May 29, 2016


Youth Empowerment zone envisioned for Elyria’s 5th Ward


ELYRIA — Two groups that shared the same vision, but worked independently for years, are coming together to collaborate on the city’s south side.


Inspired by the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, stakeholders in the city’s 5th Ward are working to create a Youth Empowerment Services Zone in the area as a means of targeting children and families in need in that ward.

The goal is to ensure that all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, are well-educated and prepared for college.

“For the first time in a very long time, this is a real opportunity to make a difference in the 5th Ward and move some of these families in a positive direction,” Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, said.

Madison has been planting the seeds for the YES Zone for several years.

His work has included meeting with the heads of nonprofits already serving the area, visiting the flagship initiative in New York and speaking with policymakers in Washington, D.C., to determine if the project could work in a small area without the philanthropic backing that Harlem receives.

“It is going to require a lot of work and a lot of individuals to make sacrifices so our children have a fighting chance,” Madison said. “The possibilities that exist in our young people are endless when they know they have adults backing them.”

His idea should sound familiar because, as recently as December, Madison pulled many groups together to form the 5th Ward Collaborative to secure funding from the city’s allotment of Community Development Block Grant funds. He spoke then of the work being done in New York City.

Representatives from organizations including Neighborhood Alliance, Save Our Children, Horizons Activities Center, Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County, Second Harvest Food Bank, House of Healing and Elyria NAACP attended those early informal planning meetings.

Now, Madison said, the YES Zone will be a merger of the collaborative concept and the work done by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lorain County. The two groups are hoping to merge their common goal.

“We currently have two initiatives and are working together to weave these two similar concepts together for better outcomes for children and families,” Madison said. “I see this collaborative working in the 5th Ward and serving as a catalyst for all organizations to work together and ultimately provide better services for children and families.’’

Mike Conibear, executive director of the County Boys & Girls Club, said his organization has been moving toward forming an empowerment zone in the south side for many years.

The plan is for each organization to continue to work their core mission while looking at how it fits into the bigger picture in the community, he said.

“We are all looking at the common mission for the community and looking at how we can bring all the services together,” Conibear said. “In so many ways, our club is considered a community center. It is not just there to serve boys and girls, but can be, and is often, used for other services and programs throughout the night and weekend.”

Conibear said collaborative initiatives like the YES Zone merely follow the funding strategies many foundations and charitable donors want to see — effective partnerships and strong relationships across organizations.

The United Way of Greater Lorain County will facilitate meetings as the initiative gets off the ground.

Madison said he believes now is the time to start the YES Zone because the organizations involved want to do more to help the community.

“It gives us a chance to track the progress of the organizations already doing work in this area. We can follow them over the course of several years and track the positive outcomes in the 5th Ward,” he said.

The boundary lines of the YES Zone will include the entire 5th Ward, which has been redrawn and will encompass downtown in 2014.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or

About Lisa Roberson

Lisa Roberson has been with the Chronicle since 2006, and covers Elyria city government and public education. She can be reached at 329-7121 or Follow her on Twitter.