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Non-profit helps veterans find much needed resources

The more than 97,000 veterans in Allegheny County now have a new tool to help them find necessary resources once they return home.

Checkpoint, a new organization created by Pittsburgher and Iraq War veteran Jared Souder, is a web platform that provides a database of veteran-friendly resources, as well as reviews and feedback by fellow veterans to help future veterans make informed decisions about the outlets they seek for services.

“The idea for Checkpoint really came out of my own frustration with the fragmentation of resources in the Veterans’ space and the incredible effort required of veterans or military family members who were trying to find the right things,” says Souder. “I spent four years working with homeless veterans as the head of a local agency and even as someone who worked in this field full-time and knew a lot about what was going in, I would still run into roadblocks and come up with a lot of unanswerable questions. I kept saying to myself that there’s got to be a more effective way.”

Checkpoint helps alleviate some of this frustration by bringing together the vast world of veteran services into one, easy to access platform that empowers veterans to have a voice in their own community.  Checkpoint users can identify specific providers serving specific needs like career advancement, medical care, and more.

Although there are national databases that provide similar information, Souder says they lack a local presence and ultimately have little local visibility and support. Local agencies also compile their own lists of contacts, but these lists are only affective if the veteran is already connected with the agency. According to Souder, Checkpoint will help bridge the gap.

“We’ve got the touch and presence of a local agency because we’re part of the local community, but we’re using a lot of the same sorts of technology that you’ll see with commercial information aggregators like Yelp! And Angie’s List,” says Souder.

So far, the response from the veterans’ community has been appreciative.

“I think within the veteran community, there’s been a recognition for a long time that this ahs been a problem, but nothing has really been able to fill the void effectively,” says Souder. “When I go out and talk about what we’re doing, I constantly have people coming up to me and telling me how they needed this and how excited they are to see it develop.”

Although Souder is the founder of Checkpoint, he says the organization wouldn’t have been possible without the support of The Heinz Endowments who provided him with the financial resources he needed to get Checkpoint moving, as well as connections and expertise.

“I can safely say that without them this would still be just an idea in my head,” he says.

Souder says he’s also received significant support from organizations like Steel City Vets, Team Red, White & Blue, and The Mission Continues.

While Checkpoint will start out as a very local resource, Souder has big plans for the organization.

“I absolutely think what we’re doing has the potential to impact communities all over the United States, so in my heart I believe that we’ll expand, but right now we’re really just trying to fine tune our model and processes here in Pittsburgh so we can make sure we have the best, most positive impact in southwest Pennsylvania.“

In these infant stages of the organization, financial support and awareness are vital to Checkpoint’s success. To help on both of these fronts, the organization is hosting an event Oct. 3-5 called The Crucible. This event will be a three-day, 70-mile extreme hike through the Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands Trail.

“The event is designed to bring together a group of veterans and civilians and simulate perspectives, support and mirror some of the challenges and conditions veterans face on a daily basis,” says Souder.

Visit www.thecheckpoint.org to learn more about what Checkpoint is doing for the Veterans of southwest Pennsylvania.

Vintage school bus turned fermentation lab rolls into town

Fermentation on Wheels will be rolling into Pittsburgh this month with a variety of free workshops to bridge communities and restore a genuine fascination and interest in local, traditionally preserved foods.

Fermentation on Wheels is a creative education and food-preservation project founded in Oregon by culinary artist Tara Whitsitt who converted a 1986 International Harvester school bus into a fermentation lab and workshop space in the summer of 2013. In October that year, she hit the road and has since made more than 100 stops in 23 states and traveled more than 7,000 miles in her bus.

While in Pittsburgh, Whitsitt will be incorporating regional produce that she acquires from local farms and farmer’s markets into her fermentation workshops being held Aug.15 through Aug. 23.

“Each workshop presents something new and surprising as farms are growing different vegetable varieties,” says Whitsitt. “The produce available at the farm or farmer’s market I visit will determine what I bring to each workshop. Given that it’s summer, I might ferment cucumbers or zucchini, but honestly it’s going to be what inspires or excites me in the moment.”

Whitsitt’s first event will be at Chatham University where she’ll hold a community potluck and culture share. on Aug. 15 from 4PM to 7PM

For the culture share, attendees are encouraged to bring starter cultures of their own for exchange and discussion as well as bring an empty jar to take a culture home. Cultures are a key component to the fermentation process and are used to help inhibit the growth of undesirable microorganisms and promote the growth of desired bacteria.

The potluck at Chatham will feature a fermented-food theme and a 30- to 45-minute talk about fermentation.

