First Night big hit with area kids, teens, adults

YOUNGSTOWN -- Rain came and went, but visitors still came downtown for First Night Youngstown's New Year's Eve celebration.

The family-oriented hours-long event is alcohol-free, and coordinated with other events across the country and internationally. In Youngstown, there were 19 locations and more than 30 acts in addition to two fireworks displays.

There were also children's activities, such as crafts at the Main Library on Wick Avenue and admission with First Night Youngstown to the Children's Museum of the Valley, where Diane Drapcho, the singing art teacher, performed a showcase tailored to children.

"The crowds were up this year," First Night Youngstown President John R. Swierz said. "The weather has something to do with it, even though we've had some rain here and there."

First Night Youngstown uses volunteers to run many of the evening's events. One volunteer was Tom Weatherby, the promoter for the Mahoning River Blues Festival.

"I love seeing downtown Youngstown raising up," Weatherby said. "Entertainment is what's bringing Youngstown back."

Weatherby, who volunteered with First Night Youngstown for his fourth year, cited the event and venues such as Powers Auditorium, Stambaugh Auditorium and the Chevrolet Centre as helping to revitalize downtown and attract new visitors.

One such visitor was Jean Warner of Austintown, who attended First Night Youngstown for the first time Sunday night.

"We have a lot of nostalgia," Warner said, explaining that she worked in downtown Youngstown "years ago."

She was attending with friends Jim Martinko and Lois Cole. The friends described the experience downtown as "enjoyable" and "very nice."

"We'll come back," Martinko said.

Cole and Warner said they worked together downtown, but haven't spent much time in the area since.

"I enjoyed just walking around downtown. Just coming downtown was an experience," Martinko said. "The free parking was a benefit, too."

Martinko said the three started at the Arms Family Museum, since he hadn't been there before, and made their way downtown.

"It's nice to be able just to walk around downtown," Warner said. "Some of the entertainment was appealing, such as the Youngstown Connection and Maureen Collins."

They said they came to First Night Youngstown after seeing Easy Street Productions' "Miracle on Easy Street" at Powers Auditorium, wanting to see another production that included Collins.

"Maureen was really the main reason we came," Warner said.

"We've also found some new entertainment," Warner said, referring to singer Jaclyn Hodos who performed in the PharMor Center, 20 Federal Place, where First Night Youngstown is headquartered.

Hodos had previously participated in First Night Youngstown last year, as a participant in the Teen Talent Contest. The contest attracted 150 performers this year, Swierz said.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact it's starting to catch on," Swierz said of the popularity of First Night Youngstown. "Our numbers were definitely up this year."

Swierz said a final count of tickets wouldn't be available for another two to three weeks, because of the remote locations that sold First Night Youngstown admission buttons.

To see more photos from First Night Youngstown, click here.

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