Summit at YSU aids nonprofits

By Jordan Cohen


Life is always challenging for the Mahoning Valley’s many nonprofit organizations, which explains why 75 of them sent 280 representatives to Youngstown State University for the Eighth Annual Nonprofit Summit.

The daylong summit theme Thursday at Kilcawley Center was “Sharing Ideas — Inspiring Action.”

“It’s all about networking and learning to work smarter,” said Jennifer Roller, president of the Raymond John Wean Foundation, which initiated the summit and continues its sponsorship. “Good stuff comes out of this.”

According to its website, the Wean Foundation has awarded more than $100 million in grants to nonprofit organizations.

Roller said the summit generally attracts a mixture of faith-based and grass- roots organizations along with business and community leaders. “The foundation wants to be a resource and [help them] discover new ways of exploring constant issues,” Roller said.

The summit offered 15 workshops covering subjects critical to nonprofits such as strategic planning, building effective leadership, best practices and even public speaking.

“In lean times, we’re forced to be creative and innovative,” Roller said.

Sherece West-Scantlebury, the president and chief executive officer of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation based in Arkansas, called upon the organizations to evaluate their performance critically.

“You have to know you are doing well, but well is not enough,” she advised. “You have to be excellent because everyone is depending on us.”

Scantlebury challenged the audience to become transformational leaders. “You have a social-justice heart, which implies you want to transform lives,” she said.

Tony Perrone, president of the Niles Board of Education and member of two other boards, said the information gleaned from the workshops and conversations with other nonprofits can generate some concepts for improving services.

“They can give us some ideas for support services and maybe help us fill in some gaps that we can’t do now,” Perrone said. “It’s a forum to collaborate.”

Cheryl Steib Lewis of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society has attended several summits and describes each one as worthwhile. “There are always good ideas and suggestions,” Lewis said.

Roller said she was pleased with the turnout, even though the numbers were slightly less than in previous years.

“After eight years, we’re still bringing them back year after year,” she said. “That speaks volumes.”

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