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Neighborhood Allies awards $478,000 to transformation projects

Trade-skills training in Wilkinsburg and Homewood. A mobile market that delivers healthy and affordable food to food desert areas. Community leadership training in Pittsburgh's Hilltop neighborhoods.

These creative, innovative and collaborative projects and ideas are just a sampling of the investments totaling $478,000 recently announced by Neighborhood Allies. Funded through Neighborhood Allies’ Catalytic Awards, the programs aim to help transform struggling neighborhoods into more sustainable, healthier, safer and stronger communities.
Funds raised from local foundations, banks and some governmental organizations support the Catalytic Awards, according to Talia Piazza, Neighborhood Allies program manager for community resources and communications.
Neighborhood Allies, whose predecessor organization was the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, launched in 2013 with the purpose of including 21st-century community development initiatives. As the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, the organization awarded catalytic grants about four times a year. But, Piazza said, this is the organization’s first group of awards as Neighborhood Allies.

A total of seven awards have been made in the fall 2014 round, representing a new approach to investing in neighborhoods that support innovative, resident-driven development and revitalization strategies.
“These financial investments, coupled with intensive support from our talented staff and dedicated partners, will provide the needed resources to produce positive social impact and improve neighborhoods so that all residents are able to enjoy a better quality of life,” said Neighborhood Allies President Presley Gillespie.
Six priority communities across the City of Pittsburgh and neighboring suburbs received awards. Projects will address local issues and opportunities ranging from neighborhood leadership, wealth building, access to healthy foods, blight removal, workforce development and job placement initiatives.
The fall 2014 Catalytic grantees really do run the gamut.
Larimer Consensus Group was awarded $68,000 to hire the organization’s first staff person to coordinate resident representation and action-oriented participation in the revitalization and development of the neighborhood. Millvale Community Library received $75,000 to hire staff to guide development projects that improve community health through the EcoDistrict Sustainability Plan.
The Catalytic Grant provided $75,000 to Farm Truck Foods, which will pilot a mobile market program and food truck that provides universal access to whole, nutritious, affordable and local foods to residents living in food deserts or in communities with poor access to healthy food.
Community Workz, Inc. received $65,000 and strives to build capacity and strengthen the leadership at community organizations in Beltzhoover, Allentown and Knoxville.
Center that CARES was awarded $60,000 to launch Tech Central at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in the Hill District. Tech Central bridges the digital divide to 21st-century technology and connects the most vulnerable students to resources within the region and beyond.

Trade Institute of Pittsburgh received $75,000 to expand its facility and programming to address chronic unemployment in Wilkinsburg and Homewood and to reach individuals who have spent time in prison, juvenile centers or rehab facilities. The program offers comprehensive, stable and effective trade-skill and life-skill training. The training aims to make students employable and offers a chance to increase earning potential and to obtain a job outside of the minimum wage job market.

CARE Ownership was awarded $60,000 to implement a wealth-building program that trains and empowers current Larimer residents to become owner-occupants of multi-unit, formerly blighted properties.
“This [program] is truly catalytic,” Piazza said about the landlord training program. “It’s really creating opportunities for real residents [to contribute] to the revitalization of their neighborhood.”
CARE Ownership uses existing properties and trains residents how to manage, operate and own neighborhood real estate, Piazza said, adding that the program creates change with a fast turnaround, removing blight and creating a residence while teaching real-life skills.

For more details on the fall 2014 awardees and their projects, visit www.neigborhoodallies.com. Neighborhood Allies plans to hold another Catalytic Grant funding round in early 2015.
Source: Talia Piazza, Neighborhood Allies

