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YOUNGSTOWN – The Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Council is offering a new scholarship to Youngstown State University for minority students entering the fields of social work and mental health.

Valerie Burney, the board’s community engagement and outreach coordinator, said there was a minority shortage in social work and mental health.

“This scholarship directly targets and encourages students of color, especially African American students, to pursue careers in social work and mental health services,” she said.

“It helps clients see other people providing the services that are like them,” she said. “We are not well represented in the area of ​​mental health and social work.

Burney was recently hired by the board to connect minorities to services and educate them about the services available to them, she said. “If you need services, we encourage you to get them,” she said.


“Many blacks do not seek mental health services because of the stigma associated with it, especially in the African American community,” she added.

“We’ll see a cardiologist, an endocrinologist, but with mental health people worry, like, what will they think of me if I need therapy? She declared.

COVID-19 may have increased mental health problems, she said.

“You have to consider whether you are having a (death), dealing with COVID or a plethora of other incidents, especially in Youngstown with violence, that’s a lot. You can face grieving, and it can turn into anxiety and depression and you’re not even aware that’s how I’m feeling, ”she said.

“The black community may be more likely to talk to a pastor. Religion is important in the African American community. They can go to a pastor before they see a therapist, ”she said.

Burney said black people sometimes think back to the Tuskegee study, in which the US Public Health Service studied untreated syphilis from 1932 by studying the health of 600 black men – including 399 with syphilis – and told them refused penicillin treatment. Penicillin was the treatment of choice for syphilis in 1943.

“They go back to the Tuskegee experience. It’s ingrained in some individuals. I will not be an experience, ”she said.

She also believes that some minorities do not seek mental health services by asking themselves, “Do they understand me? Do they understand my culture?

As a result, more minorities are needed to provide these services, Burney said.


The Youngstown Chapter of The Links Inc. assists the Board of Trustees in awarding the scholarship by receiving applications and selecting the recipient.

The scholarship offers either $ 1,000 for a full-time student or $ 500 for a part-time student, Burney said. The scholarship will be awarded in May and can be used from this summer or fall semester. The scholarship is intended for residents of Mahoning County.

The deadline to apply is April 4 at:

Jamie Bledsoe, a local real estate agent who is Links’ scholarship coordinator and director of youth services, said Links is one of the oldest minority nonprofits in the United States, having been founded in 1955.

Links focuses on international and national trends and provides services to young people, including encouraging minority students to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

She said that in communities like Youngstown, which can be seen as economically depressed, “the need for social services is very great. And unfortunately, we are seeing a decrease or a lack of interest in this area. “

Some of the reasons are that this is “difficult ground” and it doesn’t pay off very well, she said. Another reason is that a lot of people don’t have a lot of information about the domain.

“Having a scholarship to alleviate some of the costs could help spark interest in having more minorities in the field,” she said.


“We have seen a huge need for people trained in social services because of the pandemic,” said Bledsoe.

But there was a lack of minorities on the ground before COVID-19.

She said a COVID-19 stressor is displaced from employment and educational opportunities, such as elementary and secondary education and post-secondary education.

She said that when students and parents are often at home together due to COVID-19, it can create stressors. “How are you dealing with all this time? ” she said.

Dana Davis, chair of the YSU social work department, said the percentage of black students in the YSU social work program was around 20% for the bachelor’s degree program and around 8% for the bachelor’s degree program. master’s program. In Mahoning County, the percentage of black residents is 16.1%, according to US census data.

Davis said the percentage of black residents who need social services is higher than their population in the community because of “institutional racism and oppression in this country. There will always be more minorities who will need services, will have more barriers to service, will have more gaps in services.

She agrees that black people often do not trust service providers in the health care system.

“So, it’s ideal if they have a vendor that looks like them to make them feel like they can trust the process more easily,” she said.

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