Thanks for helping make our community great

I would like to dedicate this space to some of the people and organizations that have made significant contributions to improve the lives of people in the Mahoning Valley this year.

Inspiring Minds continues to provide after-school and summer-enrichment programming for more than 400 students in Trumbull and Mahoning counties. Deryck Toles is founder and executive director.

Toles, a graduate of Warren G. Harding High School, Penn State University, and who had a career as a linebacker in the National Football League, has made sure under-represented youths are exposed to life-changing experiences and positive role models.

Since 2006, Inspiring Minds and its benefactors have provided more than $60,000 in scholarships to teens for post-secondary education. Inspiring Minds students have been to Washington, D.C., to see the historically black college, Howard University; visited Puerto Rico; and traveled to New York University to attend tutoring sessions.

The Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, under the leadership of Guy Burney, program coordinator, remains a positive influence in Youngstown. CIRV is a partnership of law enforcement, social-service agencies and the community to reduce gun violence in the city. CIRV offers support services to violent offenders willing to change; offers violence-prevention programming to youths in the community; and also engages and solicits community participation in delivering violence-deterrence message, according to its website.

Burney also has worked with several churches to help get the nonviolence message out to our area youth.

The Youngstown City School District’s after-school program to help students improve their math and reading skills should also be applauded. The sessions make use of i-Ready, a computer program dedicated to sharpening students’ minds through fun learning exercises.

Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley for years has been providing food for those who need it the most.

Sadly, with more jobs being lost in our area, the need for the food bank’s services is more crucial than ever. The food bank, a member of Feeding America, assists 148 hunger-relief programs in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. These include church pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, shelters for battered women and after-school programs.

Michael Iberis, food bank director, earlier this year, praised his agency’s outreach efforts, which include fulfilling about 15,000 requests for food each week in the three counties.

I also want to give a shout out to Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. Headed by Ian Beniston, the YNDC continues its mission to make city neighborhoods better and to help people achieve homeownership.

The organization fully renovates vacant homes to a high standard for sale to new homeowners at an affordable price. Its Iron Roots Urban Farm is a 1.7 acre working farm and training center located at 820 Canfield Road on the city’s South Side. Iron Roots Urban Farm grows fresh produce in an urban neighborhood.

Thank you area fraternities and sororities for raising funds to provide scholarships to inner-city youths on their way to college.

Teen Straight Talk, located in Vienna, equips children with truth, unaltered by the ever-changing morals of our society. The values they learn, including abstaining from sex before marriage and the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, have provided some with life-changing behaviors. TST’s director is Mary Duke, and the organization recently returned from a mission trip to El Salvador.

Of course, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent DePaul Society, Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, the United Ways in Youngstown, Warren, and in Mercer and Lawrence counties, and the Salvation Army should always be lauded for their efforts to provide help for the less fortunate throughout the year.

Don’t forget to drop whatever money you have in the Salvation Army’s red kettles over the new few weeks as this is that organization’s largest fundraising effort.

But I want to give a standing ovation to all the people in this community who donate their time and resources to help those who are suffering from catastrophic diseases.

So, to everyone who had a spaghetti dinner, organized a concert or a 5k walk/run, sold lemonade or cookies, walked or bicycled long distances to raise money to help offset the large medical bills not covered by health insurance, thank you.

And for those who did even one small thing to help your fellow man that was not publicized, you will always have my undying gratitude.

I am confident that same spirit of giving, love and support will continue in the Valley in 2017.

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