The group wants to develop a vocational training center with the help of industry.
By MARY GRZEBIENIAK
SHARON, Pa. -- Plans to prepare 100 families for homeownership and to establish a vocational center were announced to about 180 who attended Sunday's gathering of the Shenango Valley Initiative.
The interfaith, multiracial group is trying to address deterioration of the community resulting from population decreases, vacant housing and poverty. Seventeen local churches are members.
Members gathered at First United Methodist Church for "Let Us Build the City Together -- A Call to People of Faith," a program that combined Scripture, hymns, and prayer with talks about making improvements in housing, recreation, transportation and jobs.
SVI's president, the Rev. Larry Haynes of Grace Chapel Community Church, said SVI officials have talked to a bank and are planning a program to train 100 poor apartment-dwelling families for homeownership.
To recommend candidates
He said after the meeting that once a program has been outlined, local churches will be asked to recommend candidates. He told the group that homeownership is a key to improving a community and commented that many poor are paying $400 or $500 monthly rents on dilapidated housing when they could be putting the money toward their own homes.
Haynes, who also is president of the Shenango Valley Foundation, announced that the group also plans to spur development of a vocational training center in the community with the help of industry. This, he said, would address one of the main problems in the Valley, an untrained work force.
He said that Bill Strickland, who runs the non-profit Bidwell Training Center in Pittsburgh, has agreed to come to the Valley and share his expertise about job training. His unusual program combines training for industrial jobs with exposure to the arts in the theory that the combination will change lives.
Recreation for youth
Limited public transportation and recreation and their effects on the poor also were discussed. Haynes remarked that growing up as an "inner-city white boy," he played his last Little League game at 12 because he lacked transportation. Poor youth often lack the transportation necessary to compete in organized sports, he said, suggesting that centrally located ballfields in blighted neighborhoods would help improve the community on many levels.
He added that he has been talking to the YMCA in Hermitage about bringing satellite programs to the inner city and he encouraged the churches to help. He also called on churches to incorporate organized sports for children into their ministry. Expanded public transportation also was cited as a need.
The Rev. Ricky James, pastor of New Virginia United Methodist Church, likened the group's efforts to restore a deteriorating city to the "repairers of broken walls" and "restorers of ancient dwellings" of Chapter 58 of the Biblical book of Isaiah.
Former SVI President Rev. Ralph Newell of Jesus' Church Faith Christian Center, Farrell, said "God calls the righteous to be busy helping others to reach their full potential."
Those attending the meeting were asked to sign commitments to money, time or prayer. Haynes said after the meeting that the direction of the group will depend on those commitments.