“The potluck is open to all who are interested in fermentation and my project,” she says. “It’s meant to bridge the community of fermenters—beginners and experts alike—so that they can teach and learn from one another. It’s an exercise in community building and attendees are encouraged to bring all types of foods, fermented or non-fermented. “

An additional vegetable fermentation workshop for adults is in the works at Wigle Whiskey on Aug. 23.

Whitsitt will also be hosting educational workshops for children and youth while she's in town. She’ll be participating in Children Museum of Pittsburgh’s “Pickle Day” on Aug. 16 from 11AM to 3PM and will also hold a fermentation workshop for ages 10 and older at the museum on Aug. 20 from 5PM to 6:30PM.

“It’s important to educate our youth about food since they will be managing and participating in our future food system,” she says. “This system plays a huge role in our environmental impact, which will ultimately decide how long we can happily live here on Earth. It’s so important that we learn to consume food and other resources more thoughtfully.”

With all of her workshops, Whitsitt hopes participants walk away with a better understanding of our food system and the confidence to begin fermenting in their own home kitchens.

“I hope participants leave with a sense of being able to comfortably and fearlessly ferment in their own kitchens and that they’ll think twice about the foods they consume,” she says. “I also want participants to gain a new perspective on bacteria and its importance to our eco-system and how we tie into the greater world of living things. My project is a way to display a sustainable and simple lifestyle that encourages people to use energy more efficiently and intentionally.”

For more information and the full workshop schedule visit www.fermentationonwheels.com

Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse holds pay-what-you-can fundraiser

The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse (PCCR) is hosting a pay-what-you-wish fundraiser on Aug. 21, from 6PM to 9PM at the Wigle Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden in the Northside.  

The goal of all PCCR efforts is to reduce consumption and re-imagine waste as something to be harvested and repurposed to help the community. This is achieved through the sale of secondhand creative supplies at the PCCR store in the East End and through a variety of creative programming and workshops.

The organization relies heavily on the generosity of others and funds earned through sales and shop services at its retail store in order to survive and continue to serve the creative community. Recently, PCCR has found that interest in the organization’s work is growing faster than their ability to grow staff and facilities.The Barrelhouse fundraiser will help support this growth and help PCCR develop a more sustainable operation.  

“We are a resource center for creative people that needs our community to support us, not only by donating stuff and shopping, but also by contributing financially and by volunteering,” says Erika Johnson, Executive Director for PCCR. “We need a little bit of ‘venture capital’ to help us grow from the scrappy labor of love we’ve always been to a larger, sustainable operation. One of our big fundraising priorities right now is to save up money to replace the 21-year-old van we rely on to travel to programs and collect materials.”

Entry to the fundraiser will be a pay-what-you-can model that allows attendees to contribute what their finances allow. Johnson says this entry model was important because it allows all kinds of people to connect, create and support the PCCR.

“We care a lot about creating spaces where everyone feels welcome,” says Johnson. “A pay-what-you-can fundraiser allows everyone to participate and contribute. The creative reuse community includes a lot of artists and teachers who want to support us, but might not be able to attend a traditional fundraiser.”

The event will feature craft cocktails and food provided by Bar Marco, East End Food Co-op and Bistro to Go. Food trucks are also expected, including The Pop Stop and others. PCCR will also be organizing a non-traditional raffle of curious finds from the PCCR shop.

The Lone Pine String Band will be providing entertainment throughout the evening and the PCCR will have a build-your-own-party-hat station and a photo booth.

Guests who purchase their tickets online before Aug. 21, will receive a discount code from Uber to use for transportation to and from the event.

For ticketing, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/wigle-whiskey-bantam-night-benefiting-creative-reuse-tickets-12081045733

Save the Carrie Deer and preserve a piece of Pittsburgh's industrial past

Among the rusted ruins of the Carrie Furnaces stands a behemoth of a sculpture known as the Carrier Deer. Since 1997, this 40-foot tall deer head created from remnants of the former Blast Furnace Plant has played an artistic homage to the remarkable natural powers of reclamation that have taken hold of the site since its closure in the 1980s.

However, just as time and nature have slowly deteriorated the Carrie Furnace, time is slowly taking a toll on the Carrier Deer as well. To help preserve this Pittsburgh treasure, The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area is holding an event called Save the Carrie Deer on Saturday, August 16. The event will feature an open air screening of The Carrie Deer documentary and serve as a kickoff to the campaign to restore the historic sculpture. This event will be the very first public screening of the film.  