Grant supports minority business owners in Wilkinsburg

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation recently secured funding to implement a Business Image Improvement Fund, which will offer support to African American business owners within Wilkinsburg's Central Business District.
Projects that the fund may support include renovating a storefront, developing a sign or logo and establishing an online presence. The program was created in response to feedback from Wilkinsburg’s business community.
Funding for the Business Image Improvement Fund was provided in part by a grant from the Poise Foundation, a local organization that assists Pittsburgh’s black community in achieving self-sustaining practices through strategic leadership, collective giving, grant making and advocacy.
Leslie Parr, owner of Wilkinsburg-based Shining Stars Creative Childcare & Learning Center, is one of several business owners who support the Business Image Improvement Fund. She explained, “The WCDC has supported my aspirations of owning my own business … The WCDC works diligently with businesses in the Wilkinsburg community to successfully match resources and programs to businesses’ needs.”
Jennifer Salmans, WCDC program coordinator, explained that business owners have requested assistance with purchasing a storefront sign or improvements like updating interiors that maybe haven’t been renovated in 10 years. Salmans said chosen applicants will meet with a consultant to approve the improvement project.
“The goals are to do improvements that will enhance the appearance of the business,” she said, noting that the WCDC has an end goal of improving the Central Business District as a whole.
The Poise Foundation’s $5,000 donation has launched the program and, Salmans says, the WCDC is grateful. She added that she would like to see the fund grow to reach $50,000 with help from other donors. If the fund does expand, Salmans said the WCDC may open up the program to all Wilkinsburg Central Business District storeowners.
The Business Image Improvement Fund will be available in early 2015 and will be dispersed through an application process. Applicants must be already-existing businesses operating in Wilkinsburg’s Central Business District. Interested applicants should contact Jennifer Salmans at (412) 727-7855 or jennifer@wilkinsburgcdc.org for more information and an application.
Source: Jennifer Salmans, WCDC

Home ownership assistance opportunity available in Monessen

After receiving a $233,386 grant from Westmoreland County, the Mon Valley Initiative will use that money to help Monessen families become homeowners.
The grant money will provide down payment and closing cost assistance to up to 20 low- to moderate-income individuals and families in an effort to stabilize the housing stock and to provide affordable homeownership opportunities in the City of Monessen.
Each eligible household may receive up to $10,000 in assistance to be applied toward home inspection and closing costs, recording fees, settlement fees and costs to provide information to the homebuyer. No funds are available for repairs to the home.
Qualified applicants for MVI Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance must have an income between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area median income for Westmoreland County, verified by a third party.
Applicants must plan to purchase a single-family housing unit in Monessen that passes code inspection that the applicant intends to make their primary residence. The family or individual must intend to make the home their primary residence and must also have, or be willing to purchase, mine subsidence insurance.
In addition to home and readiness requirements, applicants must receive a certificate of completion of housing counseling from MVI.
“Applicants must be mortgage-ready to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Jonathan Weaver, MVI housing counselor. “This program is for you if you already have an income and good credit, but may need some financial assistance when it comes to purchasing a home.”
In addition to families approaching MVI about the opportunity, the organization is working with area realtors.
“Buying a home in Monessen is already a bargain,” said Christa Ross, RE/MAX Select Realty realtor. “With additional down payment assistance made available through this grant to MVI, it creates a great opportunity for buyers to own their own home with very little cash out of pocket, rather than continuing to rent.”
MVI supports several programs that work to stabilize Monessen’s neighborhoods, explained Patrick Shattuck, MVI director of housing and real estate development. Though this home ownership opportunity will be available until May 2016, Shattuck warns that the program is first come, first serve.

He said if the program instantly finds 20 households, the opportunity may not be available for the projected two or more years. Shattuck said MVI’s goal is to get people to “buy in Monessen” and  “commit to Monessen.” According to Trulia.com, the average list price in Monessen's zip code 15062 is $60,020 and the median sale price is $44,600.
“Monessen has got some fantastic neighborhoods,” Shattuck said. “[Monessen has] a wide variety of options at affordable prices for homeowners.”
To inquire about this opportunity, please contact Jonathan Weaver at 412-464-4000 ext. 4008 or email jweaver@monvalleyinitiative.com
Source: MVI, Patrick Shattuck

Meet Kathy Lachenauer, new executive director of Family House

A new face at Family House is doing her part to ensure Pittsburgh stays a world-class medical leader.

Kathy Lachenauer was recently named the new executive director of Family House, a nonprofit that provides housing for families of loved ones receiving treatment in Pittsburgh. And Lachenauer has big plans for fundraising and relationship development at Family House in 2015.
Lachenauer, whose passion for philanthropy is evident through her strong background in fundraising, marketing and development work, comes to Family House after 15 years at Carnegie Mellon University where she served as the Associate Vice President for University Advancement.
“It is truly an honor to join Family House,” she said. “I’ve been touched seeing the tremendous impact the organization has on the lives of thousands of families who come to Pittsburgh to heal. I am excited to work with the staff, volunteers and health care community to grow Family House’s reach and impact in the years to come. The four homes are a treasured resource for our region and for families in their times of greatest need. I’m very proud to be part of something so special.”
Lachenauer’s professional background, however, was only part of the reason she was drawn to Family House.

