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YSEA carries on ‘quiet work’

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Villagers helping villagers — quietly.

That’s the spirit of Yellow Springs Emergency Assistance, or YSEA, a nonprofit that’s been providing emergency financial assistance to local residents since 2006, but with roots that extend back to the 1930s.

YSEA exists so that those who need a little extra help to make rent, avoid a utility shut-off, pay for a medication or buy groceries when food is running low have a place to turn, according to trustee Joseph Giardullo.

“We’re here to help bridge the gap,” he said in a recent interview.

Giardullo added that his organization is like the person who offers to “jump your car” to help you get back on the road.

“Sometimes you just need a jump. That’s what we’re here for,” he said.

Formerly known as Starfish, the group changed its name last year to more clearly signal its mission. Giardullo is one of five trustees. The others are Joe Ayers, David Casenhiser, Denise Swinger (who is married to Giardullo and works for the Village as zoning administrator) and a “quiet” fifth local trustee who prefers to remain unnamed, according to Giardullo.

In 2018, YSEA provided $6,000 in financial assistance — mostly in small amounts of up to $250 — to residents of Yellow Springs and Miami Township, Giardullo said. The local nonprofit helps about three to five people each month. Only those who live locally are eligible.

“It’s for 45387 — for local people,” Giardullo said.

The organization has no offices, and virtually no overhead, so donations go directly to support those in need.

Those who donate to the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit are local residents who want to unobtrusively assist those “with immediate needs,” he said.

“We’re not geared up to provide long-term help; we’re not a social service agency. We’re the people who can help when a person says, ‘I need it this afternoon,’” Giardullo explained.

As the primary point person for YSEA, he works closely with the Village utilities office, Village social worker Florence Randolph, the senior center, local schools and local churches to identify who needs a little cash boost for critical items. Usually, those groups contact Giardullo when specific needs arise, or refer people to him.

According to utilities billing clerk Kasee Ault this week, YSEA is a go-to organization for her when she’s trying to help villagers facing utility disconnections, or even after a disconnection has happened.

“It’s usually one of the first places I refer people to,” she said. “Yellow Springs Emergency Assistance is very reliable and almost always able to come through,” she added.

While YSEA often helps people with one-time utility bills and other shortfalls, the group is sometimes able to assist with more unusual items. For example, a local student lacked the funds to pay for a particular job training class, and YSEA was able to cover the cost of the class and aid the student in getting the job.

Giardullo is careful about providing details of the help YSEA offers because he prefers to keep the aid private.

“It’s humbling to have to ask somebody for help,” he said. “It’s important to maintain a person’s dignity and self-respect,” he added.

That approach is in tune with the organization’s legacy, he believes.

YSEA, as Starfish, took over a financial assistance role in the local community in 2006, after the death of longtime villager Mary Ann Bebko. Known locally as Ms. Welfare, according to her obituary, Bebko was a local clearinghouse of financial and food assistance and social service referrals for almost 40 years. An Antioch College graduate married to Vernay executive Bill Bebko, Mary Ann was a social worker by profession and a kind, efficient helper by nature, according to Juanita Richardson.

“She was an amazing person, she really was,” Richardson, who worked closely with Bebko in providing local assistance, recalled this week.

Former Yellow Springs Senior Center Executive Director Rodney Bean remembers Bebko’s competence and devotion to the community.

“She had time for whoever needed her whenever they needed her,” he said. “It was like having another agency in town,” he added.

Bebko was tapped for the role of informal social worker to the village by Sarah Adams, a local homemaker and wife of Antioch College professor “Doc” Adams, who began organizing help for community members during the Depression years.

Bebko’s obituary notes that “Mrs. Adams gave Mary Ann a bushel of ripe apples from the Adams orchard, and the checkbook.” The two women headed over to the home of villager Myrtle Brown, who helped dictate “a list of names of possibly needy people.”

Bebko was “uncomfortable at first” with the role, according to her obituary, but soon became adept in it — for decades.

When Bebko died in 2006, not one but three groups were required to carry on her work in Yellow Springs.

The Methodist Church took over the operation of the community’s food pantry, formerly run out of the Bebkos’ garage. Starfish picked up Bebko’s financial assistance program, which consisted of “shoeboxes in her home” filled with donations made by villagers who would hand her checks when they saw her, Giardullo recalled. And Richardson and other local volunteers carried on the Share the Joy tree at Christmastime, which still provides needed items to local families and individuals at the holidays.

“It took a lot of people to fill her shoes,” Richardson reflected.

The nonprofit Starfish had previously focused on affordable housing in the village, and prior to that, on facilitating international work/aid opportunities in West Africa, according to Giardullo. The current mission may seem divergent from those activities, but the organization, which he founded in 1985, has always sought to be of help in practical ways, he said.

Now, Giardullo keeps Bebko, and Adams before her, in mind as he carries out the quiet work of YSEA — their work, in another form.

“We’re just trying to keep it going, in the spirit of those two women,” he said.

To make a tax-deductible donation to YSEA, mail a check to: YSEA, P.O. Box 52, Yellow Springs, OH 45387. For more information, call or text (937) 545-9114.


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