Youngstown Foundation Awards $1.5M to Assist with Medical Bills

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown Foundation on Thursday announced a $1.5 million grant for Operation Search & Help, a program that provides financial assistance to families of children and young adults in Mahoning and Trumbull counties with special needs, behavioral health care needs and chronic medical conditions.

The three-year commitment is the largest for the program, which was established by the foundation in 1974 with a contribution from Elizabeth Hine.

“Our goal is to dramatically expand access to Operation Search & Help,” said Lynnette Forde, president of the Youngstown Foundation. “Many local families have expressed their appreciation for these funds, and we want to extend that benefit to many more families who need help with medical bills.”

Operation Search & Help reimburses families with children up to age 21 for expenses related to diagnosed medical conditions, behavioral health issues and other special needs. It provides “last dollar” assistance to families who have exhausted insurance and other community resources. In the past fiscal year, the program assisted more than 370 local families.

Specific items eligible for reimbursement include medication, some medical expenses and equipment, specialized formulas, physical, occupational and speech therapy, supplies and travel to out-of-town medical appointments. The program originally benefited children in Mahoning County and parts of Trumbull County but has expanded to include all of both counties.

Among those who have received support from Operation Search & Help is Charitter Brown of Youngstown, whose son, Jayden, 18, battles spina bifida, hydrocephalus and chronic wounds.

“It has been a phenomenal resource,” Brown said. “There are times when insurance doesn’t cover the treatment and supplies that we need. When I reach out and provide the verification and documentation, [the program] has been there and it helps so much. It’s such a relief to have someone on your side.”

Jessica Blankenship of Youngstown also appreciates reimbursements the program has provided for care and supplies for her five children, ages 2 to 8. They have been treated for a range of conditions, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental delays, lactose intolerance and muscular disorders.

“A lot of the services our kids have needed have been in Cleveland, so it’s a huge help to be able to cover the expenses of going there every week or every other week,” Blankenship said.

Potential Development, a school for students with autism based in Youngstown, will continue to manage the Operation Search & Help program, which shares space with The Arc of Ohio – Northeast branch.

“We sincerely appreciate the Youngstown Foundation’s three-year commitment to help families in need through Operation Search & Help,” said Shari Nesbitt, grant manager for Operation Search & Help. “We are proud of the work that has been accomplished in the Valley and are strengthened by the crucial assistance from the foundation.”

More information is available at

Pictured at top: Jayden Brown and his mother, Charitter, are among the local individuals and families who have benefited from Operation Search & Help.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.