Sharing a story from her own life as a new mother, Lachenauer said she knows from personal experience how important Family House's services are.
“When I was a new mom, my first son was born with a severe cleft lip and palate -- so severe that it couldn’t be treated in Pittsburgh and I had to travel to Boston with my newborn baby,” she said. “The hospital there didn’t have a Family House. Instead, it had an expensive hotel that was nearly always full. So, I spent many nights in my baby’s room after his surgery. I felt shattered after a couple days of this because you never really got to sleep. I remember thinking ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ When I got back to Pittsburgh, I heard about Family House and thought, ‘Yes! This is amazing that Pittsburgh is helping families in this way. It’s just what I could have used.’”
As Lachenauer begins her tenure as executive director, her goals for 2015 include fundraising for home improvements on the four Family Houses.

Lachenauer said she wants to ensure that the houses are in excellent shape and a source of pride for the region.
“Just like anybody’s home, our homes need homeowner upkeep and repair -- from new roofing to a renovated porch to plumbing and heating upgrades," she said. "We’ve responsibly set aside dollars to help with these capital needs but, again, as with any homeowner who has an older house the needs are significant and beyond current dollars in our budget."

Since its inception in 1983, Family House has provided affordable and convenient accommodations for patients and their families who are receiving medical treatment at Pittsburgh-area hospitals. Each year, nearly 15,000 families from all over the world stay at Family House’s four locations surrounding Pittsburgh’s acclaimed hospitals in the Oakland-Shadyside area.
In addition to fortifying the physical structure of the four Family Houses, Lachenauer says her two other 2015 goals as executive director include building community pride in Family House and engaging more volunteers.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of Family House,” she began. “Imagine being a scared patient and family member arriving in Pittsburgh, knowing no one, but then walking into one of our homes and being greeted by a friendly, supportive volunteer.”
Volunteers are also critical to Family House’s economic model, Lachenauer explained. In addition to keeping costs down with volunteers, which maintains affordable lodging rates, she said families are grateful when volunteer groups cook group dinners in Family House kitchens.
“There’s nothing like coming back to Family House after an exhausting day at the hospital and having a home-cooked meal in the kitchen for you,” she said.

Although Family House only has enough volunteers to offer one meal a week, Lachenauer said she would like to see both the number of helping hands and homemade dinners increase.
Residents from all 50 states and 28 countries have stayed in Pittsburgh’s Family Houses. Lachenauer explained that the families come to Pittsburgh for its world-class medical care.
“Our region should take great pride in our excellent medical care, but Pittsburgh should also take great pride in having an asset like Family House. The Pittsburgh community, through Family House, is helping save lives by providing affordable shelter and emotional support in people’s greatest time of need. Additionally, Pittsburgh can remain a world-class leader in medical care by having an asset that enables patients from around the world to avail themselves of our doctors … I’m proud to be a Pittsburgher and draw much of the pride from the impact I see at Family House each and every day.”
Lachenauer lives near Frick Park with her husband and two children, and volunteers as a coach for a 45-student cross-country team at the Carlow Campus School.
Source: Kathy Lachenauer, Family House 

Rent-free Wilkinsburg storefront up for grabs for interested arts nonprofit

Do you work for an arts nonprofit in need of office or gallery space? Wilkinsburg may have just the place for you.
PMC Management Company, LLC, a firm that owns commercial property in Wilkinsburg, has offered to temporarily donate a storefront at 811 Wood St. to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or government-run arts organization.
The space will be available for donation for up to two years while the firm renovates the building’s upper floors. The unit will be donated rent-free, but interested organizations must agree to pay utilities. 
Qualified organizations must provide documentation detailing their nonprofit or government status as well as a plan for the donated space by Dec. 15. This information may be sent to Chuck Alcorn, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation economic development coordinator, via email (chuck@wilkinsburgcdc.org) or general delivery (1001 Wood St., Wilkinsburg, PA 15221).
Activating the storefront goes hand in hand with WCDC’s mission to revitalize Wilkinsburg and surrounding areas through business and residential development and cultural enrichment.
“We really see this as an opportunity to bring in another positive aspect to Wilkinsburg,” Alcorn said. He added that the storefront is a promising space for local artists, as the unit is large enough to showcase work. “[We] hope that people see the potential in the space and contact us with proposals.”
For questions about this opportunity, please email (chuck@wilkinsburgcdc.org) or call Chuck Alcorn at (412) 727-7855.
Source: Chuck Alcorn, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation

