Valley foundations collect for the future

Leaders of charitable foundations in the Mahoning Valley see a bright future for philanthropy in the area as they not only contribute money to worthwhile causes and organizations, but also work to bring groups and people together to grow and improve the area.

“The Wean Foundation serves as a connector to leverage resources, create partnerships and build capacity as well as a grantmaker,” Jennifer Roller, president of the 74-year-old organization, said. “Inasmuch as we encourage our nonprofit partners to collaborate and work together, we seek to work with nonprofits, business, government and funders — sometimes following and other times leading — to ensure the community’s well-being.”

Casey Krell, director of donor services and supporting organizations at the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, said: “Philanthropy provides the opportunity to use our resources and capacity to pull people together to start imagining a community and developing a vision for what we want for our community and then begin to talk about what that change looks like.”

Lynnette Forde, president of the Youngstown Foundation, said: “Philanthropy partners with government and nonprofit institutions and corporations to ensure that folks can get an education and have jobs and get support for the goal of better health and impact their quality of life.”

Paul McFadden, president of the Youngstown State University Foundation, said the area “has a rich tradition and history of philanthropy. Volney Rogers gifted Mill Creek Park, Reuben McMillan Library is an original Carnegie Library, YMCA Camp Fitch, the Canfield Fairgrounds and the YSU campus are dotted with philanthropically-funded buildings. I see signs (that) this tradition will not only continue, but grow in the future as past philanthropists will encourage future philanthropists.”


The YSU Foundation received a record $24.1 million in financial support in 2022, including $5 million to Kohli Hall, home of YSU’s Excellence Training Center, $1.5 million from Richard and Susan Sokolov to name the Sokolov Honors College and $600,000 from the annual fall appeal.

The foundation is an independent organization that supports YSU student scholarships, student development and career opportunities, McFadden said.

The foundation’s endowment started in 1966 with $13.5 million and exceeded $300 million in 2021. It is the sixth largest public university foundation in the state and the largest in northeast Ohio, McFadden said.

It had four employees in 2012 and now has 20, he said.

The foundation’s goal this year is to raise the $20 million needed to replace the Kilcawley Student Center, McFadden said.

The Bruce Zoldan family made the lead $5 million gift to name it the Zoldan Family Student Center Campaign. Overall, $7.5 million has been raised toward the campaign goal.

Another goal for this year is the acquisition of endowed scholarships, McFadden said.

“Scholarships directly impact students by providing access to their education while supporting YSU through the tuition those scholarships pay to YSU,” he said.

The foundation’s future goals tie to its increased staff and the use of research tools and data analytics as it allows it to “identify and connect with potential investors” at a rapid rate, McFadden said.

“This has been especially vital in reaching out to donor prospects who do not reside in the Youngstown area,” he said. “The YSU Foundation is positioned to acquire significantly more philanthropy to bring back revenue to impact our university and our region.”


The Wean Foundation accomplished a lot in 2022, Roller said, including the launch of the Strategic Partners Fellowship with Trumbull Neighborhood Parntnership and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. with a long-term goal to promote leadership development and racial equity in the nonprofit sector.

The program created and filled mission-critical roles that will serve as an “on ramp to executive leadership,” she said.

The foundation, established in 1949, focused on advancing “community building in the under-resourced communities of Warren and Youngstown through a powerful combination of grantmaking, capacity building, convening and partnerships,” Roller said.

Its emphasis, she said, is on race equity and inclusion.

It has assets of $86 million.

The Wean Foundation doubled its staff in 2022 to build its internal capacity to deliver more effectively on its mission, Roller said.

Of the nearly $2.5 million in community investment grant funding in 2022, more than $500,000 went to organizations whose boards and executive staff leadership is at least 50 percent black and Hispanic / Latinx led.

Regarding its goals for 2023, Roller said: “We’d like to continue to be responsive to our nonprofit partners by coordinating relevant capacity building workshops and events. This also relates to a goal to ensure the facilities are utilized as a civic space. We aim to ‘activate the space’ by offering our community room to organizations or groups interested in hosting an event, workshop, luncheon, meeting or other gathering and are waiving fees this year.”

The foundation also wants to grow its partnerships and establish new relationships with nonprofits as well as “level the playing field for grassroots organizations by making the program more accessible for more organizations to apply for funding,” Roller said.

“We plan to offer new opportunities for engagement and relationship building for grassroots organizations and reduce the barriers to receiving funding and technical support,” she said.


The Youngstown Foundation, founded in 1918, has improved its back office operations recently “to be more responsive in our grantmaking and to have a few more dollars to accomplish that,” said Forde, its president.

The foundation’s mission is to provide financial assistance to charitable, scientific and educational institutions that promote the mental, moral and physical well-being of residents of Youngstown as well as Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

The foundation, which has about $150 million in assets, remains focused on Youngstown, Forde said.

“In many ways, we are still very Youngstown-centric,” she said. “When we look at applications, one of the things we ask is: will the work help to support the citizens of Youngstown? That remains a priority for us. It’s really lofty to commit to one community and to recognize its needs for families and individuals and for business and its environment.”

Forde said she is “very proud of the relationship we have with the city of Youngstown and supporting their efforts in contributions to the needs of the community.”

The foundation’s goal this year “is to look internally,” she said. “We did some things last year around our internal infrastructure that will make it easier for our grantmaking. Those are internal things such as how we process checks, how we accept applications, information we make available to donors. These are things people won’t see on the outside.”

Hopefully in a year from now, Forde said people will “see how the Youngstown Foundation is able to do something different than it couldn’t do before.”

The plan is to “make it easier for people to get access to our resources,” Forde said. “People may not even catch a whiff of it and that’s good. It lessens the burden on people.”


The Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley had a “big year” in 2022 and plans to continue to grow this year, Krell said.

“We added some new positions to the foundation that were outwardly focused,” she said. “We added staff to our community engagement and relations (department) to get out in the community and meet people and learn what needs people face and be the eyes and ears in the community. A big part of 2022 was engaging people and learning their needs and how we can best respond.”

This year, Krell said, the foundation is “taking those relationships to the next level. It’s one thing to hear from someone what they see as a need in their community and it’s another thing to do something about it. We’re going to use that information to inform our work. We want to bring more people into the fold and share more decision making power about where our grant dollars go and figure out ways to be even more community centered.”

The foundation was founded in 1999 and has awarded $44 million to hundreds of local charitable and educational institutions.

It oversees $80 million in assets. Of that, $40 million is direct Community Foundation money, Krell said.

It also has three supporting organizations: The Trumbull Memorial Health Foundation and the Western Reserve Health Foundation, with combined assets of about $30 million, and the William Swanston Charitable Fund with about $10 million in assets.

The two health foundations support the health care needs and education of residents in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, respectively. The Swanston fund supports children in both counties who have been abused, neglected or dependent.

Because of the three supporting funds, a lot of the Community Foundation’s focus is on health, but Krell said it also provides funding for arts and culture, education as well as to faith-based organizations and animal welfare.

“In the past few years, we’ve gotten a lot more involved in ways to best utilize our role as a connector and a convener,” Krell said. “It’s the work we do beyond writing checks. Are there other ways for us to help engage community members from across the Valley? What are the obstacles? What are the opportunities that we have and how can we make change? Sometimes that’s by making grants and sometimes that’s connecting partners and stakeholders and facilitating some of those conversations for change.”

By the numbers

• Wean Foundation

Founded – 1949

Assets – $86 million

• Youngstown State University Foundation

Founded – 1966

Assets – $328 million

• Youngstown Foundation

Founded – 1918

Assets – $150 million

• Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley

Founded – 1999

Assets – $80 million


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