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South Side neighbors clean up

Published: Sun, August 21, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.


Cheryl Thompson, a special-education teacher at Taft Elementary, busily rakes the remains of weeds on and near school property. About 35 volunteers took part in Saturday’s Taft/Wilson Clean-up project, intended to beautify the neighborhoods surrounding Taft Elementary and Wilson Middle schools before students return to the classroom Aug. 29.

By Sean Barron



Janice Rovnak was discouraged to see old garbage in a side yard of a vacant residence in the 800 block of East Avondale Avenue on the city’s South Side.

“When people don’t put their garbage cans away, that starts blight,” said Rovnak, of Youngstown, a member of the 7th Ward Citizens Coalition. “It’s a shame that people who own properties aren’t held accountable.”

The garbage was picked up, but the empty two-story, white frame house showed many other signs of neglect, including a broken second-floor window, weeds intertwined with overgrown shrubs and trees that obscured much of its front and back entrance, and a garage filled with old tires and trash.

Rather than lamenting the appearance of many such homes, however, Rovnak, who’s also president of the South Side-based Cambridge Palmer Roxbury Block Watch group, tried to make a difference. To that end, she was among those who took part in Saturday’s Taft/Wilson Clean-up project, intended to beautify the neighborhoods surrounding Taft Elementary and Wilson Middle schools before students return to the classroom Aug. 29.

Volunteers met at Taft Park, adjacent to the elementary school, then used weed trimmers, garden and lawn rakes, push brooms, hack saws, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and shovels to remove litter, weeds and overgrowth during the 3 Ω-hour project. About 35 volunteers took part throughout the project. The cleanup was to target vacant homes and properties between East Indianola and East Avondale avenues to the north and south as well as Homestead Avenue and Gibson Street to the east and west, organizers said.

Heading the effort was the 7th Ward Citizens Coalition.

Rovnak, who spent part of Saturday morning arduously pulling weeds and removing vines that wrapped themselves around a fence surrounding Taft, said she’s participated in numerous such efforts in her neighborhood.

Many homes in the area are rented by tenants who don’t care about the structures and property, so the city must be more stringent with code enforcement, she said.

Students who walk to school shouldn’t have to pass vacant, unsafe and neglected properties, said Cheryl Thompson, a special-education teacher at Taft.

“My heart is in Youngstown and I want it to come back and people to have more pride in how it looks,” said Thompson, who is from northern Trumbull County.

The 30-year teacher said she and fellow educators often walk the school’s perimeter during their lunch breaks. One major way to beautify the area is to convert abandoned properties to green space and community gardens, added Thompson, who busily raked the remains of weeds on and near school property.

Also pitching in were two Taft students, one each in second and third grades.

Several participants went to work on a vacant two-story brick home in the 700 block of East Avondale, adjacent to Taft, by mowing the front lawn and getting rid of weeds and litter. Water was leaking into the basement after someone had stolen much of the copper piping.

A few houses away, others were performing the same tasks on an empty two-floor corner residence with a broken roof antenna and a trash-strewn garage that was caving in.

The event’s primary focus was to beautify the neighborhoods for students before they return to school, noted Chris Travers, president of the 7th Ward Citizens Coalition.

In addition, about 10 vacant structures on East Avondale and East Boston avenues were slated for window-frame measurements, in preparation for boarding the windows, Travers noted. It is hoped that next month volunteers will install the boards and treat the window areas to make the empty homes look better, he explained.

Even when it turns cold, group members plan to continue a long-term partnership with the schools and students, noted Patti Dougan, the coalition’s project director.

“We’ll get involved in whatever the schools need,” Dougan said.

During the winter, the group plans to work with youngsters via tutoring, starting book clubs and having after-school and weekend activities, she continued.

Partnering with the coalition for Saturday’s cleanup were several block-watch and neighborhood groups, Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods, the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, Youngstown Contracting and DeMar Realty Inc.

The next cleanup is set for 9:30 a.m. Saturday. and volunteers are asked to meet at Taft Elementary, 730 E. Avondale Ave. Work will include painting boards to be used next month on vacant homes.


