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Civic Impact

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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

New contest looking for talented kid jazz performers

Jazz's legacy in Pittsburgh has inspired Familylinks – which provides family services focused on behavioral, social and developmental health issues – to hold an "up-and-comer contest" for high school and college jazz performers.
 
Winner of the Just Jazz YouTube Contest will perform as part of Familylinks'
Just Jazz II fundraising event on March 21 at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland.
 
“We wanted to do the contest as a way to continue the Pittsburgh jazz history and highlight the contributions of that tradition,” says Mary Bockovich, the group's director of development. And to help make people, particularly young people, aware of Familylinks’ services, of course.
 
“Young people in general who don’t have a lot of experience with social services or ‘the system’ are probably not aware of what we do,” she says. Familylinks offers drug and alcohol services, programs for young adults and for kids who are homeless or in foster care, workforce readiness training and more. 
 
Government funding for such programs is flat and shrinking, Bockovich notes, so Familylinks is looking for this event to support its Downtown outreach center and shelter for 18- to 21-year-olds. The organization also has a year-old mentoring program for 16-21 year olds who have been involved in child welfare cases, which is looking for assistance. "We’re seeing that kids involved with the child welfare system really haven’t had the benefit of a caring, consistent adult in their lives," she says.
 
Eligible for the contest are jazz combos that can include a singer; they will be judged by up-to-seven-minute videos submitted by Feb. 1. Just Jazz II headliners Lisa Ferraro and Benny Benack, III will pick five finalists and online public voting will last until Feb. 25. The winner will be announced March 1.
 
With all the emphasis on helping young people, Bockovich adds, it was natural for Familylinks to want to help young musicians through the new contest: “We would love to give them the opportunity to showcase their talents and to perform for a fairly substantial crowd. They will get some exposure and maybe even a paying gig out of it.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Mary Bockovich, Familylinks


Charities, honorees, winter ease: More ways to make it a season of giving

If it is truly better to give than to receive, here are just three ways during this holiday season that the local philanthropic community is looking for your help. You can honor those who have given and give to those who have the least.
 
On Dec. 21, at the winter solstice, Operation Safety Net will hold its annual candlelight memorial service to remember those who died while homeless in Pittsburgh in 2013.
 
The vigil at Fort Pitt Boulevard and Grant Street, underneath the highway overpass, honors the 10 individuals who suffered this fate thus far this year and also marks the longest night of the winter. The service includes music by the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church Men’s Choir and a reading of the names; it is free and open to the public.
 
Operation Safety Net, part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, has held this service each year since 1998. They will also be collecting new men’s and women’s hats, gloves, and socks for distribution to those whom Operation Safety Net serves at the local Severe Weather Emergency Shelter.
 
Homelessness is a particular problem among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Community Center downtown has also put out an emergency appeal for blankets and coats. In addition, the donations will help low-income members of the community.
 
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh on Dec. 17 will recognize individual volunteers and local organizations that have given the most to the organization this year. Among its Celebrate Coalitions winners this year, to be honored at the James Street Speakeasy in the East Allegheny neighborhood, are:
 
· Dennis Hazenstab of Lawrenceville, Male Recruitment Advisory Board Member of the Year
· Doug Foster of Wexford, BIG Speakers Bureau Member of the Year
· Jackie Belczyk of the North Side, Young Professional Outreach Board Member of the Year
· Heidi Nevala of Mt. Lebanon, Washington County Advisory Board Member of the Year
· The Saturday Light Brigade and Washington and Jefferson College, both BIG Community Partners of the Year.
 
Keynote speaker at the event is Emmai Alaquiva, who was homeless at one time in his life but is now director for CBS Sports Network and CEO of the multimedia company Ya Momz House, Inc.  He also founded and leads the arts education program Hip Hop on L.O.C.K.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
 

Coro's MLK winners exemplify 'values-based leadership'

"Values-based leadership," says Greg Crowley, president and CEO of the local Coro Center for Civic Leadership, is all about "aligning your leadership with a higher purpose. It's a kind of leadership that we seek to inspire in people – and that is also inspired by the leadership of Martin Luther King."
 
That's why Coro is presenting its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards on Jan. 24, 2014 at the New Hazlett Theater. The awards honor two individuals in the community (one of whom is a Coro alumnus) and an organization, chosen from among this year's 22 nominees. All of the nominees and winners will have a moment to speak about their work at the ceremony.

"Anybody can be great because anybody can serve," Crowley says King memorably told a Pittsburgh crowd during a visit here in 1966. Values-based leadership is thus not about how competitive the institutions in our region can be with each other or nationally, it's about how the organizations and individuals serve the whole community of people.
 
The Distinguished Individual Leadership winner this year is Dean Williams, director of the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project. The Project recognizes the huge barriers to employment, housing, even voting – to full citizenship – faced by those once incarcerated, as well as by their families.
 
Williams began holding workshops for hundreds of people trying to seek a better future after prison by aiming for pardons and expungement of their records. "Those people see him as an inspiration," Crowley says. His "Ban the Box" initiative, looking to eliminate the "Have you ever been convicted?" question from job applications, has been successful so far in changing Pittsburgh's employment forms.
 
The Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award will go to Tom Baker. "He's a young professional who has been a real inspiration to other young professionals," says Crowley. Baker runs the Pittsburgh Service Summit for those young professionals, as well as college students and leaders in the community, to connect with community organizations offering service opportunities, and he runs the local non-profit organization, Get Involved!, Inc. He is also serving on the North Hills School Board and has written several books.
 
Gaining Distinguished Organizational Leadership Award this year the Assemble maker learning space for kids in Garfield, run by Nina Barbuto. "Obviously, we have this challenge about how to inspire and teach kids about the arts," Crowley notes. "The committee really liked their catalytic ideas for the community."
 
"I want people to believe that their leadership is important in making a difference in the direction of our community – not just symbolically, but really," he concludes. "It's possible to have a real impact," especially realizing that most people and groups "started out small, without a lot of advantages. These small organizations and individuals are having an impact and their impact hasn't been fully realized yet.
 
"The great things we see happening in the community … these things that we feel so good about are occurring because of people who are making things happen on a small scale," he adds. "We want people to walk away thinking 'Maybe I can do more.'"
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Greg Crowley, Coro

'Eye-popping insights' show the value of sustainability

Court Gould, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, could not be happier with the way the Dec. 10 “Sustainability EXPOsed” event highlighted new ideas for business and the community: "People around the region would be pleased to hear that 500-plus young, emerging leaders and veterans came together to hear one remarkably rapid-paced presentation after another whose focus was on providing up-to-date, eye-popping insights into the ways the practice of sustainability is paving the path to prosperity, public health and access to opportunity at greater levels."
 
Paul Hawken, author of four national bestsellers, including The Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest, told the crowd that "sustainability goes right to the heart of reinvigorating the Pittsburgh region's story of innovating its way around adversity." Pursuing life, liberty and happiness today, Hawkens added, includes having clean air and water and equitable access to opportunity – qualities not particularly encouraged by our winner-take-all way of conducting commerce.
 
"There are more evolved models and we need not look very far," Gould points out  -- look at our natural eco-systems, he says, "where everything is interconnected and nothing is wasted.
 
"This is all about our perception," