Our History

Our History

PD history - young boy wearing leg braces


Since 1953, the Potential Development Program Inc. has been providing services to children in our community with developmental delays. Under the leadership of Ms. Christine Kline, the Agency was originally incorporated as the United Cerebral Palsy Association.

1970 image of potential development with students and teacher


Striving to accommodate the changing needs of the community and a decline in the need to provide services to children with cerebral palsy and physical disabilities, the Agency began to focus on helping children with developmental delays, particularly speech and language delays, and children with challenging behaviors. In 1976 the Agency was reincorporated and renamed “Potential Development Program Inc.” to better define the current programs and services.

Not long after, Potential Development (PD) staff saw an increasing number of children coming to the program with Autism Spectrum Disorder. To best meet the needs of these students, staff members participated in an intensive training program that concentrated on early intervention methods to help preschool-age children. As the preschool in Youngstown grew so did the need for services in Trumbull County. Therefore, PD began a partnership with the Children’s Rehabilitation Center to open a classroom for Trumbull County preschool-age children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Dated image of potential development in 2000 with students and teachers


As the number of children being diagnosed with Autism continued to increase, PD staff realized that parents were intentionally holding their children back from kindergarten because the students were having difficulty transitioning into the public school system. To fill this gap in services, the Potential Development Program School of Autism, a non-public charter school, was opened in September 2001. At the time, the goal was to work with children in kindergarten through third grade, but parents began asking the agency to add classrooms to accommodate students through 8th grade. In response, PD gradually expanded services as the student body aged.

Street view of Potential Development- school for autistic students in Youngstown Ohio


In 2013, as Potential Development entered its 60th year of service, it once again expanded its services to include a high school. The expansion was driven by the needs and requests of the families of our students and will give students the opportunity to earn their high school diplomas. In addition to core classes, students benefit from life and work skill training courses to better prepare them for the real world.

Elevator ribbon cutting at Potential Development in Youngstown


In the Spring of 2016, Potential Development High School held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the installation of the elevator and renovations of the building’s second floor. Completion of this project enabled us to double the student enrollment through the addition of 8 classrooms to the high school.


Street view of Potential Development school in Youngstown for students with autism


In June 2017, The Youngstown Foundation’s Hine Memorial Fund awarded a $500,000 grant to Potential Development School for Students with Autism to purchase the Anthem building at 2400 Market St. in Youngstown across the street from its high school. Renovations to the first floor quickly began by adding 7 classrooms, 2 therapy rooms, an activity room, and a sensory room, and was completed by the first day of school in September. These renovations freed up 11 classrooms at Potential Development’s 880 E. Indianola Ave. building, which is now the new home of our preschool.

Teacher and students working in classroom


In June of 2018, it was clear the renovations of the second floor of the elementary and middle school needed to be completed. This included 6 additional classrooms, a library, and an activity room, which was finished just in time for the beginning of our 2018-2019 school year. We continued to grow and within months of the first day of school, we saw a 44 percent increase in students’ enrollment from the previous school year. In this same year, we celebrated the milestone of our student enrollment exceeding 200 students, as well as, our 65th anniversary serving our community.

Ribbon cutting for new playground at Potential Development in Youngstown, Ohio


In the spring of 2019, we received a $330,000 grant from the Hine Memorial Fund which allowed us to build a sensory-friendly playground it long-desired on its Elementary/Middle School campus on Market Street in Youngstown. The grant also funded the renovation and equipping of four new classrooms to meet capacity demands. We held a groundbreaking ceremony in August – just in time for the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

A new multi-year strategic plan was adopted in 2019 that addressed state funding, staffing and compensation, and diversifying the non-profit organization’s fundraising efforts. With our strategic plan in place, we were also entering into unforeseen circumstances beyond our control.

PD students and staff in classroom with computer on a zoom call - COVID precautions


In March, the 2020 closing of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic taught Potential Development a great deal in terms of what we were doing right, how to continue to survive, and how to move forward. Our staff quickly adapted to providing remote learning which allowed students to continue learning remotely. As a result of much hard work and preparation, students were able to return to the classroom in August and only a small percentage of students continue to learn remotely. In the event of a future shutdown, Potential Development is well equipped to switch back to a virtual format ensuring our students do not lose valuable academic time.

Students and staff in classroom, wearing masks


Now in 2021, each student has access to a Chromebook, and staff and leadership continue to prepare for additional waves of the virus or scenarios that might force another closure. Like most organizations, fundraising dollars did suffer, however, we were able to host several successful virtual events that helped to raise much-needed funds. Potential Development has always strived to operate as efficiently as possible while continuing to provide the best services to our students. That practice will continue moving forward.

Potential development students in classroom with game console controllers


A licensed full-time social worker was hired to support parent groups, and link parents and families to community resources. A guidance counselor was added to the staff to work with students individually and in small groups.

Collaboration with community groups to offer robust extracurricular and co-curricular activities returned post-pandemic and strengthened existing partnerships. Students benefited from physical fitness classes at the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown and the YMCA, while SMARTS offered a regular visual and music arts program. In addition, a new art therapy program was established under the auspices of the HELMS Foundation. An ESports program and classroom was also added through the generosity of the Daprile Insurance Group.

Ribbon cutting for new playground- staff members linedup


2023 was a milestone year celebrating our 70th Anniversary and having the highest enrollment with a total of 245 students. – We held a ribbon cutting ceremony in June for the Outdoor Fitness Space at the high school. Contributions were received from several sources, including PGA golfer Jason Kokrak, Poland Rotary, Frances & Lillian Schermer Charitable Trusts, William M. Neckerman Charitable Foundation, Senator Maurice & Florence Lipscher Charitable Fund, Thomases Family Endowment, J. Ford Crandall Memorial Fund, Frank & Pearl Gelbman Foundation, The Youngstown Foundation, Schwebel Family Foundation and Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley. Funding also came from the Kennedy Family Fund, the Young Philanthropist Fund, William Swanston Charitable Fund and the Delfin Gilbert Fund for Disadvantaged Children & Youth.