1whitesabbath(738 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Good job people, its a start, seems to me alot of these blighted buildings should be cleaned up by sentenced non-violent prisoners and all Welfare recipients.

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2pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

frankhappy, the 3 or 4 properties that we cleaned up around that school will make a difference to the kids who have to walk by those properties on their way to school. That was our main purpose.

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3PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

I am not from Youngstown but Youngstown has been my home now for the better part of 15 years. If you think efforts to improve Youngstown are futile, that's your prerogative. However, criticizing those who try choose to improve where they live is silly, small, mean and just as futile.

In other words, given the two choices, I'd rather fight and have the right then to complain...rather than use the same energy to complain about those who choose to fight.

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4Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

PhilKidd @ Super Comment . We need more like you in the valley

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5Traveler(606 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

The city of Youngstown should realize it is in such bad shape that anything other then more cops, demolition of abandon building. Are luxury that it cant afford.

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6pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm with Phil!

I've been here only 6 years, a Florida "transplant", I've been called. But I've chosen to make Youngstown my home, and raise my 11 yr old son here.

Therefor I will do what needs to be done to help make this city a better, safer place to live.

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7lefty83(313 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

That is fantastic miss gurney.We need more peole like you.GOOD LUCK for you and your son.

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8mrblue(1175 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Wanting to clean up the area is a great idea and should be applauded. However, until the criminals and the lazy people living off of the government are dealt with, it will be a long process. But don't give up.

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9republicanRick(1731 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Fantastic job by these volunteers!

An idea though, the grass that they trimmed is just going to grow back. Why not get a relatively cheap 5 gallon sprayer and some industrial strength Roundup to keep the grass and weed growth under control. This is a cheap and easy way to keep the neighborhood looking nice.

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10TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

How about the actual property owners clean up their own property?

I love that people are doing this. It's time to hold these absentee landlords, etc. responsible.

Send them the bill.

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11m__dogg(12 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

It's one thing as a landlord to maintain and beautify our rentals for tenants to rent. However, when most of the tenants either tear the place up, use it for drug sales or just don't pay the rent, we get frustrated to the point that we will let those types of people live in their own environment they have created. I'm not a social program for all these deadbeats, so when I'm tired of re-rehabbing these homes I'm going to sign the home over to the last renter and say good luck it's yours. Sure I make some money, but I'm not putting 100% of the rent $ or more back into the homes anymore. Let them live in fealth because these people seem to like it.

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12pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

m__dogg, how about evicting the tenants that don't abide by the lease, then start doing background checks on future tenants, and get people in there that WILL take care of the property? I know plenty of people who would do so.

I rent a small house on the southside now, and I try my best to keep it cleaned up outside, the lawn mowed, shrubs trimmed, and have a garden of daisies and dahlias where there was no garden at all. Every single day I pick up trash that's been thrown in my yard, and garden, by people walking by overnight. It's frustrating. But I am one who takes pride in where I live, even if it is a rental and not owned.

Surely I can't be the only tenant with this kind of mentality??

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13Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

m--dogg In part you are right I have many , many rentals . All the way from South Side to , Boardman , Poland , and the Canfield /Austintown area . I have found out that if you take time and treat pople right most of the time things work out , But I have had to totally remodel some places . But maybe I have been more luckily then you . . But in my experience Boardman has been to worst for dead beats

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14whitesabbath(738 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Nice job you guys I drove by the area and it looks 100% better.

People need to start to get to know their neighbors better.

Communication is the Key to addressing these gang bangers like frank is talking about.

At least in our neighborhood we try to talk to eachother and over the years we grown to know eachother.

These bangers know in this area it might not be so much easy pickens, there are alot of registered guns and users that actually practice together.

But we also keep our property up , pick up garbage, had power company come out and fix broken street lights to bring more light in the street at night.

If anything we need better self-defense laws so after hazmat cleans up the blood from these vermin we wont be under litagation.


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15pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Thanks whitesabbath!

frankhappyg - there is crime everywhere. I've lived in Boardman, in Youngstown's west side, and in Austintown, since I've been in Ohio. IMO, none of those areas are any better.

I have no idea why any area of Youngstown was permitted to go as far downhill as it has. However, I LIKE the south side. I see potential in the south side. And I am more than willing to help bring it back to life.

