WRTA Holiday Lights

WRTA ‘Holiday Lights’ Campaign Brings Awareness to Nonprofits

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Eighteen local nonprofits will be on display in a unique way this holiday season.

For the second consecutive year, Western Reserve Transit Authority will hold its Holiday Lights campaign, officials announced during a kick-off event in Youngstown. Throughout December, the nonprofits’ names will be displayed on buses.

Holiday Lights, sponsored by First National Bank and WKBN, began last year after the decision to cancel the Holiday Bus was made in response to COVID-19. “We tried to come up with a way to recognize organizations in the Mahoning Valley,” says Dean Harris, executive director at WRTA.

While showcasing nonprofits throughout December, Holiday Lights promotes the organizations people may not know about, or perhaps haven’t thought about in a while, he adds. “Our passengers, some of them could really use the benefits of the organizations” they see on the buses.

Laura McCulty Stepp, interim director of the Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry, says time and money constraints sometimes limit public access and knowledge to nonprofits. “Charities are crucial to every community, but because we don’t have time and resources to promote our organizations the community is often unaware of our work,” she says.

Potential Development, located in Youngstown, is visible to motorists from the roadway, but being added to the campaign adds a bit of school pride for employees and students.

“We’re so excited,” says Jodi Harmon, director of marketing and special events. Some students see their school’s name as they take the bus to and from school. “It means a lot to them.”

“It’s so nice. We’re right on Market Street and we get to see it” as the buses go up and down the street throughout the day, she said.

To be chosen, nonprofits are nominated. Then, it’s up to the WRPA board to narrow down which of the applicants will be included. Decisions are based on how each group serves the community as a whole, Harris says.

The creative marketing doesn’t cost nonprofits a penny, which helps each mission.

“Not only does [Holiday Lights] bring a voice to the Down’s Syndrome Center, it’s also supporting inclusion all throughout the county,” says Hannah Mayberry, project coordinator with the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley or DSAV.

This was the second year DSAV was chosen for Holiday Lights, which is a testament to the work the team does, Mayberry says. “It really shows we’re doing good for the area.”

The recognitions spanned animal-based nonprofits to food pantries.

“WRTA is so visible in the community and is a staple,” says Mike Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley. “Having some recognition on a bus that will be seen by hundreds, thousands of people is a real plus.”

WRTA started the Holiday Bus in 2017. Other transit authorities have decorated buses, which served as inspiration. To set WRTA’s apart, Santa Claus was added “for an extra kick,” Harris says.

Ultimately, the goal is to see the bus back for next year, but WRTA would entertain ideas regarding a similar campaign in addition to the Holiday Bus, Harris said.

Here are the 18 nonprofit organizations featured in the campaign:

  • Animal Charity of Ohio
  • Buster’s Brigade
  • City Kids Care
  • CompassFamily and Community Services
  • Down Syndrome Association of the Valley
  • Gateways to Better Living
  • Help Network of NEO (Crisis and Suicide Hotline)
  • Mercy Health Resource Mother’s Program
  • Potential Development
  • Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County
  • Project MKC (formerly Making Kids Count)
  • Rich Center for Autism
  • Second HarvestFood Bank
  • Sight for All United
  • SMARTS Students Motivated bythe Arts
  • Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministries
  • Youngstown CommunityFood Center/GleanersFood Bank
  • New Day Recovery

Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley Executive Director Mike Iberis, right, stands with Dean Harris, executive director of WRTA during the start of the Holiday of Lights program Tuesday in Youngstown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.