The documentary, created through a collaboration of Rivers of Steel and independent production company, Glyph, Inc., tells the story behind the sculpture including how seven core artists came together to create the Carrier Deer and the collaboration, process, and experimentation that took place to create such a giant sculpture. The Deer was created during the early years of a period where many artists were taking part in industrial salvage and guerilla site-specific artworks. The artists spent an entire year creating the Carrie Deer and in the process risked injury, fought nature, and eluded police to create this iconic piece of Pittsburgh.

The Rivers of Steel hopes to raise an initial $5,000 to get structural repair work started on the Deer and eventually a total of $20,000 to achieve a full restoration.

“The biggest threat to the Deer is time itself,” says Ron Baraff, Director of Museum and Archives at Rivers of Steel. “It is exposed to the elements and made of materials that will ultimately breakdown over time if steps are not taken to support and restore elements of the sculpture.”

Man has also been an ongoing threat to the sculpture including demolition activities and acts of vandalism that have plagued the area from 1998 to 2010. Since 2010, the Rivers of Steel has taken on the huge task of stabilizing the site structures and enhancing its security to prevent future vandalism.

The construction and location of the sculpture have also been an ongoing issue for preservation as the original team of artists that constructed the piece in the late 90s never imagined that the piece would still be standing today, 16 years later.

“They were building it in the moment and there were no guarantees that the site would be saved,” says Baraff. “It was assumed by many, if not all, that the furnaces would be torn down just like everything else at the site.”

The sculpture has no welded connections and was constructed on top of the roof of a pump building that has since collapsed. To reinforce the Deer for years to come, Baraff says a support ring needs to be created for the bottom of the Deer to support and distribute the weight of the piece and vertical supports must be added along with the shoring up and tacking of horizontal elements. After this is completed, they can reposition the sagging head of the Deer and return it to close to its original state. The pump building will also get a new roof and be repurposed into a gallery space.  

“We have in the Carrie Furnaces, a prime opportunity to showcase the rich industrial legacy of the region as well as show the impact of post-industrialism on the region,” says Baraff. “This is where the Deer really comes into play. It is the poster child of post-industrial rustbelt America and what happens to these sites when the work goes away. The Deer’s presence on the site allows us to show what happens and to use these interactions to open new and exciting doors for visitors to the site. The exploration of the aesthetics of the site and the environmental impact of the site are all possible because this sculpture is there and acting as the gatekeeper.”

Tickets for the Save the Carrie Deer VIP reception are $125 and include VIP seating for the screening, meet-and-greet opportunities with the artists and filmmakers, food and drink by Superior Motors and Dorothy 6, a silent auction, live music and a twilight tour of the Carrie Furnace site.

General admission tickets can also be purchased for $10 and include seating for the screening as well as street food vendors and live music.

For more information, visit http://www.riversofsteel.com/things-to-do/event/save-the-deer-event/

85 Broads renames and rebrands to Ellevate

The Pittsburgh chapter of the global organization 85 Broads recently announced the organization’s transition to a new name and branding. The entire organization is now called Ellevate and features a more modern look and additional tools and resources for its chapters across the globe.

Ellevate Pittsburgh made the announcement at a recent networking event held at Savoy along with Young Professional Women in Energy to benefit Special Spaces Pittsburgh Metro.

"We decided to use the opportunity to share the news of what exactly changed with the organization with the crowd of members and nonmembers at the event," says Kristina Martin, Events Assistant for Ellevate Pittsburgh. "It was an educational opportunity. We brought fliers and promotional pieces and our president addressed the crowd and we answered guests questions."

Ellevate is an organization for women “trailblazers” who want to advance in their career and lives surrounded by likeminded women who can relate and help them reach their goals. The organization was designed to provide women a global network of backing and ensure that women realize they can succeed professionally. Ellevate has more than 40 regional chapters and campus clubs in 130 countries.

“Ellevate uses the term ‘women trailblazers’ to describe females who are driven and dedicated,” says Martin. “These women want to make leaps and bounds and land on top in their respective fields. They want to propel forward, so they devise a plan for how they’re going to do just that.”

Membership includes women of all ages and in all professional stages.

“Membership is across the board,” says Martin. “We attract everyone from high school and college students to senior level professionals. You’ll find there’s an energy you can’t fake here and the women you meet genuinely wish to share advice, help make connections and lend a hand.”

Beyond the new name, the new Ellevate also features new membership levels, an updated website, new promotional materials and updated methods and capabilities for communication to aid local chapters in better informing the public about Ellevate and what the organization can do for its members.

“The organization has tweaked its membership levels and added a new category called ‘entrepreneur’ to keep up with the times and cater to the ladies of 2014,” says Martin. “The updated look of the website and the ability to feature local members on the website are also bonuses.”

