Isaac David has traveled a long road to get from the west coast of Africa to the neighborhoods of Mansfield, where he teaches youngsters to become successful men.
His work goal is not to be accomplished at teaching how to plant flowers, clean up litter or board up buildings. Instead, he wants the young members of his carefully selected work crews to understand the importance of showing up for the job and giving your best every day.
The native of Liberia is the youth workforce development coordinator and personal confidence builder for the Mansfield-based agency UMADAOP, which stands for Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program. Part of the agency’s focus is helping struggling teenaged men below the poverty level.
David’s instruction and counseling come through the SALT project. The initials stand for Student Achievement Leadership Training.
“It all has to do with instilling pride and self-confidence,” the 42-year-old David said. He usually has around 15 young men in a group. They participate in classroom instruction as well as outdoor work projects. David’s crews have done work for Richland Land Bank lots, Mansfield parks and, most recently, Mansfield in Bloom (MiB) floral and landscape beds. The volunteer work is funded through grants, and each participant must have the approval of a parent or guardian.
David was born in Liberia in 1976 and came to the U.S. in 1982. He believes slave traders most likely plundered Liberia as they shipped Africans to plantations in the U.S. in the decades before the Civil War. David explains that many of today’s Liberians are descendants of former U.S. slaves who traveled back there after the war between the states. David’s father was a senator in Liberia, and an uncle served as president of the nation before being assassinated in 1979. David attributed the assassination, and others like it, to a tumultuous political history in Liberia. That internal conflict has eased in recent years, he added.
The Ontario resident has been in the community for seven years. Mansfield is hometown for his wife, the former Michelle Holley. He met her in New Jersey, where he was operating a limousine service. The couple has two children, a son age 15 and a daughter age 8. Both are students in the Ontario school system.
David has interacted with a lot of children, but he said his own kids introduced him to an important experience that he had somehow missed – eating ice cream.
“I had a lactose problem, so I stayed away from ice cream. But I enjoyed it with my kids, and I survived it quite well,” he said.
David obtained a degree in physical therapy from North Central State College but took his first job at Abraxas, the residential treatment center for youthful offenders on Ohio 39 between Mansfield and Shelby.
“We walked around the facility, and the man doing the hiring was impressed at how quickly I connected with many young men we saw along the tour,” David said. He was hired soon after that, and David added “It changed everything for me. My experiences there made me want to do more”.
He has been working to help young men in the community ever since. One youth activity outside his professional life was to serve as a conditioning trainer for the Mansfield Tygers football team. He describes himself as a workout fanatic, adding the gym offers him a place to get lost.
After joining UMADAOP, he was first assigned to administer group programs for youngsters at the former Hedges School. David said it was a challenging project for him, not only because he was a relative rookie, but because youngsters there were facing significant challenges.
Hedges is where David first began to use the SALT initiative that focuses on leadership and responsibility.
“This initiative is where the rubber meets the road,” he said, explaining that it pushes the youngsters to put into practice what they are taught.
David’s most recent volunteer efforts are assisting with floral and landscape projects supported by Mansfield in Bloom.
This spring and summer will mark the third year of assisting MiB.
Some of the ongoing projects the crews are helping with include ”planting and maintaining downtown floral planters, caring for the plantings around the city’s gateway sign on West Fourth St., planting and caring for the existing urban right of way islands and assisting with the massive 16,500-bulb daffodil plantings across the city,
Some new MiB projects that could involve David and his volunteer crews are:
- Work with the North End Community Improvement CollaborativeTeaching Garden to grow annuals to be jointly planted in community beds by teaching garden students and SALT work crews.
- Mow grass and maintain floral and crab tree plantings along North Main Street from the U.S. 30 overpass to railroad tracks north of Sixth Street.
- Help identify north-end locations for sizeable floral plantings to balance the existing urban islands on the south end of the city.
David and his SALT program collaboration with Mansfield in Bloom have created a learning opportunity with an employment potential for one crew member who has a significant interest in landscaping as a career. As a result, David will be developing an internship/mentoring program in collaboration with the Mansfield Men’s Garden Club.
When asked about the most common factor that negatively affects the young people he encounters, he quickly said it is the poverty that limits their experiences and choices. When asked what the most critical benefit he has to offer these youngsters, he said motivation.
“They just want and need encouragement from people who care,” he concluded.
Editor’s note – Tom Brennan is the retired editor of the News Journal and chairman of the Mansfield in Bloom steering committee. If you are interested in becoming a Mansfield in Bloom volunteer to assist with floral, landscaping environmental or other projects, please contact Roberta Perry at 419-755-7234 or Roberta@chooserichland.com.