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Youngstown Developmental Center would offer support

AUSTINTOWN — The Mahoning Valley is poised to increase services to its most vulnerable populations in a unique setting.

It will be a place that will encourage job creation, resource sharing, wrap-around techniques and increase quality of life for people who need access to developmental and mental health support, say proponents of developing the former Youngstown Developmental Center.

Dozens of people lost their jobs when the state ordered the state-owned facility closed in 2017 and countless people lost access to services they now have to travel to cities such as Columbus to receive.

Nonprofits and government agencies that have been serving in Mahoning and Trumbull counties for a collective hundreds of years have a preliminary plan not only to restore services to people with autism, young adults who need the skills to live on their own, older adults who need more care and others with mental health and developmental needs, but to increase their offerings.

But first, the state must approve $1.5 million needed to restore the 10 buildings, each consisting of 3,000 to 40,000 square feet on the 35-acre campus.

That amount, which local state senators and state representatives are campaigning for, would be enough to make structural improvements to the buildings on the campus, explained Mark Dunlap, director of finance for the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The state facility was built with the money of taxpayers, who deserve to see the impressive campus improved enough to be of service to the people in the Valley who could use it, said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the mental health and recovery board.

The board intends to buy the property from the state for $1 before a June 30 deadline, Piccirilli said.

If the money comes through, nonprofits such as Alta Behavioral Health, Easterseals, Meridian Healthcare and Homes for Kids will be willing to invest in more staff, more clients, new and expanded programs, and furnishings for their leased spaces, the CEOs of the companies said.

And, once the consortium of providers and government agencies in both counties solidifies a plan, the mental health and recovery board will host community meetings to describe what services will be available on the campus, so members of the neighborhood have a chance to ask questions and hear more in-depth details about the facility that now sits vacant.

The terms governing the administration of the revitalized facility are still being ironed out, but may include the Western Reserve Port Authority as property administrator.

“The mental health and recovery board doesn’t have the resources to be a property manager, but the port has been granted that authority by the county commissioners (of both counties),” Piccirilli said.

Joseph Shorokey, CEO of Alta; Tim Nelson, president and CEO of Easterseals; and Larry Moliterno, president and CEO of Meridian said they and other providers in the area can work together, instead of competing for clients, if the campus comes to fruition.

They imagine community garden projects that enlist seniors, youth and the developmentally disabled in rewarding work. Gardening is an activity demonstrated to provide pleasure and a sense of accomplishment, they said.

Young people transitioning to life on their own after foster care or after leaving home abruptly could learn the skills they need to succeed on their own.

People with autism could find a place to live independently with some support and job-training skills.

Older people that need more care or those with developmental disabilities could find a weekend of socialized respite for the individuals that need the services on the campus, offering their caretakers a respite as well.

Employees and others could utilize an on-site daycare.

Medically fragile people with a history of substance use issues and few options could find an assisted-living facility where they can get the care they need while living independently.

One of the nonprofits providing a therapist to clients on the campus could also make the professional available to clients of one of the other nonprofits housed there.

Combining resources and space on the campus will serve more people and won’t create a slew of unoccupied buildings in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, Piccirilli said.

“They are expanding their services, so they will still use the offices and spaces they have in the community,” Piccirilli said. “You won’t see any vacant buildings because of this project.”

rfox@tribtoday.com