United Way’s Day of Caring targets blight on Youngstown’s east side


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – It was a busy day for hundreds of volunteers cleaning up the east side of Youngstown. The annual United Way Day of Caring drew in more people than ever before.

The WYTV 33 News team was also out working on Friday. There was plenty to do, from cleaning up the sidewalks and vacant houses to landscaping.

“When the house next to you is all blighted and overgrown, it’s kind of depressing,” said TJ Rodgers, Second Ward Councilman. “Having everyone come out, chip in, and clean up these blighted houses and clear off the sidewalks, it just helps people take pride in their community.”

The 2017 United Way Day of Caring kicked off at 8 a.m. and the almost 800 volunteers hit the ground running with shovels, clippers, and rakes in hand to “Fight the Blight.”

“Cleaning the sidewalks, making them safe for pedestrians, clearing the vacant lots, cleaning up vacant houses, demolishing vacant houses,” said Ian Beniston, with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.

All so east side residents have a safer way to get around and can be proud of the neighborhood they live in.

“It’s amazing to see all these people just pulling together, volunteering their Friday, taking off work or whatever it is they do for a living, and coming out just to clean and beautify the east side,” Rodgers said.

A new welcome sign at Oak and Garland streets was installed to greet residents and visitors.

“I think the focus of working on a specific area of Youngstown — cleaning up neighborhoods, taking out homes — has really engaged the community,” said Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of the Mahoning Valley. “When you see the neighborhoods we clean up before and after, it’s amazing. I think that is what excites the volunteers, to see what it looks like when they are done.”

Last year, the focus was along Market Street. Over 800 cubic yards of debris was removed and 500 cubic yards of trash hauled away.

To put in perspective how much this event has grown since it started — the first year, the event only had about 90 volunteers and this year, there were nearly 800. Five hundred of those worked to clean up the streets and the rest worked with 18 of the United Way’s partner nonprofit agencies throughout Mahoning County.

The American Red Cross was also out on Friday, installing dozens of free smoke alarms.

An amateur local radio group helped the Red Cross install them. The group set up stations to stay in contact with the different teams.

The Red Cross works closely with amateur radio groups across the county. In emergency situations, cell phones and traditional ways of communication may be offline.

“It works fine in day-to-day traffic situations but as soon as an emergency or any type of major event happens, that capacity is overloaded,” said Frank Sole, with Amateur Radio Emergency Service.

In an emergency or major event, like Hurricane Harvey, amateur radio groups can step in and help the Red Cross with communication.