Indiegogo campaign helps Bloomfield Sandwich Shop continue free turkey tradition

A bountiful Thanksgiving feast isn’t a guarantee. It’s often a luxury many cannot afford. And some people don’t have the option of spending the holiday with family. But in Pittsburgh, a certain Mama makes sure a good Thanksgiving dinner is attainable for all.
Mama Ros’ Sandwich Shop, also known as The Bloomfield Sandwich Shop, has been providing free Thanksgiving meals to anyone who needs it for 12 years. The shop on Liberty Avenue serves about 200 Thanksgiving meals per year, but anticipates about 400 diners this Thursday.
“It's open to everyone and anyone, not specifically the homeless. It's just about giving back to the community and sharing a meal with your fellow Pittsburgher,”
said Jon Potter, who has been lending a hand to Mama Ros’ this year. “We are also delivering 130 meals to people who are not able to make it to the store that day.”
The shop can support this increase thanks in part to an Indiegogo.com initiative that raised $3,000 last spring.  Mama Ros’ Sandwich Shop customers took to the crowdfunding website to help the local business known for helping others after a particularly hard winter affected funds.
While eating at Mama Ros’ earlier this year, Jonathan Tai, a magician, and Potter, a local jack-of-all trades paraglider and hostel owner, met the Mama and the Papa themselves, Rosalyn Dukes and her partner Mike Miller. Tai and Potter were inspired to help them raise money for the shop by launching the online campaign.
In a previous interview, Tai said the restaurant has a reputation for wanting to feed everyone, even those who can’t always afford it. That’s not just on Thanksgiving, but 365 days a year. The campaign, which reached its $3,000 goal, helped Dukes and Miller continue to do just that.
A video on the Indiegogo.com page discusses the mom and pop’s annual Thanksgiving feast. “We try every year, as best we can, to serve as many people as we can a free Thanksgiving dinner,” Dukes says in the clip.
She added that patrons are welcome to eat in the diner, or they can take the traditional turkey dinner home with them. The meals are pay what you can or pay nothing at all. Last November, Mama Ros’ served more than 15 20-pound turkeys.
“It’s for everybody,” Miller adds in the video. “College kids that can’t come home. People that have families who just can’t, right now, afford to have a good turkey dinner.”
Potter said the community rallied around the shop; now, this is Mama Ros’ way of giving back.
“The purpose was to get them back on their feet because they help the community so much. Because of the help the community gave back, they are able to put on their annual free Thanksgiving meal,” he said.
Potter added that the campaign also helped spread awareness about the shop and its mission to feed people, even when they can’t afford to pay.
“When you go there, you feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen … that’s why it’s so special,” he said.  
Potter said 400 pounds of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans will be served at Mama Ros’ on Thanksgiving Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Source: Jon Potter, Indiegogo “Saving Mama Ros' Sandwich Shop”

Homeless shelter opens early for severe weather season

Due to the bitter chill that descended on Pittsburgh in mid-November, the Severe Weather Safety Center opened earlier than planned to shelter Pittsburgh’s population of street homeless people.

Operated by Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s Operation Safety Net and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the Severe Weather Safety Center opened on Nov. 13 instead of the scheduled date of Nov. 15.

The shelter provides temporary, overnight accommodations for men at the Smithfield United Church of Christ at 620 Smithfield St., Downtown. New this year, homeless women seeking shelter will report directly to Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship at 13 Pride St., Uptown.

Both locations will offer professional social services, medical care and protection from frigid temperatures to people who do not typically use other existing shelter services. On nights when the temperature drops to 25 degrees Fahrenheit or below or when dangerous winter weather exists or is predicted by the National Weather Service, the Severe Weather Safety Center will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. until March 15, 2015.