For 2014-15, Ellevate Pittsburgh is hoping to hit the ground running with its new branding and introduce some new programming including skill share sessions, a second story slam, a daylong unconference, and one-on-one sessions with experts in various fields.

“More than that though, we truly want to bring together women in the name of fun and empowerment, and I mean that,” says Martin.

For more information, follow Ellevate on twitter @EllevatePIT

Gutchies for good: TRIM Pittsburgh's Underwear Party

If you find yourself at The Livermore on August 8, you may feel a little overdressed in your usual cocktail attire. The bar will be full of the scantily clad from 8PM to 11PM as it hosts TRIM Pittsburgh’s first annual Underwear Party benefiting the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center.

TRIM, a mens’ underwear and swimwear boutique in East Liberty, is throwing the party in celebration of National Underwear Day. While underwear is welcome attire at the party, guests are encouraged to wear whatever makes them comfortable including swimwear or regular street clothing. 

“What we want to do with this event is to have fun while raising money for a good cause,” says Thomas West, owner of TRIM Pittsburgh. “We decided to help fundraise for the Animal Rescue League because not only is it a good cause, but I love animals. I have fond memories of my dog Lola that I rescued from an animal shelter. She was the best dog and what better way to remember her than to fundraise for the Animal Rescue League.”

The event will feature a DJ, a cash bar, small bites provided by The Livermore, giveaways and an underwear runway show featuring models of all body types.

“The models will be both your typical model and your average guy,” says West. “We want to show that every man should care about what they wear under their clothes, even if no one else sees it. It helps set the tone for the day—whether that be work, a social event or a date.”

Dan Burda, owner of hair salon Studio Raw 2.0 in Ross Township, will be the emcee for the night’s festivities.

“Dan is very active in the Pittsburgh community and I couldn’t think of a better person to emcee our first underwear event,” says West.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in store at TRIM Pittsburgh or over the phone by calling 412-512-2828.

For more information, visit www.trimpittsburgh.com.

PGH Funded: Komen Pittsburgh awards $1 million in grants

Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh has awarded $1 million in community grants to local organizations looking to fund breast health education, screening and treatment initiatives throughout western and central Pennsylvania.

Since Komen Pittsburgh’s inception in 1993, the organization has awarded more than $18.5 million to local organizations through its grant program. Komen Pittsburgh awards large grants once a year and small grants on a monthly basis that help serve emerging needs.

The majority of the funds raised for the grant program are acquired through Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.

“The largest source of our funding comes from a long-time Pittsburgh tradition–our annual Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure that takes place every Mother’s Day in Schenley Park,” says Kathy Purcell, chief executive officer of Komen Pittsburgh. “Funds are raised for Race through a variety of sources including individual pledges and corporate sponsorship. It’s this community’s tremendous support of our Race that enables us to provide services throughout our region.”

Purcell adds that 75 percent of all the money donated to Komen Pittsburgh remains in the region to serve the local community.

“Komen Pittsburgh is a local organization,” she says. “The contributions we receive come from people who live and work in our community. It’s our responsibility to put those funds to work in a manner that best meets the community needs. We service 34 counties in western and central Pennsylvania, and we work diligently to have the broadest reach possible in those counties.”

Of the $1 million recently awarded, more than half of it has been awarded to Adagio Health for its Mammogram Voucher Program.

“Our greatest tool in the fight against breast cancer is early detection, and Komen Pittsburgh’s Mammogram Voucher Program (MVP) reduces barriers for uninsured women and men so that they can access potentially life-saving breast screenings,” Purcell says.“The MVP is also the only program in Pennsylvania that includes men and has no age limitations.”

The entire list of grant awardees is featured below.

Adagio Health
Mammogram Voucher Program, $568,063.00

Cornerstone Care, Inc.
Dancing with a Pink Ribbon Breast Health Outreach, $72,484.00

YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh
ENCOREplus – Bilingual Breast Health Program, $61,190.00

J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital Foundation
Breast Health Coordinator, $57,000.00

Magee Womencare International
Wisewomen Ministries: Trained Peers Providing Culturally Appropriate Breast Health Education and Support, $44,050.00

Allegheny General Hospital
Breast Imaging Fellowship, $30,000.00

Allegheny General Hospital
Interdisciplinary Breast Surgical Fellowship, $30,000.00

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
Breast Imaging Fellowship, $30,000.00

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
Interdisciplinary Breast Surgical Fellowship, $30,000.00

Indiana Regional Medical Center
Small Choices – Big Change, $28,046.00

UPMC Hamot
Telemedicine Cancer Risk Genetic Counseling in Erie, Altoona, and Johnstown UPMC Facilities, $25,792.00

Allied Coordinated Transportation Services
Transportation Program for Breast Health Care, $23,375.00

Organizations interested in being a recipient of a Komen Pittsburgh grant must apply during the organization’s Request for Applications period that is issued mid-summer of each year with a submission deadline of December. An independent, confidential panel then reviews the applications and evaluates them on how well they address the needs identified in the Komen Pittsburgh Community Profile. Any non-profit within the 34-county service area that provides breast services is eligible to submit an application.

