A volunteer force of students and local workers spent their time cleaning up a North Side neighborhood Friday during the United Way’s Day of Caring.
Volunteers from Youngstown State University, local high schools and businesses joined with Green Youngstown and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation to clean up debris and overgrowth between 5th Avenue and Ohio Avenue, north of Wick Park.
The effort was part of the United Way’s Day of Caring, an annual event that brings volunteers from various outlets together to carry out local service projects. The event kicked off with a speech from YSU President Jim Tressel Friday morning and lasted into the early evening.
Volunteers spent their day cutting down overgrown brush, picking up garbage and debris and cleaning and boarding up abandoned homes on the streets where they worked. Red Cross volunteers were on hand to provide water and basic first aid.
Streets in the North Side neighborhood, where many YSU students live and Greek houses are located, were closed during the event to allow for equipment trucks, trailers and Red Cross ambulances to operate during the cleanup.
The project was directed by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, a local community development group that has worked primarily in the South Side Idora neighborhood.
Liberty Merrill led the YNDC teams on Lora Avenue, directing volunteers in their efforts to beautify the neighborhood.
“It’s really great being able to bring all these different volunteer groups together and do this work,” Merrill said. “Cleanups are just the first step. The city and local revitalization groups will have to follow up on the work we’ve done today.”
A variety of YSU students were present at the cleanup. Some students represented Greek organizations, some student organizations and some came out independently to lend a hand.
“We live just over on Indiana Avenue. When we heard about the project it seemed like a perfect philanthropic outlet for us … we decided it was time to do something and help the cleanup,” James Mayor, a YSU junior majoring in industrial engineering and philanthropy chair of Alpha Phi Delta, said.
The Williamson College of Business Administration was well represented at the event, with a variety of student organizations within the college attending.
Graduate assistant Naho Ito of the WCBA sent out a call for volunteers among the college’s student organizations, and was on site to lead the team in the cleanup inside and outside of several dilapidated houses on Lora Avenue.
Paige Rassega, a YSU senior majoring in human resource management, was among the ranks of the WCBA team, and was surprised by the amount of debris some of the abandoned homes had accumulated.
“We cleaned up loads of tires, bottles, trash, even syringes. You should see our before and after photos. It was really eye opening, and I’m glad we came out … there’s a phrase you hear a lot if you’re in Williamson, and that’s ‘we take care of business while taking care of people,’” Rassega said.
Apart from students, a major part of the volunteer force was comprised of volunteers representing local businesses. Lowe’s hardware stores from Boardman and Niles had teams present at the event, including some who went above and beyond the designated volunteer duties and opted to mow the lawns of the houses they serviced — a job typically reserved for the city.
“The store manager sent out a memo explaining the event to us, and one of our coworkers, Connie Watson, took it upon herself to help recruit. We’ve been doing a lot of yard work, tree-cutting and some lawn-mowing,” Antonio Fisher, of the Niles Lowe’s location, said.
While the event made a noticeable difference on the aesthetics of the targeted streets, residents of the neighborhood expressed hope the city will follow up on the event so that long-lasting improvements come to the area.
“It wasn’t like this when I bought this house in 1998. Unfortunately, since the college population here moves in and out so often, some landlords neglect their properties,” Sandra Graves, a resident of the North Side neighborhood said. “The city needs to hold them accountable, and they need to tear down these houses that aren’t salvageable. It’s a wonderful thing that they [Day of Caring volunteers] have done here today, wonderful. But what happens now?”