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Together in Transformation: It’s Working – Part 2 - The Business Journal


Improving quality of life is an essential element of economic transformation – particularly in urban centers, community leaders say.

Often, this begins at the ground level as community groups tackle poverty, low-income housing, neighborhood blight, racial disparities and the nutritional health of those in need.

“Collaboration is imperative,” says Jennifer Roller, president of the Warren-based Wean Foundation. 

Several years ago, Roller says she reached out to the heads of The Youngstown Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley and other philanthropic groups. “We began to meet for coffee and lunches – just to get to know each other,” she recalls. “That was key.”

The collaborations that followed proved critical in a time of crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic began to rampage through the Mahoning Valley, Roller says.

A consortium composed of the Wean, Youngstown and Community foundations distributed more than $2.5 million to those in need as the pandemic intensified, Roller says. 

“When COVID hit, we had already built this relationship,” she says. “We came together and were able to launch an application within days.”

The joint effort focused on areas where racial and income inequities were most apparent – housing, food insecurities and educational opportunity gaps, Roller says. The foundations awarded monies to those in need of help to pay their rents, home repairs and remote learning efforts.

For example, the group contributed $75,000 to a larger state fund that matched another $225,000 to help remote learning programs in the area. 

“It leveraged $300,000 total,” Roller says. School districts in Warren, Youngstown, Struthers, Campbell and the Mahoning County Education Service Center all received help from the effort. The consortium also worked with the Second Harvest Food Bank to distribute and provide meals, she says.

Likewise, the Wean Foundation’s long-standing partnerships with community development corporations are central to transforming inner-city neighborhoods.

“In 2020, we did more housing repair projects than any other year,” says the executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., Ian Beniston. The organization repaired 123 roofs last year, compared to 60 in 2019. In all, YNDC repaired more than 302 occupied houses, 36 of which were full renovations. Another 19 vacant houses were renovated, Beniston says.

“We can’t do these without our partnerships.” 

Beniston says the area’s lending institutions also are critical players in neighborhood revitalization. Local banks and foundations have made it possible for YNDC to build new houses and improve older housing stock. And they’ve supported YNDC efforts to rehabilitate vacant commercial buildings, he says.

To see the full story from The Business Journal, click here.