For more information visit www.komenpittsburgh.org.

Pittsburgh Public Market launches Kickstarter for a shared use kitchen

Pittsburgh Public Market, a non-profit founded by Neighbors in the Strip, launched a Kickstarter campaign to garner the last bit of funds needed to launch The Market Kitchen, a commercial kitchen space to help local food businesses grow at their own pace.

Approximately $600,000 has already been secured for the project thanks to the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation, the Allegheny County Development Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Community Service. With the help of the Kickstarter campaign, Pittsburgh Public Market hopes to raise an additional $10,000 for the project. The campaign will end on July 31 and this last bit of funding will be used for construction necessary to finish the space.

Plans for the kitchen have been a long time coming according to Kelly James, Kitchen Manager at the Pittsburgh Public Market.

“Neighbors in the Strip recognized the impact that The Market Kitchen project would have on Pittsburgh Public Market and began planning the shared use kitchen in 2005,” she says. “Like starting any other business, feasibility and funding had to be considered from every angle. We also obtained the ideal space for the project when Pittsburgh Public Market moved to 2401 Penn Avenue.”

According to Kelly, the food industry can be extremely challenging for entrepreneurs and often requires substantial loans and a brick and mortar location to retail from. Other than La Dorita’s shared use kitchen in Sharpsburg, food entrepreneurs who can’t afford their own private space are left scrambling for rental spaces in local churches or community centers and these types of rentals are often unpredictable in scheduling.

“The Market Kitchen offers an alternative to sky high rent and utility bills,” she says. “Kitchen members will also have the opportunity to benefit from being able to utilize Pittsburgh Public Market to retail and market their product. They will be able to build their brand at their own pace. Personal chefs and cake decorators will have a home to base their business from, food trucks can use the kitchen as their commissary kitchen, and even existing businesses that have the need for more prep space can benefit. Best of all, the members of The Market Kitchen will be part of a supportive community of chefs.”

Groundbreaking for the kitchen will happen in the next couple of weeks and it's hoped the kitchen will be ready for use in late August or early September. Once completed, the fully licensed commercial kitchen will include brand new, high quality equipment, onsite cold and dry storage, and loading dock access.

The Market Kitchen will be able to accommodate four users at a time and will be available to rent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Bookings are already being made for the space and several businesses already have permanent schedules in place.

“I will be curious to see how many businesses we will be able to support,” James says. “At this stage we are seeing so many differing needs and schedules and we will continue to plug in users until the schedule is completely full.”

For more information about The Market Kitchen project and Kickstarter campaign, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1607216439/the-market-kitchen-is-a-food-entrepreneurs-dream-c

Adrenaline rush: Fundraiser challenges participants to repel down a building

Kathleen C. D'Appolonia understands the struggles of addiction well. Her son suffered with addiction for several years and nearly lost his life. Today he's eight years sober and will be repelling down the Westin as part of the Shatterproof Challenge to raise awareness for addiction.

The Shatterproof Challenge is an event organized by Shatterproof, a non-profit organization that works to support addiction advocacy efforts across the country. Participants in the Shatterproof Challenge who fundraise $1,000 or more are invited to repel down a building in the host city. In Pittsburgh, this building is the Westin Hotel in downtown.

Funds raised through the challenges are used to strengthen addiction resources in research, prevention, treatment and public policy. Currently Shatterproof is focusing funds on the launch of a resource center in December that will provide a comprehensive collection of information for all audiences that need support with addiction. They will also advocate for insurance reimbursement for screening and intervention programs for teens and for Good Samaritan Laws and Naloxone legislation to help prevent overdoses.

"I think I'm not different from many other parents who have dealt with their child's addiction," D'Appolonia says. "We experienced the nightmare of finding and coordinating evidence-based care and dealt with the stigma and secrecy of addiction. We were furious to find that there is so little research into the causes and markers for prevention and that there's so little that the professionals in your life like physicians, psychologists, teachers, police, attorneys and others can help with."

D'Appolonia adds that she hopes the Shatterproof Challenge and the funds raised through these events will help bring awareness to addiction and reduce the stigma addicts and their families experience during such a difficult time.

