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YNDC Honors King's Memory with Cleanup - Business Journal

People occupy and keep up most of the houses that surround Taft Elementary School, but the 11 that concern residents of this South Side neighborhood sit empty with broken windows and missing doors.

“We did a survey of the area directly around Taft Elementary and found that a lot of these houses are blown-in with a lot of drug activity, gang activity and even prostitution, says Anika Jacobs-Green, a revitalization volunteer with AmeriCorps. “We're just trying to make it safe for these kids to walk to school.”

Jacobs-Green was one of the coordinators for Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.'s workday to clean up the vacant structures Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

All are on Avondale Avenue or Boston Avenue -- the streets on both sides of the school that lead to South Avenue. About 35 volunteers were on hand to board up the windows, trim trees and bushes, clear sidewalks and pick up trash.

“There are a lot of people from the [Youngstown State] university and some other organizations. I'm kind of surprised there are that many people, but I'm also grateful that they took the time out of their schedules to come out here,” says 7th Ward Councilman John R. Swierz.

Most of the volunteers are students at YSU, with many in its University Scholars Program or YSUscape. Doing projects like this, even though it's off-campus, fits with YSUScape's mission, says the organization's president, Nick Chretien.

“Gradually, if you take care of 11 homes on one weekend, 10 on another and do that over and over, it will help the overall condition [of the neighborhood] and make it a little more livable,” Chretien explains. “It makes the school a more inviting place. The first home we worked on this morning was a former drug house that was burned out with broken windows. By boarding that up, it brings the potential to drive kids to come to school.”

Engaging in a project so close to a school has the potential to let kids see the benefits clean and maintained neighborhoods, adds YSUScape member Nicole Pilolli.

“Our main goal is to revitalize Youngstown and try to give back to the community. We all live here and we want to see the best for [the community],” she says. “There's a lot of kids around here and they're our future. If they see adults caring about the city, then hopefully they'll want to help out too. The younger you start [kids on that path], the better it will be.”

Monday's project, Swierz notes, coordinates with Mayor John McNally's concern about blight near the city schools.

“This is a very important project. YNDC has been contracted by the city of Youngstown to be the planting arm for the city and they've put together multiple housing action plans throughout the city,” Swierz says. “Also, with today being Martin Luther King Day, it's a good thing to be out doing community service today.”

In the second half of 2014, YNDC has cleaned up more than 100 houses on the group's work days, Jacobs-Green says, with 73 worked on during an event in the Newport neighborhood on the South Side.

“Most of our work days have been very successful. Since 2010, we've been at this and boarded up 253 houses in Youngstown,” she adds. “We want to make sure they're completely safe and look good. We're going to clear off all the sidewalks, trim the hedges back, bring out all the trash, get rid of any drug paraphernalia.”

To read the full story from the Business Journal, click here.