By LINDA M. LINONIS
Rekindling action in congregations, the economy and in democracy provided the theme for three speakers at the 12th annual ACTION banquet Thursday night. More than 350 people attended the event at St. Luke Church hall, 5235 South Ave.
The Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods also recognized two recipients of the Frances Kerpsack Memorial Award. Honorees are Sister Jerome Corcoran, founder of Sister Jerome’s Poor and Sister Jerome’s Kids, for her lifelong service and leadership in helping children of the Mahoning Valley, and the Rev. Joseph Fata, pastor of St. Luke Church and ACTION vice president, for infusing Gospel values into his ministry.
The Rev. John C. Welch, vice president and dean of students at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, focused on “rekindling our congregations.”
“We live in challenging times,” he said, recounting issues such as gun sales, widespread violence, high school dropout rate, homeless families, mass shootings and people who are “spiritual but not religious.”
“How do we respond to chaos?” the Rev. Mr. Welch asked and answered with “Do we have a responsibility to respond?”
The chairman of the Gamaliel African-American Leadership Commission, a national group of clergy and lay leaders, said one problem is the prison industrial complex that provides “a new supply of cheap labor.” He said this is a “model for exploitation” because of the captive workforce.
“God gave us the power to move mountains, but we have abdicated our responsibilities,” Mr. Welch said, noting the feeling is “it’s all right if it doesn’t affect me.”
He said faith leaders have “gotten lazy” and “lost heart” and are too focused on their own legacies. But, he continued, that can change.
“When the people of God show up, God will show up,” he said.
“It’s time to take action to re-energize and organize,” he said.
Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, addressed “rekindling our economy” through education. “The more you learn, the more you earn,” she said. “Economic strength is linked to the educational attainment of the region,” she said. Education can be skilled trades and degree programs.
Meeks said the area offers quality education at Youngstown and Kent state universities and Eastern Gateway. “These are affordable choices,” she said.
She added that Eastern Gateway offers free tuition for two years to high school graduates and General Educational Development certificate holders from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally spoke on “rekindling democracy.”
“Democracy only works when people make their voices heard. These are challenging times,” he said, and because of that reality, it’s “imperative to get involved and take action.”
One way to do that is to register to vote and exercise that right.
The mayor said ACTION’s distribution of yellow cards to report criminal activity in one’s neighborhood is another way to be engaged in the community.
McNally said the times also dictate that public officials be engaged in social media.
“We have to pay attention to that,” he said.
Musical entertainment was provided by the LaBra Brothers, Martha Conyer and Williamson School Choir. Among program participants were Kathleen Sauline, Ray DeCarlo, state Sen. Joseph Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, and the Rev. Ed Noga, ACTION president.