West side Youngstown neighborhood raises $30,000 to bolster beautification efforts
By MATT HAWOUT
Five people went to the first meeting of the Rocky Ridge Neighborhood Association in June 2010. By the second, there were 60. Now, 160 people have joined.
“You don’t need wealth to have a great community. You need people to have a great community, said John Slanina, president of The Rocky Ridge Neighborhood Association.
However, a little wealth can’t hurt.
In the past three years, the group has received $30,000 from soft grants, donations and fund-raising. The money was used to support everything from the Mill Creek Junior Baseball Team and the West Side Library to funding beautification projects along Mahoning Avenue. That last effort involved the members buying 30 large pots and creating garden beds, which they then filled with flowers. Businesses along Mahoning maintain them.
“We wanted to make an imprint and a stamp on our neighborhoods,” said Claudia Sturtz, one of the early grant writers. “We have to get along (with local business) to make sure our side of town stands out.”
Slanina said the members are dedicated to ending the “cycle of decay.”
The Rocky Ridge Gardens is an example of this effort. Residents worked with the city to demolish the blighted house at 116 S. Hazelwood Ave. and establish a community garden at the site. The garden features vegetable and flowerbeds, along with a newly constructed gazebo and a scarecrow wearing a Rocky Ridge Neighborhood T-shirt.
At the group’s Aug. 28 potluck meeting, many members brought food made with the fresh ingredients from that garden. Besides this, the residents could sample the results of another neighborhood effort – maple syrup.
The group worked with Mill Creek MetroParks to tap the neighborhood’s maple trees, which were planted in 1951. The residents gathered 6 tons of sap to create 35 gallons of maple syrup, which sold out in three days – at $12 a bottle.
“We’re just happy to have found a project, which will continue to grow,” said Slanina. “In fact, we are working on building a sugar house for both maple syrup production and education for the public. We hope to start construction in the next few weeks.”
Slanina said the profits from the sale of syrup, about $2,600, were split with the Mill Creek Park Foundation. A portion of the money will support the creation of a playground in the James L. Wick Recreation Area at Mill Creek Park. That project is expected to cost $840,000. The catalyst for the project was a donation of $400,000 left by Julianna Kurinka, a Rocky Ridge resident, upon her death in 2005.
This connection between the neighborhood and the park is an important one, said Hunter Morrison of Youngstown. He is a former city planner for Cleveland and the executive director of the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium.
“In places like Youngstown that have seen a lot of population loss, parks become one of the places that you can build from,” said Morrison. “Mill Creek has a strong taxing base, has a strong voter approval and creates facilities that people want to be next to. So it creates value.
“If you look at the West side – the Rocky Ridge Neighborhood – you can be assured that if you are buying a house (there) that Mill Creek MetroParks is not going away.”
Slanina said his group’s long-term goal is to make Rocky Ridge an attractive place for people currently living there, as well as those thinking about making a move to the west side he said
“I’d like to see a neighborhood with diverse incomes, diverse backgrounds, that maintain the properties, the integrity of the neighborhood from a physical standpoint, but most importantly, to know each other,” he said.
Meanwhile, the residents are happy with their progress.
“I’ve noticed there were more flower pots, more flags flying, more ‘hi-how-ya-doing?’ walkers. I see more people riding bikes, more young couples with babystrollers. Five years ago, you did not see that on this side of town,” said Sturtz.
For more information on the group, visit www.rockyridgeneighbors.com.
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