Recent data from the United States Census has shown that Youngstown is the city with the highest poverty rate in Ohio, standing at 40.2 percent, with 63.3 percent of these impoverished being children. Youngstown is devastatingly below the national average.
The Youngstown City Schools provide students with one free breakfast and lunch a day, and other schools throughout the Mahoning Valley offer programs that help with the situation.
Beatitude House, an organization that helps to create homes for women with children who are in need and promotes education, is one of the many organizations in Youngstown that are helping to combat childhood poverty.
Sister Janet Gardner, executive director of Beatitude House, explained that the organization offers two types of housing to women with families — transitional and permanent — and helps to provide them with an education.
“We attempt to help women find technical schools or colleges. We really do believe that it is through education that women are going to better their lives. If we can help them move to education, they have a much better chance to support their families,” Gardner said.
She added that her organization, along with the community of Youngstown, helps to educate the children of these women as well.
“We have child advocates that help them connect with the school. If they’re having problems in school, we work with them. We have resources in the community that help both the children and the mothers with a lot of the skills and enrichment activities that they need to build their lives,” Gardner said.
Other organizations in the Mahoning Valley help to combat poverty as well, including Making A Difference Youngstown, a nonprofit organization that empowers people to help transition from poverty to prosperity; Mahoning Youngstown Community Action Partnership, a community action agency that helps to move people from poverty to self-sufficiency; and Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.
Youngstown State University offers programs that help inner city high school students as well as the students on campus. Programs like Upward Bound, Summer College/Occupational Preview Experience and Academic Achievers provide educational outreach to high school students preparing to enter college. Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union focuses on assisting college age students.
Karla Krodel, director of the Metro Credit Education and Outreach Office at YSU, administers Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union and explained the purpose of the group.
“Bridges Out of Poverty looks at poverty through the eyes of the impoverished so as to better empathize with their struggle. If you are born into poverty, you didn’t make that choice, and that if you are born into poverty, the choices you have are much more limited,” she said.
Krodel also said that her department assists junior East High School and Chaney High School students to become college ready by the time they graduate.
“The city schools are under a lot of pressure, and it’s kind of a parallel situation to an individual who is in poverty. The institution is in an impoverished state of mind. When the reality of day-to-day living is so chaotic and so pressured that you don’t have time to do anything else. I think the Youngstown City School Program feels like that too. They’ve got so much pressure. I am a firm believer that the student themselves can have a huge amount of power and support for those changes,” she said.
Deaudra Edgerson, president of Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union, said that she feels it is her duty to help students in the organization who are in need of support. Edgerson is a full-time student at YSU and is involved in other organizations throughout the Mahoning Valley like Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.
“There’s a strong sense of need for me to pay back. I feel like it’s needed. It’s more like a sense of duty opposed to just doing it because it is fun,” Edgerson said. “It’s not fun; it’s a lot of work. I do it because I feel as though it has the ability to help others.”
Sherri Harper Woods, director of Upward Bound, a program created to help support high school students in preparation for college entrance, said that she feels the university accommodates the needs of those who were without resources.
“Two-thirds of our students are low income. Poverty is more than just financial. You can be without role models and support systems. You can be without emotional support or cognitive support. I believe that we have resources here for any student that is under resourced in any area,” Woods said.
These organizations help the less fortunate all over Youngstown, but the breadth of their effective range may be limited by a lack of financial support.
Gardner said that those organizations in Youngstown designed to help the less fortunate need more support to be truly effective.
“I’m not sure there need to be more organizations. I think the organizations that exist have to really get more support so that they can try to provide the services,” Gardner said. “It all takes funds to be able to do it. The city is trying to help as much as it can; the state is trying to help. It really is trying to get citizens to back legislation that will help those most in need as well as supporting those causes.”