Corrine DeCesare spent a year working along with her father in the oil fields throughout the Midwest.
Then, just more than a year ago, she decided to trade that life for a business of her own, one inspired by her faith.
Today, DeCesare runs a seamstress and clothing line, Jesus Speak, and leases space at the Oak Hill Collaborative Inc., a neighborhood redevelopment initiative on the south side of Youngstown that encourages people to become their own bosses.
“Right now, I’m selling through an online boutique,” DeCesare says.
From her small office on the ground floor of the Oak Hill Collaborative building, 507 Oak Hill Ave., DeCesare creates a line of custom clothing, each of which contains a message from Jesus sewn into the garment.
“We have a lot of ideas,” she says. “We’re also tossing around the idea of doing some sewing classes.”
Jesus Speak is one of the seven tenants leasing space in the Collaborative, once an abandoned annex of Forum Health.
Now, the 6,800-square-foot building is remodeled office space, suitable for entrepreneurs and small startups that could help revitalize this section of the South Side.
“We are, at the core, a neighborhood revitalization organization,” explains the collaborative’s executive director, Patrick Kerrigan. “But, it’s more than just cutting the grass and tearing down buildings. There has to be a jobs component.”
The concept is to develop an environment where individuals can create their own jobs, Kerrigan says.
As such, the collaborative makes available office space, conference rooms and office equipment such as telephones, computers, fax machines and copiers to those looking to start or operate a business of their own.
As an example, Kerrigan cites another tenant, KB KIDZ, a party service for children that two single mothers own. The owners, who live on the South Side, use an office in the collaborative to meet with prospective customers.
“They have a Bounce Around, popcorn machines, cotton candy machines, but they can’t have people come into their house. So they meet people at Oak Hill,” Kerrigan says.
Other users range from a grant writer to a carpenter. In between are a painter, a sales and business coach, an urban farmer and a third-party medical professional, Kerrigan notes.
The first floor of the building consists of four offices, a large conference room, an open floor space with computers and desks, and a kitchen. All of the renovation was funded by donations, and all of the furnishings throughout the building are surplus chairs, tables and desks given to the nonprofit.
Although the collaborative is funded through private sources, the initiative has also received financial help from The Raymond John Wean Foundation, Catholic Charities, the city of Youngstown, and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., Kerrigan says.
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