"Often people don't want to hear about addiction," she says. "Sometimes there's the assumption that there's a defect somewhere in your child or in his/her upbringing and that it's a moral failing. Families that deal with addiction often feel shame. They deal not only with their addicted child, but also with the devastating impact the addiction has on the rest of the family and they deal with it in silence. Imagine if your child had cancer. There would outpourings of support. That doesn't happen with addiction. Shatterproof will address this by educating the public on the prevalence of the disease, the science of addiction, and the need for better resources and support."

Learn more about the Shatterproof Challenge at www.shatterproof.org

Summer Food Service Program helps prevent child hunger once school ends

More than 40,000 children in Allegheny County public schools get free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, leaving a large swath of county children vulnerable to hunger once the school year ends.

To help prevent children from suffering from hunger during the summer months, Allegheny County Department of Human Services is sponsoring more than 80 sites throughout the county to participate in the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded program that provides free breakfast and lunch to children under 18 years of age as well as eligible individuals with disabilities. The sites opened for the summer on June 9 and will provide free meals through Aug.15, 2014.

“Summer Food is food that’s in when school is out. It ensures a nutritious meal can be served when school cafeterias are closed for the summer,” says Sally Petrilli, service administrator for DHS Office of Community Services.

Petrilli adds that while many low-income families also receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), these benefits “can only be stretched so far for some families and Summer Food allows those families in need to focus on dinner and weekend meals, easing the burden a bit.”

Last year, 137,000 meals were served through Summer Food. To help encourage higher participation, Petrilli says the DHS-sponsored sites also offer recreational activities. This effort is especially important in light of a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center that shows only 18.7 percent of students who received free lunches in 2013 also participated in free summer meal programs.  

“Recreation options bring more children to participate and receive a meal,” she says. “This year Allegheny County Parks will host basketball mini camps at some of the sites. Allegheny County Department of Human Services will also provide arts and crafts materials and sports equipment like soccer balls.”

More information about the DHS-sponsored Summer Food Service Program sites can be found at www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/food.aspx

New Pittsburgh tour series helps support non-profits

Pittsburgh Transportation Group has launched a new group tour division with a focus on giving back to the community called “Pittsburgh Tours & More.” This new division features a series of specialized Pittsburgh tours that are teamed with participating nonprofit organizations that will receive a portion of each tour’s proceeds.

“Giving back to the community has been a longstanding tradition of our company and we wanted to continue that tradition with our new tour division,” says Jamie Campolongo, president of Pittsburgh Transportation Group (PTG). “We’re creating another way to put the fun in fundraising for a number of Pittsburgh nonprofit groups.”

Current non-profit partners include Pittsburgh Film Office, Josh Gibson Foundation, Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and Animal Rescue League & Wildlife Center. Ticket prices for the tours range from $30 to $85 and run anywhere from 2.5 hours to 6 hours in length. Public tours run Fridays and Saturdays. Each tour also includes a food element such as a treat, lunch or sampling.

"We tried to cover a wide swath of needs and interests in our choices of tour partnered nonprofits," says Group Tours Director Sherris Moreira. "The tours already help spotlight and promote Pittsburgh, but by partnering the tours with nonprofits, it’s another great way to spotlight and promote the city. We chose to support nonprofits that also give back to the community at large, so to us, it’s a complete win-win."

The tours benefiting the partnering non-profits include the following:

Lights, Camera, Pittsburgh: The Official Film Office Movie Tour (2.5 hours) benefiting the Pittsburgh Film Office features an interactive tour through the city backdrops of such movies as The Dark Knight Rises, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Flashdance, Inspector Gadget, Jack Reacher and dozens more created in partnership with The Pittsburgh Film Office. Chateau Café & Cakery will also provide treats on the tour.

City of Champions: The Pittsburgh Sports History Tour (2.5 hours) benefits the Josh Gibson Foundation and explores the sports history of Pittsburgh and includes tours of former football fields like Forbes Field, the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” legend, and the stomping grounds of famous Pittsburgh athletes like Johnny Unitas. Treats will also be provided on the tour by Chateau Café & Cakery.

Flavor of Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh’s Popular Food Culture Tour (3 hours) benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and will give tour-goers the chance to taste their way through Pittsburgh with bites from popular food destinations featured in Huffington Post, Man Vs Food, Drive-Ins and Dives, Undercover Boss, The Food Network, The Travel Channel and more. The food samplings included in this tour are enough for a meal.

The Amish Experience: Country Living at its Best Tour (6 hours) benefiting the Animal Rescue League & Wild Life Center goes beyond the city limits and explores the countryside and shops of Old Order Amish in the heart of Western Pennsylvania. A homestyle lunch is provided on the tour by Tavern on the Square in New Wilmington.

