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Civic Impact

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NPC's Design Our Future targets action on startups, diversity, public policy

The New Pittsburgh Collaborative (NPC) has narrowed down the priorities for its Design Our Future program, starting its members on a two-year effort to focus greater city attention on three areas:

  • Diversity, inclusion, and equity
  • Public policy and leadership
  • Startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship
The process began on Nov. 9, when more than 60 individuals from about 40 organizations met at NPC to come up with the region's biggest opportunities and challenges. Since then, 300 ideas became 40 issue-specific designs, now narrowed to the three categories above.

"Accessibility is such a big issue," says NPC head Dan Law about the first focal issue for Design Our Future, "not just to jobs but to our civic organizations, our local government, the chance for young people to be integrated into our neighborhoods." Solutions may lie in changing people's "economic trajectory," Law says.  
 
Law says the discussions about the issues will include not only young professionals in their twenties and thirties but younger students and older people in mid-career. "The intergenerational, interdisciplinary approach is going to be the linchpin for future collaboration," he says.
 
"We're still trying to figure out what is the recipe for constructive and productive dialog on equity," Law adds. "These are very difficult questions, but we firmly believe we need to take the time to have dialog before we move to have constructive programs."
           
Law hopes to encourage local individuals and groups to contact the NPC and be a part of Design Our Future. Concludes Law: "We don't have all the answers yet but we're going to spend the next two years figuring it out."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Dan Law, NPC

Deadline Pittsburgh -- GPAC artist's grants, Feb. 24

Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is offering up to $2,500 each in Artist Opportunity Grants with a Feb. 24 application deadline to "help artists hone their skills and craft [through] important professional development opportunities, such as travel to work with a mentor, participation in a festival or artist residency."
 
Four factors make artists most eligible: If the grant will sponsor something the artist has not attempted before; if the artist is committed to undertake the opportunity; if it fits in well with the current stage of the artist's career, and if it "will help you achieve a professional goal."
 
These grants don't fund the creation of new work; rather, they fund such items as "childcare, framing, shipping, travel expenses, professional installation of your work, documenting, and tons of other stuff that you usually can’t afford."
 
The thrice yearly grants also have deadlines of May 19 and October 20.
 
Sponsors of this grant opportunity include the Fund for Individual Artists of The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments and the Hillman Family Foundations.
 
Eligibility requirements: Artists must be at least 18, live in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Mercer, Lawrence, Somerset, Venango, Washington or Westmoreland counties for at least the past year and "have a record of artistic accomplishment that can be documented, including evidence of work that has been publicly performed, exhibited, published, critically reviewed, etc."
 
Writer: Marty Levine 

Could your nonprofit benefit from 46 weeks of help?

Dannai Harriel believes there are nonprofits in Pittsburgh that could use the help of a budding health professional who really wants to serve this community.
 
Harriel is program manager for Pittsburgh Health Corps (PHC), the local group of AmeriCorps members who are again this year seeking placements in Pittsburgh nonprofits where they can work on public-health projects.
 
"There are so many grassroots, smaller organizations doing this type of work," says Harriel. "I know there are organizations out there who could benefit from an AmeriCorps member.”
 
The PHC/AmeriCorps members will each put in 1,700 hours of community service over a 46-week period from September 2014 through July 2015. Notes Harriel, the group is particularly looking for opportunities to work on promoting community involvement in healthy eating, exercise, environmental stewardship and managing such diseases as hypertension, diabetes and asthma.
 
The typical PHC member, says Harriel, is a recent college graduate who wants to move into public health, medicine or social services. PHC already partners with health centers, food banks where members work to promote good nutrition, and the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, where they are doing outreach and testing to prevent the spread of HIV.
 
Now she hopes organizations that start community gardens and that promote community fitness will want to take on PHC members as well.
 
“I would really like to see our members in schools," she adds, "because they’re young and they’re so excited. I could see them with children to help inspire them to be healthier. Maybe it can trickle down to their parents and the community."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Dannai Harriel, Pittsburgh Health Corps

Not just for babies anymore: new Parenting Expo debuts

"Once you get past the baby years, there's not a lot out there for parents who are looking for great resources and great education in a live event," says Debi Gilboa, the East End family doctor, national parenting speaker and mother of four. The new Parenting Expo, which debuts nationally in Pittsburgh on March 8 at the Monroeville Convention Center, is the only such local event that's for parents with kids beyond the toddler years, Gilboa believes.
 
That's why she is now involved in gathering the workshop presenters, participatory stage presentations for kids and other features of the event. It will be, she says, "an expo unlike any other I've ever seen, and I've searched as a parent and as a parent speaker."
 
The event will have many local facets, she explains, from Pittsburgh Zoo animals to local sports mascots. Set for the stage are demonstrations for which kids will be invited up to participate, encompassing the martial arts, dancing and storytelling, as well as lessons on how they can pack their own healthy lunches, and mock college interviews for the older kids.
 
Thirty different parenting workshops, each about half an hour, will cover such topics as the family finances, how to help with homework, potty training and bedtime, and other tough subjects, such as talking sex with your teen.
 
Kids 14 and under are free, while adult tickets are $8 in advance. The day will include prizes and giveaways as well.
 
"As parents we have a lot of questions," Gilboa says. "This is a good way for parents to hear from 30 different experts." She hopes that the parents who attend will get "answers to several of the questions that have been bugging them recently, and fantastic resources to answer the questions they don't know, that will bug them in the future."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Debi Gilboa

Who loves their library the most?

You love your library – or you ought to. 
 
To honor those who love it so much they work hard to ensure its future, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh created a Community Advocate award – and the library is seeking nominations once again this year, with a March 1 deadline.
 
The award was created three years ago to recognize those who pushed to get a voter question on the November 2011 ballot to increase taxes to support the libraries. It passed with 72 percent of the vote.
 
"Our board and our trustees were just overwhelmed by such a grassroots effort," says Maggie McFalls, Carnegie Library's community engagement coordinator. The first Community Advocate Award went to those behind the voter initiative.
 
Now the library is seeking nominees for this year's award, to be presented at the annual public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on March 26 at the East Liberty branch. Nominations will be accepted online and at "nomination stations" at all libraries.
 
Honorees can be an individual or group. "Because the library serves everybody, we get every type of volunteer and advocate you can imagine," says McFalls: teens, seniors and volunteer friends-of-the-library groups for every branch.
 
The Squirrel Hill branch's group, for instance, has been a strong organization for years, she says, conducting very successful book sales, lately with an online component. The solid Lawrenceville branch advocacy team was formed in 2009 when local artists and activists mobilized after the branch faced possible closure.
 
Teens come to the library to paint murals in the stacks, McFalls notes. Young volunteers help to work the Carnegie Library's after-hours events. All it takes to help the library system, and win the award, she concludes, is "just a genuine passion and enthusiasm for the importance of libraries."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Maggie McFalls, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
 

Join one, go to nine venues for free, thanks to We (Heart) Our Members

Jennifer Scanlon Roach has been the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s associate director of visitor services since 2003 and "this is the first time we've been able to make this concept work," she says.
 
This concept is “We (Heart) Members Days,” in which nine local cultural institutions have agreed to give the members of each venue free access to all the others on selected days in February:
  • Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Sat., Feb. 1
  • Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Sun., Feb. 2
  • Senator John Heinz History Center, Sat., Feb. 8
  • Mattress Factory, Sun., Feb. 9
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Sat., Feb. 15
  • Frick Art & Historical Center, Sun., Feb. 16
  • Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Mon., Feb. 17
  • Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Sat., Feb. 22
  • National Aviary, Sun., Feb. 23 
Details are available at the individual websites of each organization.
 
"When you look around we all benefit from these cultural arts in Pittsburgh," says Roach. "We really hope its adding to current member benefits to our organizations, so they can not only know what it's like to be a member of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, for instance, but can explore other cultural institutions in Pittsburgh and see what it's like to be a member as well."
 
Each organization will also be such additional benefits as a 10 percent discount in some venue gift shops and a 10 percent discount on new memberships.
 
"It's not a matter of visiting once and checking it off your Pittsburgh bucket list," Roach adds. "We're hoping people will discover that there is so much more these institutions offer on a membership basis."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jennifer Scanlon Roach, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Lending Hearts keeps kids with cancer 'looking ahead'

Vasso Paliouras was inspired to start Lending Hearts after her younger sister was diagnosed with cancer while still in high school. The nonprofit organization provides peer support – fun, healthy and educational group activities – for kids and teens going through cancer treatment or in remission. 
 
“Due to their diagnosis, they were missing out on experiences and the typical life of a kid," says Paliouras. So Lending Hearts' monthly programs “keep them looking ahead, out of the hospital.” The group activities are “something unique we can provide to them.”
 
That has included a special pre-show program at a performance of the Pittsburgh Ballet's "Nutcracker" each year, with a behind-the-scenes look at a new aspect of the show. At the end, the kids are encouraged to get up and dance with the characters.
 
Another popular activity, says Paliouras, was "An Afternoon with the Penguins." While a Penguins away game played on a large-screen television, the kids enjoyed visits from the Penguins mascot and penguins from the National Aviary.
 
“After that event, a father sent me an email," Paliouras recalls. The father explained that his child had been having trouble adjusting to remission and normal life after cancer. He concluded the email: "That event just made a whole difference in my child’s outlook.”
 
Paliouras says she would like to develop an online extension of their activities – “What do we do when they can’t actually join us?” Through the group's website, the virtual Lending Hearts “will be parallel to what we do through other means and other supportive measures.”
 
The group is also holding its second annual Lending Hearts Gala, at which they will honor former Pittsburgh Steeler Merril Hoge, who in 2003 was diagnosed with stage two Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, on Feb. 27.
 
Paliouras' sister, happily, is now in remission.
 
“Everybody gets something different out of it," concludes Paliouras about the group's efforts, "and we hope it is making a difference for as many people as possible."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Vasso Paliouras, Lending Hearts

Women candidates and campaigners get one-day primer

“Ready to Run Campaign Training for Women” – both campaign workers and candidates – is set once again for Jan. 25 from the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.
 
“It’s bi-partisan, of course,” says the center's executive director, Dana Brown. “And it's one day, which is certainly a bit of a challenge.”
 
That's because the event covers navigating the political party structure, running for judge, media training, fundraising, public speaking and developing a campaign plan. Trainers include Deb Scofield, president of Executive Speech & Presentations Coaching, and Nancy Bocskor, author of Go Fish: How to Catch (and Keep) Contributors: A Practical Guide to Fundraising.
 
The keynote will be given by Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, who will talk about her experience and what women candidates need to know before embarking on their own campaigns.
 
“Even though I do this every year I always take away new things myself,” says Brown.
 
Fewer than 25 percent of state legislative offices are held by women, she points out, and the state has never had a female senator or governor. There are several barriers to entering politics, she acknowledges.
 
No one likes the lack of privacy that candidates endure, and the negativity in campaigns. For women, the political party structure can throw up barriers as well, Brown says: "It's a little less friendly to women ... It was created by men, so any time they’re expanding they tend to pull from their networks.”
 
Women are also more affected by the work/life imbalance of a political career, since women still tend to be primary caretakers of children and aging parents.
 
While this event has greater attendance in odd-numbered years – when local political races happen – campaigning is still a desired skill, she says. “While a lot of folks actually are down [on politics] because of what we see in Congress or federally, locally there does seem to be consistent interest. My job is to get women off the fence.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Dana Brown, Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics

Student with tough time communicating? Art Expression helps

Art, says Angela Lowden, founder of Art Expression, can bring students of different abilities and social groups together. “They are able to express themselves, value each other’s differences and see each other in a very different light, and often they become friends,” Lowden says.
 
Art Expression, a Mt. Lebanon nonprofit, got its start in 2001 when Lowden approached her school district with the idea of bringing art therapists, although not strictly art therapy, to help students improve their social skills and problem solving, learn confidence, become independent, and even discover how to react to bullying appropriately.
 
“We use art therapists as our art facilitators because they are sensitive to our students’ needs,” says Lowden, an Art Institute graduate who also has a teaching degree from Duquesne University. Art Expression has a variety of programs, including one that focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) to enhance students' academic skills while they're having fun with art materials.
 