“In the past, there were a lot of incidents of frostbite and people didn’t have the option to go inside during the winter,” said Operation Safety Net Program Manager Stephanie Chiappini said, adding that cases of frostbite and deaths due to cold weather were more common before the shelter opened. “Now that there is a shelter we don’t see nearly as much frostbite.”

In the past five years, Operation Safety Net has successfully connected more than 1,200 of the individuals it serves to housing, according to a media release.

Chiappini said the shelter costs $85,000 to operate each year, and the organization is always seeking donations from individuals, corporations, churches and other organizations willing to help people who are homeless. 

To support Operation Safety Net with a secure online donation, visit pmhs.org and specify that your gift is intended for the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter. To make alternate arrangements for a donation, contact Pittsburgh Mercy Health System Development at 724-934-3537 or email Development@pmhs.org

During the winter of 2013-14, one of the coldest on record, the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter operated 79 nights, an increase of 17 from the previous winter. The shelter served 156 individuals on Feb. 11, 2014, the highest number for that season. The low temperature for that day was 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Fashion for Freedom: A patriotic fashion show supporting military personnel

Texas-based nonprofit Fashion for Freedom worked with Eye Kandy Boutique in Harmony to host its first event in western Pennsylvania last weekend. All proceeds from this fashionable fundraiser were given to Defenders of Freedom (DOF), an organization that supports U.S. troops during and after service.
Fashion for Freedom’s patriotic fashion show put a spotlight on both active and retired military personnel as they escorted each model down the runway at this year’s fundraiser.
DOF grew out of the Welcome Home a Hero program in September 2004. They were supported by the U.S. Army’s Rest and Recuperation program, which gave soldiers the opportunity to come home for two weeks during their year-long tour. Whether sending out personalized care packages or assisting veterans in their transition to civilian life, DOF continually gives aid to our country’s armed forces to provide them an easier experience in times of discomfort.
An entrepreneur and activist for soldiers returning home from service, Eye Kandy Boutique owner Kandy Barkley recently became a board member for Western Pennsylvania’s Fashion for Freedom sector and played an instrumental part in organizing their first regional fundraiser.
Barkley says she first realized how passionate she was about supporting our country’s troops when she saw the aftermath of her own father returning home from the Vietnam War.
“It wasn’t an experience he talked about very much,” Barkley said, adding that his homecoming helped Barkley to see the way soldiers were treated when they returned home.
“Pennsylvania has the second highest rate of homelessness in the country,” Barkley said, largely due to military veterans who have no resources for mental and physical ailments. This harrowing matter is one of many factors that influenced Barkley to become active in making life better for these individuals.
DOF founder Donna Cranston flew in from Texas to attend this year’s event and take part in an inspiring evening, which included live music, dance performances, silent auctions and a special appearance from Marine Corps Huey Crew Chief, Kirk Brehmer from the Real Captain Phillips Rescue. ShuBrew and Spring Street Cafe provided beer tasting and hors d’ouevres.
Fashion for Freedom welcomed the public to join them to support Defenders of Freedom. DOF promotes the empowerment of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. The organization offers a multitude of services including career guidance, employment search assistance and guidance for veterans into the civilian sector.
For information on upcoming fashion inspired fundraisers, visit Eye Kandy on Facebook.

Bullying prevention grants available for preschools, day care centers

Parents and teachers of Pittsburgh’s youngest children can apply for additional resources to help nip the bullying bug early, thanks to funding from the Marcus L. Ruscitto Foundation.

The foundation recently announced a new bullying prevention campaign called “Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right” that offers grant opportunities for preschools, kindergartens and early elementary schools in western Pennsylvania. The funding supports programming and curriculum to complement what parents and teachers are already doing in early childhood education.

Not-for-profit public and private schools and day care centers can apply for a grant to be used for one of two programs, said Jon Rosenson, spokesperson and board member from the Marcus L. Ruscitto Foundation. “I Can Problem Solve” is a program that helps students to identify or deter bullying behaviors, while The Josh and Gab show is an hour of entertainment and bullying prevention from a singing comedy duo.
“The youngest children are the most impressionable,” Rosenson said, adding that bullying prevention works best at this age, while bullying intervention is more appropriate for older kids.

