Valley Unites for Advancing Education-Reducing Crime

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The events planned across the Youngstown City School District for April 22 are aimed at kids, but for those organizing the Advancing Education-Reducing Crime program what’s stood out most is the collaboration between adults.

And the initiative was spearheaded by Jon Howell, a Youngstown native living in Bloomington, Ill.

The Youngstown Police Department officers will be at elementary schools talking to students about their jobs. Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel and Mayor John McNally will read books to students. The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County will take its pop-up library across the district. The Mahoning County Educational Service Center helped coordinate the inclusion of suburban districts. Translators from Spanish Evangelical Church will be at each event to provide service for Spanish-speaking students and parents.

“I’m a strong advocate of the three C’s: cooperation, collaboration and communication,” said Jon Howell, who with his wife, Adrienne, has led the organization of the Advancing Education-Reducing Crime program. “The better we practice those principles as leaders, the better outcomes we have for Youngstown, Ohio. The better we can say, ‘Yes,’ or ‘I’ll try to help,’ the closer we get to the high horizons we want in Youngstown.”

Planning for the day, Howell said, started in the fall after he got involved with Operation Paintbrush, where volunteers cleaned up and painted four houses across the city.

“We saw the power of those 200 people and we wondered how we could use that same thrust, same energy and same bond to do something bigger,” he said. “When you can drive down crime and elevate education, you automatically elevate the quality of life.”

Howell’s first call was to Youngstown schools CEO Krish Mohip, who in turn contacted Ron Iarussi, superintendent of the county education center. Later, Howell talked to Judges Theresa Dellick and Anthony D’Apolito to gauge their interest. It snowballed from there.

“You will see Youngstown and its suburbs operating at their very best,” Howell said during a press conference Friday morning. “You will see our children engaging in nurturing, learning environments. You will see our citizens joining hearts and hands in standing against crime in our neighborhoods.”

The key to making the day successful, all speakers at the conference noted, is the involvement of organizations across the city, from schools to the library to churches.

“Krish Mohip and [Director of Operations] Joe Nohra can’t fix the schools overnight and they can’t fix it by themselves. They can’t fix it without the faith-based community,” McNally said. “They can’t fix it without other entities of government. They can’t fix it without the spotlight of the media or the library system or these good folks.”

The agenda for April 22 includes an essay contest, read-ins, police dog demonstrations, pop-up libraries, discussions led by Sandy Hook Promise’s Ohio chapter and, at the end of the day, an anti-crime march in the neighborhoods of the city’s four elementary schools.

“We know we wanted to focus on K-12,” Howell said. “Juvenile crime, we want to keep them out of the system because once they’re in, they’re marked. [The Sandy Hook Promise] is helping students who are isolated and helping other students identify that to bring them into a family. Chief Lees and I talked about community policing and bringing a two-way conversation.”

At each event with a speaker, added the Rev. Rolando Rojas from Spanish Evangelical, there will be a translator. That’s not something happens often, he said, leaving Spanish-speaking families out of the loop. Rojas and members of his church translated fliers for Advancing Education-Reducing Crime to Spanish, he added.

“Whatever we’re doing in English, there will be interpretation. Whenever there’s a speaker, it will be interpreted. Whenever there’s reading going on, there will be Hispanic readers,” he said. “What they’re learning is that they’re important to whoever is bringing the event to the community. This way, they’re not left out and they can enjoy everything.”

While originally planned as an event for the Youngstown schools, the event quickly grew beyond borders. Other schools districts will bring students from all grade levels and some high school bands will have performances in the Youngstown elementary schools.

“Not only is it good for us to share resources, but our children have chances to interact and understand more about cultural diversity and hopefully break down some barriers that exist out there,” Iarussi said. “Our county schools understand that for our Valley to grow and be successful, both economically and culturally, we need that collaborative effort.”

Pictured: Jon Howell, a Youngstown native, discusses plans for the Advancing Education-Reducing Crime program Friday morning.

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