Oak Hill Collaborative seeks to improve inner-city life

I received a call last month from Pat Kerrigan, executive director of the Oak Hill Collaborative on the city’s South Side, about the successful conclusion of a collaborative-sponsored event for inner-city children.

It was a four-week program involving Raspberry Pi, which Kerrigan explained as an inexpensive computer that plugs into a television or computer keyboard. It is used in electronics projects and for many of the functions performed on a PC, including spreadsheets and word processing.

The course was open to students from the fifth through 10th grades.

The collaborative supplied 10 neighborhood children with computer microprocessors, keyboards, wireless mice and television monitors that they assembled and programmed to do a variety of computer tasks. The project was funded solely by personal donations.

“Our goal was to help reduce the digital divide by giving these young kids the opportunity to build and own their personal computers. Their intelligence, curiosity and imagination are incredible,” Kerrigan said.

He apologized for not getting information about the program to the paper earlier, but I told him I would do what I could in the future to promote the OHC’s positive work in the community.

The nonprofit is located at 507 Oak Hill Ave. It is funded primarily through private donations. According to its website, the collaborative’s primary mission is community revitalization through small-business development and neighborhood beautification with the goal of improving the quality of life along the Oak Hill corridor and the creation and use of a MakerSpace.

The MakerSpace is a “community center with tools,” providing access to an array of equipment and tools, including several 3-D printers, computers, woodworking equipment, assorted hand tools, air compressors and the like with more being donated, borrowed and otherwise acquired all the time, according to the website.

MakerSpace meetings take place Wednesdays at the collaborative. The classes are free. The collaborative’s small-business incubator began in 2014.

Among those participating and helped by OHC is KBC KIDZ, a one-stop shop that offers everything from costumed characters to themed cakes. It is owned and operated by two mothers who noticed a void in the market for children’s entertainment. Rock Shots Photography by Chelle Carr is a small business that specializes in concerts and events.

Those seeking to venture out into the business world can go to the collaborative to gain assistance in basic business planning, organization and operation. They also can receive assistance in grant writing and program development.

“We have another great event going on at the Oak Hill Collaborative. The United Returning Citizens are hosting the Hope Channel from Grafton Correctional Institute, a group of prison inmates who operate a 24-hour television station inside the walls of all correctional institutions in Ohio,” Kerrigan said in an email. “They are interviewing approximately 20 ex-offenders to broadcast a message of hope to those on the inside.”

“We believe this is a great opportunity for returning citizens to tell their stories in a positive way and provide inspiration to those preparing to return to society and become productive citizens,” said Dionne Dowdy, executive director of URC. “It shows them that a successful transition can happen” she said.

Kerrigan, 65, a former Youngstown Municipal Court judge, knows what it’s like to be a returning citizen. He was sentenced in 1998 to 30 months in federal prison for three counts of affecting interstate commerce by extortion.

He did not let that criminal past stop him from being involved in a positive way when he was released. He has dedicated himself to making sure the collaborative provides opportunities for inner-city youths as well as those returning citizens who are trying to recast their lives after their prison or jail terms.

The collaborative also works to help restore its neighborhood by providing community space for group meetings and serving as a base for operations for beautification projects. Joining Kerrigan on the OHC team are the Rev. Edward Noga, pastor of St. Patrick Church on Oak Hill Avenue, and Atty. Carl James, collaborative board chairman.

Here is the list of the collaborative’s partners: ACTION (Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods), Boys & Girls Club of Youngstown, Common Wealth Inc., Community Corrections Association, Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), Downtown Wellness Community, Fallen City Writers, Friends of the Mahoning River, Goodness Grows, Home for Good, Lit Youngstown, Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, Needle’s Eye Counseling Center, Oak Hill Cemetery, POGO Block Watch, Pride Youngstown, St. Patrick Parish, United Returning Citizens, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown Design Works, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and Youngstown Neighborhood Leadership Council.

To find out more about the collaborative and the programs, go to its website, oakhillcollaborative.org, its Facebook page, or call 330-518-5884.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com.