In April, Art Expression was named one of 50 finalists for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, chosen from among more than 300 nominees from 49 states.
 
Today, the organization is in seven school districts in four counties, as well as community centers and a dozen homeless shelters.
 
“When I walk into a shelter," says one of the nonprofit's art facilitators, Cheryl Silinskas, "I know that I am walking into a group that is experiencing crisis. The kids aren’t 100 percent aware of what is happening, but they know things aren’t working at home.
 
“Sometimes what surfaces through art is that, oh, here’s a child who experienced a death in the family and no one at the school knows about it.”
 
The kids value that Silinskas and her colleagues are available to them, she says. “This is their great opportunity to be in a school setting … and be able to deal with what is weighing on them.”
 
In school classrooms, adds Silinskas, “often they will talk about what is happening in their lives, things that during the school day they need to express and that really has nowhere to go.”
 
“We see a lot of children of divorce as well" in classrooms, says Lowden, "and they are able to express their stress.”
 
The art, adds Silinskas, "is all about making mistakes and getting through that. They’re always thrown when I come in and begin, ‘I’m going to teach you to make the worst possible painting.' It shifts their focus” from trying to be perfect in school at all times.
 
“They feel peaceful after these sessions …," says Lowden, "and the teachers are amazed as well. They make great teams, the teachers and our art facilitators.”
 
Art Expression is seeking new school district partners in more rural and urban districts, says Lowden: “I believe in helping all children" – especially, she adds, "because those children don’t get the services the children get in suburban areas.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Angela Lowden and Cheryl Silinskas, Art Expression

Diversity focus of mini grants from Civic Inclusion and Engagement Fund

Two local nonprofits – Vibrant Pittsburgh and the Urban Affairs Foundation (of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh) put their heads and money together and have awarded Civic Inclusion & Engagement Fund mini-grants to 12 projects. These dozen projects will provide services to African Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community, refugees and new immigrants, individuals with disabilities and faith-based community groups.  
 
Among the awardees are:
  • Union Project and Creative Citizens Studios, which will make hands-on arts experiences more accessible and affordable to people with disabilities
  • Coro Latinoamericano and the Latin American Cultural Union, for Canta Pittsburgh, which will promote Latino culture in Pittsburgh through a children's choir, musical instruction and performances
  • Just Harvest, Latino Family Center, One Woman Farm and Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, aiming to expand Citiparks Farmers’ Markets to new, diverse neighborhoods
  • J-Serve International, the Agency for Jewish Learning, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and Repair the World Pittsburgh, creating a teen volunteer experience
  • University of Pittsburgh's Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth & Empowerment (FORGE) and Keep It Real Pittsburgh, forming a summer camp with English and academic skill-building and creative expression workshops and programming
  • Chinese Association for Science and Technology and Chinese Students and Scholars Association at the University of Pittsburgh, working to attract and retain young Chinese talent in the greater Pittsburgh area through networking and mentoring
  • Junior Achievement of Western PA, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, South Hill Interfaith Ministries and PRYSE Academy, instituting a Refugee Youth Employment Program
  • Dreams of Hope, Father Ryan Arts Center and Little House, Big Art, whose speaQ project is billed as "a youth-led, neighborhood open mic program"
  • Christian Evangelic Economic Development and Union of African Communities, creating a diversity festival and speaker series
  • Jewish Family and Children’s Services and Northern Area Multiservice Center, creating World Refugee Day Celebration, and
  • Black Political Empowerment Project, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Cease Fire/PA and Voices Against Violence establishing a Youth Summit Against Violence.
 
Writer: Marty Levine

Free tax prep for those who most need it

“I know for a fact that there are people who qualify and don’t use the sites” that offer free tax preparation, says Angela Reynolds, director of programs for financially struggling adults and families? at United Way of Allegheny County.
 
That's why this year the Money in Your Pocket coalition of 11 different agencies is hoping even more people take advantage of their 14 tax prep sites in Allegheny County, which open on Jan. 20 through tax day.
 