More than 70 percent of students and an equal number of school staff have witnessed bullying in educational environments, according to the U.S. Department of Healthy and Human Services.

Schools that have already received grants for Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right include H.W. Good Elementary, Mendon Elementary and West Newton Elementary in the Yough School District; St. Gregory School in Zelienople; St. Bartholomew School in Penn Hills; St. Joseph School in Verona; Green Valley Primary in North Versailles; and Mt. Washington Children’s Center in Mt. Washington.

More information about the bullying campaign can be found here

Campaign supports local musicians at Bloomfield Saturday Market

Hatch, a crowd-sourcing platform that helps to fund projects that benefit communities in Allegheny County, is collaborating with Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation (PDCDC) for a campaign to support the Bloomfield Saturday Market.

Specifically, Hatch and PDCDC will be working to support the continued employment of local musicians at each market next year. This year's market was open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays from May 31 through Nov. 1 at 5050 Liberty Ave.

“The music is a great aspect of the markets,” says Christina Howell, Program Manager for the Bloomfield Development Corporation, which organized the market. “People will talk to the musicians and get to know their neighbors.”

Funding for this year's market came from Allegheny Health Network, state and city government, and sponsorships. The market featured many local produce growers and locally interested organizations including The Pittsburgh Pie Guy, Pollak’s Candies, Ohio City Pasta, Zeke’s Coffee, Good L’Oven Bakery, HealCrest Urban Farm, Butter Hill Farm, Olive & Marlowe and Freedom Farms.

“The market’s goal is to improve the health and wellness of the community through access to fresh produce and recipes,” says Howell.

With the Hatch campaign, Bloomfield Community Development hopes to raise $2,070 to bring live music to all four hours of each market next year. Typically, musical artists at the market are from the greater Pittsburgh region.

“The more we can support a hyper-local community, the better off we are in Bloomfield,” says Howell.

Click here to donate to the campaign through Nov. 15.

The Ellis School presents essential career skills for girls

Educators agree that studying so-called hard sciences like technology, engineering and math is a smart choice for students preparing for the workforce of the future.

But it’s soft skills, like collaboration and perseverance, that will turn those smarts into success. And those skills, along with technology literacy, are especially important for girls intent on successful careers, according to The Ellis School. 

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri, Ellis’ director of the Learning Innovation Institute, will host a public discussion next week about the three most important skills girls need for success in school, higher education, and work. 

The three key core competencies — collaboration, perseverance and technology literacy —have always been essential to the curriculum at Pittsburgh’s only independent all-girls school, Abel-Palmieri said. Now, The Ellis School is looking to share opportunities to build these character traits with the larger community.

“We hope the parents will seek opportunities for their daughter, whether it’s in their own schools or within and around the Pittsburgh community,” Abel-Palmieri said. “There’s a number of amazing learning partners, like Assemble, Tech Shop and the many programs at the Carnegie Science Center.” 

Abel-Palmieri said she also hopes to gain an understanding of what’s important to girls and parents, especially in relation to STEM — shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math. 

In addition to creating the Learning Innovation Institute last summer to develop innovative learning practices for teachers and students, Abel-Palmieri said The Ellis School recently redesigned its STEM curriculum. 

“Our niche is infusing these skills into STEM, to make sure that girls have an equal opportunity to be engaged in careers in highly technical fields,” Abel-Palmieri said, adding that these types of jobs will be most prevalent in the future. “When you build these character traits in tech literacy, you’re leveling the playing field.” 

“Three Must-Have Career Skills for Girls” is set for 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Nov. 11 at The Ellis School, 6425 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. Interested parents and educators can register for the presentation here.

Play it Forward toy drive seeks volunteers, space

Three years ago, Heather Starr Fiedler and Amy Kier realized they had many toys their children no longer played with. Rather than throw them out, they decided to start Play It Forward, a gently used toy drive.

To continue its success and growth, Fiedler and Kier are looking for volunteers to organize group drives and volunteer empty spaces to serve as donation drop-off sites for this year’s event.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for the entire family to get involved,” says Fiedler. “Parents can use the opportunity to talk to their kids about giving back to children who are less fortunate than them and groups of all ages and sizes can help donate, collect, sort and organize toys, or volunteer in our ‘shopping’ day and help the family pick the toys for their children.”

