By Jeremy Lydic
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A $750,000 grant from the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation will ensure adult clients of Golden String Inc. will have a place for leisure, vacation and respite.
Founded in 2000, Golden String is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides recreational activities to adults and children with special needs. In 2003, the foundation’s director of operations, James “Jimmy” Sutman opened Farmer Casey’s Ranch in Coitsville. The grant from the hospital foundation will help establish a year-round camp at the ranch for adults and children with disabilities, he said.
“We knew that our folks with disabilities needed extra things in life,” he said. “One-hundred percent of our folks are under the poverty line. So vacations, most of the time, are out of the question unless we had family members who were going to donate to them.”
The bulk of the grant will fund construction of the camp, dubbed Gabba Camp, named for foundation president Mike Senchak’s granddaughter, Gabriella “Gabba” Berg. The first of the three-phase project will include a main lodge named Poppy’s Lodge – named after Senchak – that will provide temporary and respite housing for clients. Other features include satellite cabins, wheelchair paths around the property and a path and bridge that connect the camp to the seven-acre lake on the property, Sutman said.
The second phase includes a swimming pool and amphitheater, and phase three includes a horse barn for therapeutic riding, he said. Olsavsky Jaminet Architects Inc. in Youngstown is the architect for the project. Sutman hopes to break ground in 2019 when the weather breaks.
Golden String has already received some other federal and Appalachian grants for the project. All told, Sutman expects the project to cost about $2 million, he said.
“This camp has been a dream of Golden String’s since our genesis,” Sutman said. “We are blessed to know such strong community leaders. Mike Senchak and his board members at the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation are alert and aware. Their fingers are on the pulse of community kindness.”
Sutman announced the donation Thursday at Gallagher’s Lunch Bucket, a cafeteria in the Oak Hill Renaissance Place building. Opened in 2014, the Lunch Bucket is named after Joe Gallagher, Sutman’s first client who died five years ago.
“Joe Gallagher was always worried about his lunch bucket,” Sutman said. “And he always referred to it as the ‘lunch bucket’. So we wanted to name [the restaurant] after something and someone very important, and that’s Mr. Joe Gallagher.”
The cafeteria was made possible by a $20,000 grant from the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation in 2014 to renovate the former South Side Hospital, Sutman said. It also helped Golden String leverage additional funds to install more restrooms and wheelchair access at Farmer Casey’s Ranch.
Gallagher’s employs about 30 of Golden String’s clients and is one of the ventures that helps adults with disabilities learn vocational skills – something that was practically unheard of in the late 1990s and 2000s, he said. Golden String also operates an online radio station and Touch the Moon Candy Saloon with locations at Gallagher’s and at 8 S. Phelps St. downtown. The organization serves more than 300 altogether, he said, and “the number continues to grow.”
As the incidence of autism increases, Sutman said he gets calls from parents of teenagers and adults who need someplace to go.
“I probably, to be very honest, get a phone call every day or at least every two days from a family that just describes a situation that is heart-wrenching,” he said. “Some of these situations are very low-income for everybody involved.”
The stories inspired Sutman to get a system in place with a location and enough staff to help those families. That was one of the driving inspirations behind the camp. The desire to help is something that Senchak noticed about Sutman during site visits to Farmer Casey’s when he would bring his granddaughter.
“It gave her the opportunity not only to be out at the farm in nature around animals, but also to be around people with disabilities and to converse with them and interact with them,” Senchak said.
After talking with Sutman, Senchak said he saw passion, vision and yearning to do good for other people – qualities that he learned were important during his 40-plus years in the health-care industry.
“I have been a firm believer as a registered nurse, as a hospital administrator and as somebody who believes in other human beings, it is all about quality of care – quality of life,” he said. “And in this case, with the camp, it is going to be a very special place that is going to enhance quality of life for so many beautiful and special people.”
Senchak says he believes the camp will have a positive impact on the community, he said, and he hopes the community will “rise and build upon Golden String’s plan.” He calls upon other nonprofit organizations and corporate foundations to consider the project when planning their donations.
“The project needs donations. To the foundations that are out there, please take a look at it,” he said. “It really is something where we’re improving people’s lives, and it’s something that’s going to be around that can benefit a lot of people.”
Pictured: Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation President and CEO Mike Senchack, his granddaughter Gabriella “Gabba” Bert, and Golden String Inc. director of operations Jimmy Sutman.
Copyright 2018 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.