They don't charge a fee, even if they do get money for you. And they're being staffed by IRS trained and certified tax preparers who will be looking for every possible way to increase people's refunds, says Reynolds.
 
Families with up to $40,000 income per year and individuals who make up to $20,000 per year are eligible. To make an appointment, call 211 to get an assessment of whether you qualify and which center can best help, since only certain centers can handle particularly specialized tax returns.
 
Last year, the service handled more than 5,800 returns and pointed program participants toward such important deductions as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which allows qualified recipients to pay less federal tax or no tax, or even to get $475-5,891 back.
 
This year the 200 volunteers will handle up to 6,500 returns, Reynolds hopes. She also anticipates that the free service may help people begin to realize that itemizing deductions is easier than they've assumed, and also realize that using paid tax preparers may involve unexpected fees. The coalition is working with the IRS to identify some of the zipcodes where people may qualify but don't use the service as often as in other neighborhoods, she says. “We are trying to increase the number of houses that are aware that these services exist.”
 
The volunteers, she adds, “They’re being trained to ask the right questions of households so they come across all the tax credits for which they ought to be eligible.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Angela Reynolds, United Way

Oral histories and exhibit honor local African Americans

When Demeatria Boccella, founder of the Utopia Modeling Agency for African Americans and the Fashion Africana event, was a young girl, she read fashion magazines and wanted to be a model. But, she recalls, she “saw limited, narrow portrayals of women of color … I saw no one like me who had darker skin or stronger African features. It led to a few self-destructive actions.”
 
Today, thanks to mentors who aided her self-esteem, she grew into an adult who has been able to make a difference in the fashion industry. Now she is one of 12 African Americans from Western Pennsylvania who are being honored as "individuals who have achieved milestones in civic leadership, the arts and civil rights" by PNC. The company has recorded their oral histories, which will be available as part of a free public exhibit that opens on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 20, at PNC’s Pittsburgh Legacy Building.
  • The other honorees are:
    Esther Bush, president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Alma Speed Fox, civil and women’s rights advocate
  • Patricia Prattis Jennings, the first black woman to be awarded a major American symphony's full contract
  • Wendell Freeland, bombardier with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, local Urban League leader and co-founder of Hill House Association
  • Helen Faison, a pioneer Pittsburgh teacher after whom the district has named two schools
  • Rod Doss, editor and publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier
  • Thaddeus Mosley, nationally renowned sculptor
  • Julius Jones, retired chief executive officer of the YMCA of Pittsburgh
  • Swin Cash, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA champion
  • Billy Porter, Tony award-winning actor
  • Sean Jones, trumpeter and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra 
“It is such a distinguished group of individuals," says Boccella, "and it is truly an honor to be recognized with them. They are individuals who really inspire me.
 
“I love the outreach to the young people," she adds, pointing to essays written by 6th through 8th graders in city schools as part of this project. "When I was young I knew very few people who looked like me” in the professional world. “There are quite a few black professionals who are being recognized, and I think that it is very exciting.
 
“I hope they are inspired," she says of any young people who see he exhibit Downtown, "that they feel like, hey, I could do this too, that they feel empowered and inspired to pursue their dreams.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Demeatria Boccella

Are you part of the creative economy?

Pittsburgh Technology Council (PTC) has teamed with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Toronto's Rotman School and Echo Strategies to collect data to paint a picture of all the jobs in the creative economy of this region.
 
The results will be reported at the 2014 Pittsburgh Creative Industries Summit on Feb. 19 at CMU's McConomy Auditorium in the University Center.
 
"We’re doing an assessment of the current state of where all the jobs are that actually have some [association] with the historic creative industries,” says Audrey Russo, head of the PTC. Manufacturing companies are now doing website design, which previously they had outsourced or hadn’t even done. “What we’re finding is we not only have more people in this space but it is cutting across traditional clusters,” from multinational corporations to small businesses. The findings set for release at the Summit will help the region understand and benchmark the creative economy.
 
“What does that mean in terms of skill set development, in terms of jobs?" Russo asks. "What does it mean for talent attraction and development? Those jobs exist in so many clusters. It’s not just technology, it’s tied to innovation. It’s tied to design. I’m excited because this is the first time we’ve had this different type of snapshot of our region.”
 
