born Learning Trail

WARREN, Ohio — Children in Trumbull County will soon have a new way to get active and sharpen their reading skills at the same time.

On Thursday, community leaders gathered next to the children play area at Perkins Park to announce the Born Learning Trail. The project features 10 interactive signs that offer fun activities that promote physical activity and early childhood literacy.

For the last seven years, the project has been a dream for Ginny Pasha, president and CEO of the United Way of Trumbull County, which is spearheading the initiative.

“It just seemed like there was such an opportunity for us to enhance downtown Warren with a trail that promotes early literacy and promotes family and children,” Pasha said.

Since 2014, the United Way has focused on third-grade childhood literacy, and five years later shifted its focus to “learn well, earn well and stay well,” Pasha said.

“There’s research out there that shows if you are not reading at grade level by grade 3, you have a significant chance of not being academically successful,” she said. “Under learn well, we have now included pre-K programming to make sure kids are ready to learn when they start school.”

Part of that effort is the Born Learning Trail, one of two such trails in northeastern Ohio, she said. The Born Learning Trail is a research-based worldwide United Way-licensed program designed to teach children and families between the ages of 0 and 5 skills that promote early reading. Each station features a sign with an activity that promotes early literacy, Pasha said.

The Trumbull United Way’s Women United affinity group implemented physical activities on the signs as well, aligning with its focus on addressing chronic health issues, such as hypertension and diabetes.

“We are also going to include stations that promote a healthy lifestyle for kids and their families to promote a reduction in chronic disease,” Pasha said.

In 2019, the Trumbull County Combined Health District and partners conducted a community health assessment and selected three priorities for a community health improvement plan, one of which was chronic disease, said the district’s grant coordinator, Jenna Amerine.

The assessment uncovered “staggering numbers” of those suffering from chronic disease in the county, particularly among minority populations, Amerine said. Such diseases include high blood pressure, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Eric Lanham and Ginny Pasha stand on the site of the Born Learning Trail in Perkins Park

“We have discovered that our minority populations tend to have a higher risk or a higher rate of some of these chronic diseases,” she said. “Our Black, African-American women are having a higher infant mortality rate than our White American women.”

One reason is the lack of access to physical health opportunities in the area. The collaboration between the district, the United Way and Women United provides children a new opportunity to be physically active while improving literacy, which the district promotes with the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library through the county’s Help Me Grow program, she said.

“This is just one of our three priorities in Trumbull County,” Amerine said. “We’re just really happy to have the collaboration with all of these stakeholders here and to really provide these opportunities for our priority health needs in the county.”

The project kicks off the nonprofit’s United Way at Work 2020. Typically a one-day event, United Way at Work draws some 250 volunteers from across the county, who go into the community and do yard work and light home maintenance for individuals and families who are physically or financially unable.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, however, not every volunteer is comfortable with in-person projects. So the United Way is including in-person and virtual projects into its campaign, which will run through December.

Christine Cope, United Way director of development and marketing, came up with the idea to offer a menu of in-person or virtual projects that companies can sign up for based on their comfort level during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s quite a few companies this year who aren’t going to be able to congregate in a setting, even at a house,” Cope said. In-person projects will be staggered as well, she said, so those still interested in doing that work can participate safely with smaller teams.

Those interested in volunteering can see the breakdown of available projects at UnitedWayTrumbull.org/united-way-work-2020.

“They’re not all listed there because we’re creating more as we go based on feedback from what people are willing to do,” Cope said.

Currently, the Born Learning trail is made up of portable signs that the United Way can relocate to other sites when needed. Workers from Laborers’ International Union Local 935 and Barton Malow, Detroit, Mich., will install a series of 10 interactive signs with wooden posts as a permanent fixture at Perkins Park.

Barton Marlow is donating the equipment and the building materials, said Jim LeDenko, business manager for Local 935. The union brought in Barton Malow for the Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing plant in Lordstown – the joint venture between General Motors Co. and LG Chem of South Korea.

“As soon as they came in town on our pre-job and our meet and greet, they asked if there was any community outreach,” LeDenko said.

Barton Marlow does a lot of work with GM, said Mike Kuntz, project manager for the Ultium Cells project and the Born Learning Trail project. In July, workers started erecting steel for the plant. Kuntz says things are going well thus far and still on track for completion sometime in 2022. The company has about 300 local union workers on site – including carpenters, laborers, ironworkers, electricians and pipefitters.

“At peak, we’ll have over 1,000 union tradesmen on site,” Kuntz said.

For the Born Learning Trail, Barton Marlow will bring some local labor help as well as superintendents and management staff to work after business hours, he said. Workers will likely use a mini-excavator with auger to dig the holes for the wooden sign posts.

“You’ll have anywhere from five to 10 people here,” he said. “I think we’re planning on doing this about two weeks from now.”

Offering to work on community projects is common practice for Barton Malow when the company comes into a community for a large-scale project, Kuntz said. During the company’s annual community week two weeks ago, the company volunteered with the local Habitat for Humanity. It was part of a company-wide effort that saw some 600 volunteers working on community projects.

“One of our core principles is people, projects and communities,” he said. “So when we came into town, the first thing we did was reach out to the local union building trades and see how we can give back to the community.”

For the local workers, it’s an opportunity to get involved in their community as well, LeDenko said.

“This is fun for me because I can give back. It’s a good opportunity for me and my members to give back,” he said. “Our grandkids might use this park, and their kids.”

Between investments and in-kind services provided, the United Way’s Pasha estimates the total cost of the project is about $5,000. Of that, 717 Credit Union donated $3,000 as a corporate sponsorship for the project.

The credit union is proud to be a partner in the project, said Eric Lanham, vice president of marketing for 717 Credit Union and past chairman of the United Way of Trumbull County.

“It’s a great opportunity to promote education in a way that is fun for young children and families, and so important to the well being of our community,” Lanham said. It also provides families with another reason to come downtown “and to continue making downtown Warren a destination.”

In addition to its corporate sponsorship for the trail, credit union employees will be on hand after the installation to help with the painting of activities on the walkway.

Mayor Doug Franklin commended the efforts of those involved and said the project is an example of what the county can accomplish through partnerships.

“I have the very distinct honor and pleasure of wearing two hats today. First, is the proud mayor of Warren, but also as a proud board member of the United Way of Trumbull County,” he said. “This is one example of many things that we’ve added to this park to promote wellness living.”

Each week, about 500 residents come to walk the track at Perkins Park, “and that’s growing every day,” he said. “Bring your families down to enjoy this. It’s going to be great.”

Pictured at top: On hand for the Born Learning Trail announcement were Local 935 Business Manager Jim LeDenko; City of Warren Mayor Doug Franklin; Ginny Pasha, president and CEO of the United Way of Trumbull County; Jenna Amerine, grants coordinator for the Trumbull County Combined Health District; Eric Lanham, senior vice president of marketing for 7 17 Credit Union; and Mike Kuntz, project manager for Barton Malow.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.