People who made a difference in 2007

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sometimes it just takes inspiration and a desire to improve your world.

YOUNGSTOWN — It really doesn’t take much to make a difference.

Sure, an individual or group may be in a financial position to make a really significant impact on the Mahoning Valley. But it’s also the little things, the kindness shown to others or the effort to improve your community, that make a positive difference in someone’s life.

“Pay It Forward” is more than just a movie released in 2000 or a current television commercial. It’s something that can really begin to make a difference in a community.

The end-of-the-year holiday season is always a time for giving, and there were numerous school groups and others actively working in the Mahoning Valley to better their community and the lives of others as 2007 came to an end.

But there were others whose efforts were noticeable, some throughout the year, with their ongoing kindness, generosity and a genuine desire to make the world a better place.

Take Willie and Mary Mitchell of West LaClede Avenue in Youngstown, for example.

They’ve lived in their South Side neighborhood since the early 1970s and have seen the neighborhood deteriorate over the years. But they have always believed that it was their duty to keep property as nice-looking as possible and have backed up their philosophy with hard work.

Mary is a gardener who has spent countless hours planting flowers and shrubs in their yard, while Willie has poured his energy into cutting grass and cleaning up trash on the properties adjacent to their home, many of which have been razed to eliminate blight.

Their home is an oasis of beauty in an otherwise blighted neighborhood. The couple has taken steps to take ownership of several of the properties through the Lien Forward program started by the Mahoning County Treasurer’s Office.

Sometimes, it’s the occurrence of something bad that triggers something good.

Someone stole $134, raised by selling cookies, that a special education class at Chaney High School was going to use for a Christmas trip to the Southern Park Mall.

When the Chaney boys and girls basketball teams learned of the theft, they pooled their resources to come up with $140 to get the trip back on schedule.

Clearly, age doesn’t matter when one is determined to make a difference.

Colton Lockner of Sebring was only 9 and a fourth-grader when he launched that town’s Sept. 11 Freedom Walk in 2006. He expanded his effort to honor those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. as well as veterans, both past and present, again this year, drawing several thousand participants.

“He’s always thinking outside the box. I am surprised at the support he gets,” said his mother, Robyn Lockner, explaining that he was inspired by something he’d read about the Freedom Walk that was created by a group of US. Defense Department employees in 2005.

Dedicated organizations can make a significant impact.

The 100 Black Men of Greater Youngstown-Warren “adopted” Youngstown’s Alpha School of Excellence for Boys in January and plans to adopt a second school this year and two more in 2009.

The group’s members provide mentoring, education services and more and plan to expand their offerings to both young men and women across racial barriers in both Youngstown and Warren.

The organization’s mission is to improve the quality of life in its communities and enhance education and economic opportunities.

In Canfield, volunteers from throughout the Mahoning Valley got together in November to build a new Shields Road home for Rebecka Bailing and her three children, with many offering up monetary donations. The home was fraught with numerous problems, including mold and a leaking roof.

Sam Pitzulo, owner of Sam Pitzulo Homes in Canfield, was the general contractor. Don Murphy headed the group called Mahoning Valley Extreme Makeover My Home Town.