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Volunteers spruce up downtown



Published: Sun, May 31, 2009 @ 12:07 a.m.

By Amanda C. Davis

More than 370 people helped spread mulch, plant flowers and clean up.

Once you call Youngstown home, it’s hard to get away from that feeling of hometown pride, no matter how far you go.

That’s how Nick Dubos of Pittsburgh and Mark Carden of Cleveland feel about the city they helped beautify Saturday.

Both returned “home” this weekend for the Streetscape 2009 “We Grow Hope” event, a visual improvement project of Youngstown CityScape. For 12 years, the nonprofit organization has worked to revitalize downtown through beautification, education and preservation.

Dubos, who works in the office of residence life at Duquesne University, has spent eight years pitching in with the event. Carden, a 1991 Boardman High School graduate, said he’s helped out the last few years despite his lack of gardening expertise.

“I’m the shovel guy,” said Carden, a vice president of business intelligence at Key Bank in Cleveland. He explained it’s been great to witness Youngstown’s transformation from “a dying urban center” to a city on its way up.

Sharon Letson, CityScape’s executive director, said the project targeted areas including Federal Plaza, Wick Park, Crandall Park, John Young memorials and Wick Pollock Gardens. The streetscape program has raised $450,000 over the last 12 years and purchases materials from the Men’s Garden Club of Youngstown, which donates the money back to Mill Creek MetroParks.

Volunteers included those who live and/or work in Youngstown, families, local businesses, city council members and organizations including Rotary and Kiwanis. The city water and street departments lent a hand dropping off mulch, watering plants and hosing off sidewalks.

Susie Beiersdorfer spent much of her life in California, moving here 15 years ago for work. The part-time geology professor at Youngstown State University worked in Wick Park on Saturday and has helped revitalize other areas of the city through Treez Please, a community reforestation project.

“Community projects like this are incredible,” she said, explaining she has great pride in the city despite her West Coast beginnings.

Nathalie Taghaboni, an office administrator with Turning Technologies, worked alongside her son, Kiyan, 14, a Boardman High School student. He wasn’t happy his mother woke him up at 6:30 a.m. for the event, but she said it’s important they give back to their community.

Taghaboni, who worked on Federal Plaza, said she and some of her co-workers regularly enjoy the downtown beauty during lunch and other breaks.

Pete Asimakopoulos is the City-Scape board president and executive vice president of small-business banking at First National Bank downtown. He called the event “a true effort of love” as he worked up a sweat sweeping sidewalks, spreading mulch and planting petunias.

“You have folks who want to come down here and enjoy what Youngstown has to offer,” he said.

Chris Colella and son Christopher, of Hubbard, were among the 378 volunteers downtown. The elder Colella said he wanted to introduce his son to the concepts of volunteering and citizenship.

Though he doesn’t consider himself an expert gardener by any stretch, the 12-year-old said he learned that a community project takes a lot of dedication and teamwork.

Phil Kidd is creator of Defend Youngstown, a local initiative promoting the city. He grew up in Pittsburgh but went to YSU and said he spends a lot of time in Wick Park, even sleeping in his car there before he found a place to live nearby.

He said the park’s beautification is part of a larger $2.8 million renovation project made possible by a grant from the John Raymond Wean foundation. Kidd said the Streetscape project began with a handful of people and continues to grow each year.

“It’s the one event annually that brings all different types of people together” with a common interest, he explained.

Letson said downtown beautification helps attract business and fosters a sense of pride for everyone who spends time there. “These partnerships let that happen,” she said. “I’m proud of how our downtown looks.


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