Youngstown native spearheads event focused on education, crime
Jon Howell first thought of an event for Youngstown children while sitting on his couch late one October night all the way from his home in Bloomington, Ill.
Howell drove nine hours to his former hometown to talk about his event, Advancing Education Reducing Crime Day, at a news conference in Taft Elementary on Friday. He joined local government, school and faith leaders, all of whom played some role in creating the program.
The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 22 at Taft, Martin Luther King, Harding and William Holmes McGuffey elementary schools.
Howell has no current connection to the Youngstown education system. His kids have all graduated and he’s a manager at State Farm Insurance in Illinois. Still, nearly all of the speakers Friday – including Mayor John A. McNally and city school district CEO Krish Mohip – said Howell called and emailed them tirelessly about organizing the event.
Howell grew up on Youngstown’s South Side and graduated from South High School. In front of his parents and his wife, Adrienne, Howell talked about his roots in Youngstown. He’s purchased a house locally and plans to move back to the area in two or three years.
“We believe that the potential the kids have in Youngstown is more potential than any kids in the United States of America,” Howell said. “These kids just need a nurturing environment to be successful. They just need someone to believe in them and support them.”
The program connects a call to reduce crime and increase educational awareness, featuring indoor reading sessions and a bicycle raffle. Adults will read books aloud to students, students will compete in essay-writing contests, and volunteers will offer free books and meals.
There will also be a bicycle raffle and police dog demonstrations, and participants will conclude the event with a candlelit anti-crime march around each school.
“When I grew up, we could ride our bikes in Youngstown and my parents didn’t have to worry about us because it was a safe community,” Howell said. “We want to declare these kids are taking back the streets of Youngstown. These streets don’t belong to the bad guys.”
When McNally spoke Friday, he said he would continue to make every effort to promote the event. He referenced the public library and praised local leadership that’s worked at improving Youngstown education.
Mohip echoed those sentiments and thanked Howell for his work.
“As a school district, we have goals and we have strategies that we put in place, but we need everybody here standing behind our kids,” Mohip said. “I say it all the time: We believe all kids can learn, that all kids want to learn, and that it is up to the adults to make it happen.”
Howell asked Rolando Rojas, a pastor at Spanish Evangelical Church, to speak during Friday’s conference in Spanish. Howell pointed out that, despite a roughly 10 percent Hispanic or Latino population in Youngstown, local news conferences aren’t often given in Spanish.
For the event in April, Rojas has rounded up translators who will stay with the children throughout the day. Howell said he printed promotional fliers in English and Spanish.
Students from suburban schools such as Poland, Canfield and Boardman will also participate in the event, as Howell said he opened it up to all of Mahoning County.
“I’m probably most excited about the suburban schools coming into the city of Youngstown and reading side-by-side with the inner-city schools, therefore exemplifying that there are no borders in education,” Howell said.
This isn’t the first time Howell has returned to volunteer for the community, as he also helped coordinate Operation Paint Brush, a two-day event focused on decorating four Youngstown homes with new paint and garden work.