An army of 730 colors Youngstown vibrant

Correspondent photo / Sean Barron Sydney Stalnecker of New Castle, Pa., adds begonias and other flowers next to the Peace Officers Memorial marker near the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown during Saturday’s annual Youngstown StreetScape event.

YOUNGSTOWN — Alicia Spitler is accustomed to doing her part to improve people’s lives and lifestyles, but she’s also amenable to doing the same for the area she loves.

“We’re just trying to clean up the city and trying to get the community involved and let people know we’re here to help,” Spitler, a community advocate with the Youngstown City Health Department, said.

Spitler’s idea of breathing renewed and colorful life into the downtown corridor for the summer and beyond meant getting her hands a bit dirty, an inevitability associated with planting rows of begonias. That was a task she willingly took on as part of a major planting project Saturday that Youngstown CityScape organized to beautify downtown and surrounding parts of the city.

The beautification effort, in its 26th year, was themed “Under Construction and Growing” to reflect that positivity remains abundant, even though many downtown roads remain closed because of ongoing construction projects.

More than 730 volunteers, including those from 15 neighborhood organizations, fanned out to mulch and remove weeds and debris from dozens of planters and other areas, then plant begonias and additional varieties of flowers, Sharon Letson, Youngstown CityScape’s executive director, noted.

The hundreds of volunteers of all ages also worked in favorable weather conditions of abundant sun, low humidity and temperatures in the low 80s.

Locations at which they worked included Central Square and other parts of downtown, Harrison Commons in Smoky Hollow, Wick Park and Crandall Park, both on the North Side, and near the Mahoning Avenue Bridge. New this year was beautifying about a 1-mile stretch of Fifth Avenue that recently had been reconfigured, Letson said.

Spitler and several co-workers set up shop on rocky upgrades on either side of the entrance to the Youngstown CityScape building, where they planted begonias. A lack of gardening acumen failed to dim Spitler’s desire to add lots of red and purple to the area.

Working near her were friends Elise Eckman and Elizabeth Becherer, both of Poland, who delicately dug small holes in crevices next to and between large rocks.

For Eckman, Saturday’s StreetScape was akin to what she was surrounded with while attending Youngstown State University, where she graduated in 2019 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

“I loved seeing it become so much more beautiful over the years,” Eckman, who’s attending graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., recalled about YSU.

For her part, Becherer, who said she also has little gardening experience, came with a group of co-workers from Hill, Barth and King LLC.

Among those in a group that added a higher level of aesthetics to the Peace Officers Memorial Bridge marker off South Avenue next to the Covelli Centre were Sydney Stalnecker of New Castle, Pa., and Henry Shorr of Youngstown.

A year has made a significant difference for Stalnecker, who wrote about the event last year while working for a local TV station, then found herself this year digging soil and installing neatly arranged rows of begonias, celosias, bright-purple mercy cup sage and vista red salvias.

Stalnecker, who organized the group and plans to return to YSU to pursue a master’s degree in English, added she also has dealt with a series of health challenges. Nevertheless, taking part in Saturday’s plantings was beneficial also because it allowed her to feel a deeper connection with the community, Stalnecker continued.

“It’s good to feed the soul now and then. It’s nice to make the city look more pleasing,” added Shorr, a YSU senior and communication major who trains and manages political volunteers.

Shorr, who’s from Columbus, said he was impressed to see the large turnout in a city the size of Youngstown.

“People seem to genuinely care about the city they live in,” he added.

Echoing that sentiment was Letson, who said the neighborhood groups that participated will be given small beautification plaques, and that they can submit photographs to Youngstown CityScape’s social media pages.

“We keep making the city beautiful because that’s the type of environment our businesses need to survive. CityScape continues to raise the bar as to how things should look,” Letson said, adding that she was pleased to see the number of volunteers working collaboratively after the COVID-19 pandemic.


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