YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s been a long four years, but Potential Development School for Autism’s annual Mahoning Valley Pizza Cookoff is finally returning. To celebrate, kids at the elementary school were given a pizza party as a preview for the school’s fundraiser.

Students were treated to all different kinds of pizza from Cocca’s Pizza, Pizza Joe’s and Bruno Bros. Cocca’s Pizza owner Steve Cocca and Pizza Joe’s owner Katie Detoro were there to help serve the kids.

“The Pizza Cookoff is an opportunity for us to showcase our story, our mission and the successes of our students,” said Potential Development’s Chief Growth Officer Crissi Jenkins. “We’re all working together with a shared goal of providing educational opportunities for our students as well as recreational and social opportunities.”

Every cent raised at the annual fundraiser goes back into the Potential Development schools for the students and its programs. Teachers are better able to get supplies, take kids on field trips, and there’s even a new library.

“Events like this really allow our students to have a lot more opportunities, both with social interaction and it provides funding opportunities,” said Potential Development teacher Stefanie Hill. “Opportunities for us to supply art supplies, school supplies and any other essentials that our kids might need.”

Parents Chris and Elyssa Thomas have three children enrolled at the school. They say the Potential Development school has changed not only their lives but their children’s lives as well. 

“Tremendously positive impact for us, for our children, for our families,” said Chris Thomas. “I mean, we have children that went from nonverbal to verbal. They’re on their way to living very normal lives, and at some point, we had no idea what their futures were going to look like. We are 1,000 percent hopeful about the kind of lives they are going to lead, and that’s a direct contribution from the folks here and what they do.”

Sue Stricklin works for Simon Roofing and is also on Potential Development’s board. She says the adage “it takes a village to raise a child” could not be more true in this case.

“It takes the partnerships with local businesses to really help Potential Development have the money to do what they do every day,” said Stricklin. “It increases awareness and our reach now is much greater than it ever was.”

The Mahoning Valley Pizza Cook-off is March 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman. For more information about the cookoff and about Potential Development, visit