Nonprofit summit in Youngstown looks at issues of equity in US

By William K. Alcorn


When there is talk of Youngs-town coming back, it’s important to make space at the table for youths, said an attendee at a nonprofit summit.

“Most of us [nonprofits] work with kids,” said Lita-Marie Townsend, facilitator for one of several lunch-time topic tables, hers about Youth Engagement, at the Raymond J. Wean Foundation’s sixth annual Nonprofit Summit Wednesday at Youngstown State University.

Townsend and the others at the Youth Engagement discussion were among some 360 representatives of nonprofits at the event.

“It’s about getting kids in your program and getting the kids you have involved in shaping the community,” said Townsend, development director at the Rich Center for Autism at YSU, raising the issue of equity, a focus of the Wean summit.

The summit’s theme was “Raising Up Our Work: Equity and Capacity-Building for Greater Impact.”

“Everyone deserves a fair chance, an equal opportunity,” said Gordon B. Wean chairman of the Wean Foundation.

In the workshops she attended, LaShonda Allen of Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio said she learned ideas about collaborating with other agencies “so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

“We can’t do something like the Wean Nonprofit Summit on our own. We need to get together to share ideas,” said Shannon Harnichar, director of foster care at Homes for Kids in Niles.

Corky Stiles, treasurer of TNR of Warren, said her animal-rescue organization has used ideas on fundraising and how to attract volunteers learned at previous Wean nonprofit summits.

This year, Stiles said she liked the idea of approaching people as citizens and listening more closely to their ideas on how they can help themselves and the community presented during the “At the Heart of Equity: Authentic Community Engagement” workshop.

The Wean Nonprofit Summit had two keynote events: a morning presentation and performance, “Opportunity Now,” by Rha Goddess, founder of Move the Crowd; and in the afternoon, the keynote address by Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California, Santa Cruz.

In dramatic vignettes, Goddess demonstrated the debilitating effects inadequate transportation and education and neighborhood crime can have on poor people.

“The country is polarized culturally and politically, and the greatest challenge we face, bar none, is to find each other. We want the same things: education for our children, health care and food and safe neighborhoods,” Goddess said.

“Until we get to a common base, these issues will continue to divide us,” she added.

Pastor, in his address on “Equity, Growth and the American Future,” said three big changes in the United States will affect its future: demographics, economics and leadership.

By 2042, minorities will be the new majority in the U.S., he said. That is not true of Youngstown, however, and that is somewhat of an economic negative. Areas that attract immigrants have a stronger economy, he said.

“With the many changes we’ve had — globalization, technology and innovation — we’ve had a sharp increase in inequality similar to the increase before the Great Depression,” Pastor said. Peak levels of economic inequality in 1928 and 2007 helped trigger the Great Depression and the Great Recession, respectively.

Emerging research indicates that inequality is bad for economic growth, particularly for metropolitan regions.

“We need to figure out how to make economic equity a central part of economic growth, and that means creating widespread opportunities for people to contribute,” Pastor said.

“It requires a new kind of leadership that sees how communities and cities and suburbs are connected — that we share a common fate — and realize our mutual interests and obligations,” Pastor added.

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