The people at Echo Strategies, which helped collect and analyze the data, "think there are indicators potentially that can give us a clear path on what our opportunities are … what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing," Russo concludes.
 
The study focuses on seven key sectors – design, communications, entertainment, fine art, data science, software and hardware, and creative industry support services – in eight counties: Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington, Fayette, Westmoreland and Armstrong. The keynote speaker will be Kevin Stolarick, the Rotman research director whose work backed the ideas in Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Audrey Russo, Pittsburgh Technology Council

144 volunteers needed to go to the principal's office

A+ Schools, the local educational advocacy group, is looking for 12 dozen volunteers to interview principals and other school officials to find out how well they understand and are helping with issues central to their students' own concerns.
 
The interviewing project, called School Works, began in 2009 “to understand the opportunities and resources that exist for kids in schools," says Amy Scott, A+'s Research and Data Analysis, "so we can understand better whether there are opportunities and resources that might be contributing to the achievement gap …” by their absence. In previous years project volunteers have interviewed middle-school and high-school principals, counselors and teachers. For this school year, they will target high-school principals, counselors and learning environment specialists – teachers who focus on student behavior in schools and the teachers’ working conditions.
 
“We're striving to better understand the level of exposure, access and experiences with the issues identified by Teen Bloc,” a student leadership program, which this fall developed a Student Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights asks for everything from the right to free expression and to participate in educational decisions to "equitable academic resources … a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate … effective teachers," as well as "positive school disciplinary policies and practices." The student group hopes next that the school board will adopt the bill. They have met with individual members of the board, “and there are school board members who are supportive,” says Scott.
 
Anybody can be an effective volunteer to conduct the interviews, she adds. "In the past we’ve had concerned citizens, parents, folks who work in education and folks who work in business. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to visit a school and get firsthand knowledge of how schools are working and being run.”
 
Sign up now for the training that runs Jan. 23-31. Interviews will be done Feb. 10-21.
 
For more information on volunteering for School Works, contact Volunteer Coordinator Mollie Pollack at (412) 697-1298, ext. 101.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Amy Scott, A+ Schools

Firefly Arts: Gathering families, helping kids with autism

Before Rebecca Covert founded Firefly Arts, she worked as a storyteller and teaching artist for eight years locally. But when she had a son with an autism spectrum disorder, she discovered a new challenge: "My whole job was to engage children in literacy and math through an arts curriculum," Covert recalls. "But I’d go home and I couldn’t even get my own son to respond.”
 
Working at the problem, she discovered ways that art could still work “to bring my son out of his shell, build a relationship with us and focus on the world.”
 
Firefly, currently applying to be an official nonprofit, held its first gathering of families in November. Group members have already provided art activities for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's autism-friendly Nutcracker performance, while Covert has been asked to work with autistic kids at a local camp and at various arts organizations.
 
“We want to build community among families raising autistic children through art activities,” Covert explains. “We’re using arts as an accessible means to develop concept knowledge … which is a difficult thing for autistic children. It’s all about taking an abstract concept and making it a concrete experience.” Some children with autism, for example, may be able to learn gross motor movement as part of a dance but, when asked to make a doll dance, may not be able to make the connection between the two ideas.
 
Firefly's teaching artists may present movement, visual arts and music to help the kids explore different concepts, such as making friends, riding the bus or figuring out what "our neighborhood” signifies.
 
Parents will be able to enjoy the program as a stress release, respite, creative outlet and chance to socialize, Covert says. In the proposed 8-week program, while kids work with teaching artists, parents will get such things as cooking classes, yoga and photography courses. "They don’t want to be here and talk about autism," Covert says she found in speaking with parents at Firefly's first event. "They want to be here and meet new people and take a step away” from the very demanding task of raising their kids.
 
Before its main program is finalized, Firefly artists will be conducting one arts workshop each month, January through March, for whole families, perhaps exploring habitats, such as the ocean and rainforest.
 
Families can register online to be part of Firefly's programs. The fledgling group also has a Facebook page and an  fundraising campaign (with video)
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rebecca Covert, Firefly Arts
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