Since its inception, the toy drive has been a huge success. Last year, 2,000 children received toys.

“We collect more and more toys each year,” says Fiedler. “The first year we collected about 5,000 toys and we counted 20,000 the second year. Last year we honestly lost track and were overwhelmed by the donations.”

Fielder says Play it Forward differs from other toy drives because they only collect gently used toys, books, games and stuffed animals.

“We are not asking for people to go to the store and purchase a toy, but rather clean out their own playrooms and donate items that are no longer being used,” says Fiedler.

Because of the great number of toys donated each year, Fiedler also needs volunteers to donate extra space in their homes or businesses to serve as drop-off sites for storing the toys until day the donations are available for shopping.

“With just two of us, there’s no way we can collect all of the toys ourselves,” says Fiedler. “So we ask anyone with some spare room to help collect and organize the toys for us. It could be a store room at a business or just a family’s basement.”

For those interested in helping by donating to Play it Forward, Fiedler says while all donations are welcome, they often get plenty of donations for younger children, but they struggle to get donations that are appropriate for older age groups.

“Many of the families that come for assistance have kids of all ages,” says Fiedler. “We encourage people to think outside the ‘toy box’ and donate items like sporting equipment, jewelry and electronics that they may not think of as toys, but that an older child or young teen may enjoy.”

Donations will be accepted through Dec. 1. Families in need can shop for free between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Dec. 13 at a location not yet announced.

Learn more about Play it Forward by visiting www.facebook.com/playitforwardpittsburgh

Art pop-up supports transitional services for women

Life transitions can be difficult, especially for women who traditionally earn less than men. That’s why The Center for Women strives to help women get their feet back on the ground after experiencing life circumstances such as returning to work after being a stay-at-home parent, losing a spouse, or going through a divorce.

To help support and increase community awareness for their services, The Center for Women has partnered with Pittsburgh 10, a collective of primarily female local artists, to host a one-day pop-up art exhibit from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 19, at The Center on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

The event will feature new works from Zivi Aviraz, Lila Hirsch-Brody, Kathi DePasse, Joel Kranich, Helen Naimark, Lilli Nieland, Jane Ogren, Phiris (Kathy) Sickels, David Sparks, and Susan Sparks. The work of jewelry designer Danielle Brannigan and ceramicist Sally Allan will also be exhibited.

“We are excited to welcome the Pittsburgh 10 to exhibit their unique pieces at The Center for Women,” says Becky Abrams, director at the center. “We’re always eager to bring new people into The Center to learn more about our programs and volunteer needs, and this collaboration with the Pittsburgh 10 is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for us to raise funds as well as awareness for our programs.”

Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase their favorite pieces from the exhibit and a portion of the proceeds will benefit The Center for Women to support its mission. The organization strives to be a resource for information, referrals, and programming to provide financial and career readiness skills to a vulnerable population of women in transition.

“Getting back on your feet after a transition can lead to financial devastation if you are not knowledgeable about what resources are available to help you,” says Abrams. “Women who are returning to the workforce after raising children are faced with needing to brush up on their career skills, learning new skills and entering a very different and competitive job market.”

The Center, which opened in August 2013, offers services to women of all backgrounds, including Financial Fitness and Return to the Workforce workshops; personal, financial, and career mentoring; internships and job shadowing opportunities; and consultations with volunteer attorneys and financial experts.

“The Center’s programming promotes economic independence, building on and complementing existing career center programming, most of which focuses on hard skills such as resume development, interview skills and vocational assessments,” says Abrams. “The Center’s programming includes focus on ‘soft’ skills such as coaching and mentoring, job experience, self-esteem building, appropriate dress and workforce readiness. These programs and services are important to women in transition so that they can have a place to support them while they get back on their feet. Women helping women to reach and maintain financial independence is the goal of The Center for Women.”

For more information, visit www.centerforwomenpgh.org.

Barebones returns with one-time Rocky Horror Picture Show production

On Monday Oct. 27 at Regent Square Theater, Barebones Productions will be performing its annual one-time production of The Rocky Horror Picture show as a fundraiser.