In addition to these offerings, Pittsburgh Transportation Group has also been partnering with other non-profits to help them develop their own fundraising tours.

"We’ve been approached by nonprofits that are developing tours of their own and we are just putting the wheels under their tours, so to speak," says Moreira. "This way, we can partner and promote to interested constituents. So far, these encompass public art, business incubators and historical churches. It’s actually very exciting to be able to provide another means of fundraising to a variety of nonprofits and charitable organizations."

Moreira adds that the tours are a great opportunity to do something fun and also contribute to a good cause.

"We all need to do fun things for ourselves, but sometimes it’s hard to do so with other pressing matters in our lives," she says. "Tours that give back to good causes help alleviate the guilt of taking time for ourselves and people have responded well to that concept."

Learn more about Pittsburgh Transportation Group’s fundraising tourism at http://www.pghtoursandmore.net/

PGH Funded: Goodwill SWPA receives $800,000 grant

Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania (SWPA) has received an $800,000 grant from The Richard King Mellon Foundation to aid in the implementation of the agency’s 2013-2016 strategic plan.

The grant will fund various aspects of the strategic plan with the goal of building Goodwill SWPA’s infrastructure through initiatives such as program recruitment, safety improvements, technology for training, communications and retail enhancements.  

“We are extremely grateful to The Richard King Mellon Foundation for this significant grant for our strategic plan.” says Michael J. Smith, President and CEO of Goodwill SWPA. “Over the next three years, our plan serves as a blueprint for the transformation of our agency. The grant provides the needed resources to implement many of the key aspects of the plan.”          

There are five goals outlined in Goodwill SWPA’s strategic plan. They are: implementation of a holistic and integrated service delivery model; implementation of innovative green initiatives; implementation of innovative human service programs; enhancements to organizational capacity to support innovation and create a culture of continuous improvement; and continuing to enhance financial stability. 

With the assistance of this grant, Smith believes Goodwill SWPA is “well positioned to expand Goodwill’s role as a recognized leader in workforce development and social services for people with special needs, as well as to support other community organizations that are committed to diversity and sustainability.”

Improving Goodwill SWPA’s technology will be among the primary focuses for the funds.

“This grant will help us develop a stronger technology infrastructure especially so we can better train employees throughout the region,” says Smith.  

In 2013, Goodwill SWPA helped more than 53,000 individuals overcome various barriers to unemployment through its various trainings, programs and other services.

This is the second grant awarded to Goodwill SWPA from The Richard King Mellon Foundation. The foundation was a leading supporter of a large scale capital campaign in 2010 to help fund the organization’s move to its current Lawrenceville location.

More information about Goodwill’s strategic plan can be found at: http://www.goodwillswpa.org/about-goodwill.

Mayor Peduto announces plan to end veteran homelessness by 2015

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto recently announced his committment to ending veteran homelessness in Pittsburgh by the end of 2015 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

With his announcement, Pittsburgh joins a growing number of communities across the country that have pledged to end veteran homelessness.

 “Veteran homelessness is not an intractable social problem that can’t be solved,” says Mayor Peduto. “By focusing our resources and renewing our communities’ commitment to this issue, we can end veteran homelessness in our city and our country. I’m proud to join Mayors across the country as we work toward the important goal of honoring the service of our veterans by making sure all of them have a home to call their own.”

Pittsburgh will work with HUD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), and the National League of Cities to leverage federal resources and develop a local strategy to make sure every veteran in the community has access to stable housing and the supportive services they need to stay off the street.

“We know that in order to achieve the aggressive goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, we need the support and commitment of local elected officials,” says Jane E. Miller, Director of HUD’s Pittsburgh Field Office. “I am so pleased Mayor Peduto has pledged his support and look forward to working with him to build momentum in reaching this goal.”

As of last count in January 2014 there were 97 homeless veterans in the Pittsburgh area, 78 living in emergency shelters and 19 living unsheltered.

Since 2010, when the Federal government launched Opening Doors, a strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, there has been a 24 percent reduction in homelessness among veterans. This reduction was achieved through a partnership between the Obama Administration, local governments, non-profits and the private sector.  Mayor Peduto plans to use the momentum created by the Opening Doors plan to further reduce and eradicate veteran homelessness.

To learn more about resources for local veterans experiencing homelessness, visit https://www.onecpd.info/homelessness-assistance/resources-for-homeless-veterans/.

CMU grads develop smartphone case to prevent sexual violence

After three roommates at Carnegie Mellon University each had friends fall victim to sexual violence, they decided to do something about it.

