Acting on the message of change

By Sean Barron

Sunday, January 4, 2009

By Sean Barron

A similar group in Mercer County, Pa., is trying to promote green technologies.

YOUNGSTOWN — A primary plank of President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign was to encourage people nationwide to engage in the political process and perform community service projects.

Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration will be symbolic of hope, needed reform and numerous positive changes to come for millions of people.

The historic day, however, should also encourage citizens to continue to thrust themselves into the spirit of volunteerism.

Those were among the priorities discussed during a meeting Saturday by members of Mahoning Valley for Change, formerly Mahoning Valley for Obama.

Members of the group and others agreed to take on as a service project joining forces with the Hands- On Volunteer Network of the Valley and Project: Feed Our Valley as part of a food drive, set for Jan. 19.

The effort, titled “Honor the Dream,” has been set up to recognize the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Residents will be able to donate nonperishable food items that will be distributed by the Second Harvest Food Bank to assist those less fortunate.

In Mahoning County, people will be asked to drop off items from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 210 Wick Ave., in Youngstown; in Trumbull County from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Warren G. Harding High School, 860 Elm Road N.E., in Warren.

In keeping with Obama’s call for activism, those at the session also talked about bringing in regional and national experts to discuss local and state topics such as school funding problems, for example.

Bill Adams, a member who conducted the session, brought up suggestions such as conducting town hall meetings on local concerns; getting together with or writing to elected officials; and recruiting and promoting potential candidates for school boards, city council and other posts. Getting citizens more active in the political process is another of the group’s goals, Adams noted.

Also meeting Saturday were members of Mercer County, Pa. for Obama, a similar group that is working with Mahoning Valley for Change as well as counterparts in Trumbull and Lawrence counties.

The Mercer group performed fundraisers for Obama’s campaign and is now trying to have such efforts translate into local projects, noted Mark Prokay, co-chairman of the group, which has more than 300 members. One example is raising money for the Community Food Warehouse in Sharon, he said.

“It’s just an example of how Obama wanted us to do things for the community,” Prokay added.

The Mercer group’s focus is largely on highlighting green technologies for the Shenango Valley, and its goals include planting gardens on empty lots, creating and maintaining a countywide recycling center, developing and fostering a commercial wind farm for electricity and working with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to build in declining neighborhoods affordable homes that use green technologies.

The group also wants to have high-speed Internet service in all parts of the county and rename state Route 60 in Pennsylvania as Interstate 60 to attract more business investment, Prokay noted.

Several attendees expressed optimism about Obama’s economic stimulus package to jump-start the poor economy, saying money from it is essential to help address needs specific to the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

“It’s absolutely needed; there’s nothing going on in the economy that can be hurt by it,” said Carol A. Marino of Poland, a member of Mahoning Valley for Change. “It can only help.”

The funds are essential locally and nationally, in part to get more jobs created, reform health care and make needed repairs to education. At the same time, though, citizens, not Congress alone, have to act to make sweeping changes and be proactive in the political system, Adams explained.

“We’re just trying to echo what Obama said: ‘Continue to be involved,’” he added.