Qù F Meltingcardford [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

August 12, 2019; The Vindicator (Youngstown, OH)

In a recent Nonprofit Quarterly article, Elizabeth Castillo wrote about the need to recognize resources other than money as important sources of working capital. One of the categories of capital she references is “relational.” This story is a great example of what she is talking about.

Writing in the Vindicator of Youngstown, Ohio, Graig Graziosi provides an excellent window into the “stone soup” approach to community change among the area’s nonprofit and public institutions, which often must address problems caused or left by government and business. (It’s the kind of work we’ll miss when the paper closes its doors at the end of the month.)

The article describes the living dynamic of this as a “lattice-like network of nonprofits and community action groups…constantly growing and contracting as funding shifts and new problems emerge.” Deb Flora, executive director of the Mahoning County Land Bank, remarks on the need for interdependence. Flora, whose public land bank has helped buttress area nonprofits, observes that, “If anyone is thinking of doing any kind of nonprofit work, then they have to understand that collaboration is key. You have to think about who you can work with; you have to have partners.”

As Graziosi notes, through collaboration, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) “is spared from having to compete against private entities for property and doesn’t have to spend extra money dealing with liens.”

Tiffany Sokol, housing director at YNDC, whose purpose is “stabilizing and revitalizing Youngstown’s neighborhoods,” says she works with the land bank nearly daily. “Our new construction projects on Helena Avenue are a result of seven years of planning and collaboration with the land bank.”

And YNDC similarly collaborates with Mercy Health on alleviating the city’s food desert, since no major full-service grocery stores exist within the city limits. A farmer’s market has been established as a first step, and among the farms participating is the GROW Urban Farm, sponsored by a nonprofit called Flying High:

Flying High provides job training to individuals who are looking to transition into new careers in either health care or welding, and specifically who are either recovering from addiction or recently released from prison.

GROW Urban Farm is also collaborating with the Alliance for Congregational Transformation In Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County on a “pop-up” market series.

Flying High recently acquired a piece of property from the land bank that formerly housed a North Side school. Parker Maynard, Flying High’s director of the GROW Urban Farm, said the land will be used in part by the GROW Urban Farm for berry bushes and an orchard, because their customers—Youngstown residents living in the food desert—have expressed a desire to have access to more fruit.

“We’ve had great opportunities to work with partners, ACTION, the Land Bank, YNDC,” Maynard said. “And that’s really how it has to be doing this work, you can’t expect to be able to accomplish everything alone. You’ve got to work together.”

This mode is a natural element of community-based work, where it generates a virtually unseen kind of renewable capital made up of trust between activists and mutual aspirations for community health and well-being. Each productive relationship lays a dynamic base for other projects; however, they must also be nurtured over time. As things are done, an eye must always be kept out for the next opportunity to make something happen that’s beyond the reach of any one organization.—Ruth McCambridge