But no one person, or even any one group, can do it all. If you don't like the way things are...... CHANGE THEM. Don't wait for City Hall to do it. Let's all work TOGETHER to do it.

It CAN be done.

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16crimelander(122 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Who owns these properties that were addressed?

Post the addresses and shame whoever the owner is/was.

Further, the city needs to city, fine and charge them.

The city and/or landbank should make known to such property owners the process on how to turn these properties over to city and/or landbank.

I applaud those willing to show up and put in a days hard work. Yes, indeed, this sort of stuff makes a change.

Of course, the larger prevalent blight cancer is unaddressable without much heavy equipment and/or fire.

It's no wonder that Youngstown has so many arsons of empty structures. The city needs to embark on controlled demolitions involving the fire department. Demo by fire is very cheap and provides good training opportunities for first responders.

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17Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Most of them are owned by the banks . And nobody will touch them

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18Cool(1 comment)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Our landlord has a mowing service that takes care of our yard.Why can't the others do that?

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19Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

He is the landowner not some Bank that may not even be in Ohio.
I do the same for my tenants or they can do it and get a discount, it is their call

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20pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

I mow the lawn at my house and do not get, nor expect, a discount for doing so. If I'm renting a house, I'm renting the entire property and it's my responsibility to keep it up. If people don't want the responsibility of taking care of a yard, there are apartments.

@ crimelander - I don't know who owns them. I'm just a concerned citizen who joined in the clean up. Y'all should have come to help, you'd have enjoyed one of my infamous grilled cheese dawgs! :)

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21pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

I wish they had those thumbsup and thumbsdown buttons on the posts here, lol.

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22Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

pgurmey@ I pay for the lawn care one way or the other. If the renter is wiling to work it out so much the better .
If it makes them feel better or can save money by some sweat equity. So much the better for both of us . But either way my properties will be taken care of . And that is my responsibility as a property owner. I do not see your problem with that

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23pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Freeatlast, I never said I have a problem with that. :)

IF my landlord wanted to take care of the yard or offer me a rent discount to do it myself, I would have no problem with it. But they have not done so, and I also have no problem with that, since I feel that it is my responsibility anyway, as the renter.

That's all. :)

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24TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

I found M dogg's post pretty disturbing. He accepts no responsibility for putting crummy tenants into property.

Whether or not they tear it up is jointly your and their responsibility. If you aren't satisfied with the class of renters in your properties, it seems like it's YOUR problem.

Put the landowners and property owners, banks or private citizens on notice. Start sending them bills for clean up.

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25crimelander(122 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

If these properties and many in the area are indeed owned by BANKS then time to put some boots to them.

Are banks exempt from paying the taxes also?

It's a nationwide issue that I haven't seen here with the banks. Elsewhere they've let houses with pools turns into green swamps, let grass junglify, failed to maintain the structures, etc.

We just let these corporations off because they are banks? It seems like it.

It's time the city of Youngstown does something special to the banking interests it appears it is allowing to further decay these areas. That special thing would be to cite, fine and hold such banks liable for failure to maintain properties.

This is what we ask be done to a bad homeowner.

The special part is just finally enforcing existing laws uniformly.

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26pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

crimelander, if they are indeed owned by banks, then I do agree. We don't know that they are, at least I don't. As you know, there are many scenarios.

One of the houses I photographed (you can find the picture on our Facebook Groups page), was at one time a lovely red brick home. It still has good bones, a fairly attractive facade, and could one day be a lovely home again. It will take some serious restoration inside, plus there is water damage in the basement because someone stole the copper plumbing, but I would really love to see this home in the right hands, and restored, rather than demolished.

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27pharaoh(5 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

There will always be a MS.THOMPSON who just start doing,rather than saying "somebody should do something" I lived on the south side until around 1963..but live in Gary,IN. now and the same crime, boarded up homes, landlords who do not take care of their property, few jobs.One thing we can't keep saying..."somebody should do something".and can not be affraid, and let the criminals know they got to go,by any means necessary.

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28southsidedave(5199 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

A noble effort; yet, that neighborhood is a war zone.

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