Barebones Productions was founded by Patrick Jordan, a local actor who wanted to fill a void in the city’s theater landscape.

“I started Barebones Productions to fill what I felt was a void in the Pittsburgh theater landscape,” he says. “There was important work I felt was being looked over in the market in general. Barebones Productions grew from there.”

Past productions from the theater company include A Steady Rain, The MotherF**ker with the Hat, Jesus Hopped the A Train, Killer Joe and others.

Funds raised through The Rocky Horror Picture Show production will help support the company’s mission to facilitate the growth of local theater artists through the production of challenging, entertaining, thought-provoking plays and to attract new young theater audiences by employing minimal production elements for maximum impact.

This is the second year Jordan has produced The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Last year, it sold out. Tickets for this year’s show cost $50 if purchased in advance ($60 at the door) and include admittance to the show, alcoholic beverages, and snacks.

“It was supposed to be just a one time thing,” says Jordan. “The response was so positive and everyone, including the performers, had so much fun that people kept asking us to do it again.”

This year’s cast, just as last year, is full of local artists and performers.

“I can honestly say its incredible and the only time you will see this many local artists having this much fun on stage at one time,” says Jordan. “We have a lot of amazing performers returning from last year.”

These returning performers include the Legendary Phat Man Dee, Dave Mansueto, dynamic frontman and multi-talented Wammo, Daina Griffith, Gregg Dutton, Liz Adams, Sarah Siplak from Wreck Kids and more. Jordan says there will also be some surprised additions to the cast that will be teased on Facebook and Twitter.

The popularity of the Barebone’ Rocky Horror production has drawn the attention of many theater-lovers, but its also attracted individuals who may not have otherwise been interested in theater.

“We had a few people come last year that just like Rocky Horror and wanted to see our twist on it and now they are returning patrons of Barebones,” says Jordan. “It’s cool to see people stray from the norm and become supporters of the arts.”
For those who haven’t seen Rocky Horror Picture Show or aren’t familiar with the popular live cast performances of the film,

Jordan says guests can expect a “powerhouse performances and a kick ass night out” from the show.

For more information visit www.barebonesproductions.com

2015 Fast Pitch offers nonprofits more than just grant money

The application for Social Venture Partners (SVP) 2015 Fast Pitch program is now open. SVP designed the annual program to offer Allegheny County's nonprofit organizations more than just grant money in a process referred to as “engaged giving.”

SVP Pittsburgh Director Elizabeth Visnic describes engaged giving as a responsive approach to philanthropy, including grants plus investing time, professional skills and/or life experience to strengthen nonprofit programs.

“Engaged giving also leverages the resources of others from throughout the community toward a common goal— recognizing that we can do more together than any one of us can do alone,” Visnic says.

Fast Pitch is a two-month program designed to build the capacity of and create visibility for innovative nonprofits in Allegheny County. Through the Fast Pitch process, nonprofit leaders are trained to creative effective messaging for their organization and its needs. The participating nonprofits are provided with the tools and resources to improve their communication, increase their fundraising success and elevate their profile– necessary skills for success in today’s economy.

“Unlike other competitions that focus solely on cash awards, Fast Pitch programming is designed for all participants’ benefit," Visnic says. "Each nonprofit finalist finishes the program with a clearly defined message, valuable networks from throughout the community, and they have shared their vision with 350+ community members gathered for the purpose of learning how to get involved. The Fast Pitch is much more than a one-night event or cash prizes.”

The Fast Pitch winner is selected at the final event in the spring, where finalists present a three-minute pitch, crafted with the help of coaches. The top two presenters are awarded cash prizes of $15,000 and $7,500. Fast Pitch attendees select the winners via ballot. Whether receiving a top prize or not, all nonprofits benefit greatly from the exposure to foundations, philanthropists and other members of the community eager to offer their assistance to participants of the program, Visnic says.

Nonprofits interested in getting a glimpse at what SVP is about can attend the organization’s Fall Pitch event this month on Oct. 21. Fall Pitch is similar to Fast Pitch where finalists give 10-minute PowerPoint pitches. The winner of the Fall Pitch receives 18 months of capacity-building assistance and a $12,500 grant.

Learn more about Fast Pitch and purchase tickets to Fall Pitch here: www.socialventurepartners.org/pittsburgh/
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