City residents working to improve neighborhoods

One of the positive things I am seeing in Youngstown is people coming together to make their neighborhoods safer and cleaner to promote a better quality of life for those who remain in the inner city.

The Idora Neighborhood Association is doing great things to improve that area of the South Side.

The Rev. Gregory Maturi and the Rev. Edward Noga have led the way to shore up and address the problems in the areas around their South Side parishes.

The North Side Citizens Coalition, 7th Ward Citizens Coalition, Wick Park Neighbors Association and West Side Citizens Coalition have shown that when folks are willing to make the necessary sacrifices and work together, neighborhoods can be resurrected.

Members of the city’s block-watch groups also make key contributions to neighborhood renewal and security, and they are asking more of their neighbors to help.

Another group making an impact is the Lincoln Knolls Community Watch and its Neighbors Collaborating For Community Improvement located on the city’s East Side.

The Lincoln Knolls area — you enter on Rutledge Drive off McCartney Road (U.S. Route 422) — was once a crown jewel for affordable, independent, single-family housing. The development opened in 1955.

Other streets in the area are Elliot, Greeley, Duncan, Chatham, Fincastle, Willmette, Whitman and Bassett lanes, Mumford, Lilburne and Talbot drives, and Maranatha Drive and Maranatha Court.

From two- and three-bedroom ranch-style homes to story-and-a-half Cape Cods to impressive two-story dwellings, “The “Knolls,” as we East Siders call it, was a desirable place to live and raise a family.

The Lincoln Knolls Plaza, which at one time included Hills Department Store, Lincoln Lanes bowling alley, a movie theater, large grocery store, drugstore, and a bank, was a convenient place for entertainment and shopping.

An added bonus was the nearby Bargain Port, which featured a variety of goods, from hardware to clothing.

But, as younger people left Youngstown and the economy continued to fail, the Lincoln Knolls neighborhood, like so many others in the city, declined.

One thing you can count on in Youngstown, however, is that folks just won’t and don’t give up easily.

The people who remained in the Lincoln Knolls area formed the grass-roots community watch in 2009 at a meeting at Mary Haddow Field.

Neighbors Collaborating For Community Improvement, under the efforts of Marguerite Douglas and Lynette Brown, was successful in securing a grant from Neighborhood SUCCESS, a program of the Raymond J. Wean Foundation.

The foundation annually gives millions to nonprofit Mahoning Valley organizations to help improve the lives of local residents.

Neighborhood SUCCESS was created to support grass-roots groups in small community-development projects. Grant amounts range from $500 to $5,000 in the Youngstown and Warren areas.

The $1,110 grant supported the installation of what some would see as a small thing — a sign that identifies the entrance into the Knolls community.

But that sign is a beacon of pride for neighborhood residents.

Elsie Rhodes, a retired teacher who moved back to the Knolls from Austintown, said the sign “provides an inviting welcome to families and individuals” into the neighborhood.

The neighbors also spruced up the area around the new sign by planting a variety of shrubs and flowers.

The welcome sign is just the first step toward a larger goal.

The block watch has secured a grant for playground equipment for a proposed recreational park and community center.

The location is an area near Dandridge’s Burgundi Manor nursing home, 31 Maranatha Court, and Rhonda Burt is the person handling that effort.

The organization has received assistance from council members, The Living Testimony and Christian Bible Baptist churches, Dandridge and other local businesses.

Rhodes said a goal is to complete the playground/recreation center in the spring.

“Our vision is to have a center within Lincoln Knolls for meetings and educational and life-skills activities” for the young and senior citizens, she said.

The Lincoln Knolls Community Watch usually meets the fourth Tuesday of each month. Its next meeting will be Jan. 24 at the East Side library branch on Early Road.

And that section of the East Side near the Campbell border also is making a slow recovery.

The plaza has a few more tenants — it could use a discount department store — and the Four Seasons Flea Market, where the Bargain Port once stood, is a popular attraction.

Ernie Brown Jr., a Regional Editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly column. You can contact him by email at

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