Alan Fu, Jayon Wang and Siri Ramos founded the company Lifeshel after they graduated in October 2013. The company’s first product is called Whistl, a mobile alert system smartphone case that emits sound at 120 decibels that can be heard up to 300 feet away. The sound is comparable to the level of noise from a rock concert. The case, when partnered with the Lifeshel mobile application, will alert the case owner’s family and authorities that they are in trouble.

“This product is important to us because we feel the problem deeply,” says Ramos, the company’s chief technology officer. “While attending school, all three of us had close friends that experienced sexual violence. This made us realize that this problem doesn't only happen to friends, and that it could just as easily happen to our siblings, parents, and children. We’ve created this product for them and anyone else who has experienced sexual violence.”

Ramos added that sexual violence is a topic that has been gaining attention in the media and is hopeful this increased publicity will help incite change and that Lifeshel can help.

“In the past few months, the problem of sexual assault has finally been gaining massive media attention,” says Ramos. “It is a welcome sight to see people taking action to stop it. However, it is a problem that has existed in our society for way too long. Lifeshel aims to protect people and communities via our brand and our smartphone cases. Our cases are the equivalent of a home or auto security system except for your person.”

Although there are traditional forms of self-protection like whistles or pepper spray, Ramos believes that Lifeshel products are more likely to be carried by individuals and can harness the powerful features of smartphones to aid in the case of an attack.

“Whistl is always on your smartphone, so it is always on you,” says Ramos. “In our age of constant connectivity, hardly anyone forgets their phone. In fact, most people always know where their phone is 24/7. This is in stark contrast to traditional self-defense solutions that get buried at the bottom of purses or left at home.”

The mobile application Lifeshel has developed will work in conjunction with the case to send automatic notifications to loved ones, friends and police when the alert noise is activated and will also include features like location notifications, a strobing flash to disorient attackers and automatic sound and video recording to be used as evidence.

“Our app and network will enable helpful locals to protect their community against sexual assault,” says Ramos. “This means that if you are ever in a panic situation, people on our network will be able to get to you and help you, even before the police can. This will be the difference between actual prevention versus simply dealing with the aftermath of a painful event.”

The Whistl smart phone case and Lifeshel mobile application are currently in the prototype phase of development. They hope to start testing the prototypes with college students in Pittsburgh.

After successfully launching Whistl, Lifeshel hopes to develop additional personal safety smartphone cases like a case that includes a pepper spray feature without being bulky or cumbersome.

More information about Lifeshel can be found at www.lifeshel.com or by following the company on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lifeshel.

A fete for From The Ground Up Project at Phipps

To commemorate the end of the From the Ground Up Project, Phipps Conservatory hosted a Community Feast for all those involved in the yearlong project dedicated to helping high school students look at food and nutrition in new ways.

The students were also paired with a group of student partners from Gidan Makama Museum in Kano, Nigeria to make connections between culture and food. Fourteen students from Pittsburgh and 17 students from Nigeria participated in the project.

The project was sponsored through Museums ConnectSM, a program made possible by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Alliance of Museums. 

Throughout the project, the students in Pittsburgh communicated regularly with their partner students in Nigeria who were also participating in the From the Ground Up project. The students communicated through Skype and Facebook, discussing their experiences and sharing photos and videos.

“The outcome of the Nigeria collaboration element of the project was for the students to develop a deeper understanding of food and nutrition in their own and their partner’s country, and develop skills to grow and cook their own food, as well as make cultural culinary comparisons,” says Jordyn Melino, exhibit coordinator at Phipps Conservatory and coordinator for the project.

The Community Feast, held on May 31, served as a gathering for the students and community organizations that played a significant role in the project’s success. The event showcased healthy prepared dishes with homegrown ingredients from recipes discovered by students in the project. Student participants also displayed recipe books and photo documentaries of what they learned.

“The purpose of From the Ground Up was to engage high school students to take initiative in creating a handmade recipe book that reflects traditional recipes of their region or culture while learning about food nutrition, cooking and traditions through the progression of following local food from farm to table,” says Melino. “The students were encouraged to interact with elders in their family or community to obtain traditional recipes and methods of cooking.”

Now that the project has come to a close, Phipps intends to continue to share the experiences from the project with the community.

“We’ll continue to share our experiences from this project with the visitors at Phipps,” says Melino. “The student-created recipe books from this project will be on display at Phipps’ upcoming Tropical Forest Congo exhibit opening in February 2015 and visitors will be able compare recipes between the Pittsburgh and Nigeria recipe books.”

To learn more about From the Ground Up visit http://phippsscienceeducation.org/category/from-the-ground-up/
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