Trash: It hit where he lives
The crusader hopes that East High alumni cleanups create a lasting momentum.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- On a sunny afternoon, pupils stream out of the old East High School, now a middle school.
A group of five girls and boys moves along East High Avenue. They are hollering and joking and teasing one another as they head home.
Then, one youth stops near Euclid Avenue, picks up a glass bottle from the sidewalk, and smashes it. The group howls and moves on.
That's why Frank Gaetano started cleaning trash from his East Side neighborhood a few weeks ago with a Forrest Gump-like determination.
It's why he won't stop until the alumni of old East High everywhere join him.
"They have nothing better" to look toward as an example, said Gaetano, pointing to the glass-smashing group.
Gaetano, of Euclid Avenue, is on a crusade to turn around the neighborhood's look.
He is planning a combination East High reunion-festival-neighborhood cleanup over a few Saturdays in October to accomplish that. He hopes it creates a momentum that rolls on for years.
His goal: Gaetano wants to create a pleasant setting for the middle school and the new high school to be built behind his alma mater. Construction is to start in a year, with the high school ready two years later.
"I want to create a frenzy around this new school," he said. "How can they have a good day at school when they start it by looking at garbage?"
Gaetano, 49, is an East High alumnus, class of '71.
He left town 22 years ago for the opportunities Florida offered. He worked in insurance, financial planning and international manufacturing but was lured home earlier this year by a business opportunity.
Couldn't stand it: Gaetano moved back into his childhood home about six weeks ago. When he took a good look around, words like "depressing" and "melancholy" jumped to mind.
There were cans, bottles, paper wrappers, tires and overgrown brush along all the roadsides.
Gaetano put on his worn denim jeans and grabbed a pith helmet. He took a machete with him to cut down brush.
"You couldn't see dirt. You couldn't see grass through the bottles and cans," Gaetano said.
He started by cleaning up his own yard one Saturday. Then he kept going, like the extraordinarily focused movie character Forrest Gump, who, for no particular reason, felt like running one day and just kept going -- for three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours, according to the movie.
"It's the simplest thing I could have done," Gaetano said. "I just started picking up and working my way down the street. I just started rakin' and rakin' and rakin' and rakin' and ... "
"Before you know it, I had 20 bags of garbage," he said.
Looked for help: It was then when it occurred to Gaetano: The effort was bigger than him.
He looked at the old East High building and thought about all the alumni who have passed through its doors, now scattered across the region. One of them is his new business partner, Carl Severino Jr.
Severino, 55, a longtime local entertainer and promoter, agreed that the old neighborhood needed help. He added the angle of using a festival to bring people together for the cleanup.
"It was terrible what our old stomping ground has become," he said. "We thought, out of respect for where they came from, they would want to give back."
The events have the potential to make a difference and change attitudes, Severino said.
He and Gaetano hope to draws hundreds of alumni interested in renewing old friendships and making the old neighborhood new again.
That will be tough.
Neat homes sit on a hill along East High Avenue from Garland Avenue, but trash peppers the roadsides.
The school lawn is clean and yellow flowers ring the sign. But across the street, Ella Avenue has "no dumping" signs for a good reason.
Parker Street, which runs behind the school, is much worse. It looks like a garbage dump.
Birds peck away at ripped household trash bags dumped on the roadside. They join tires, sticks bundled with duct tape, piles of roof shingles and broken glass. Damaged or hidden "no dumping" signs are a joke.
Eliminating such scenes will restore the pride and respect people have for the neighborhood, Gaetano said.
He's already noticing a difference. Less trash than before is being dumped on spots he has cleaned.
"People put up with living in garbage," he said. "It's not acceptable."
XCall Frank Gaetano at (330)-746-6980 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. for information about the East High School alumni cleanups.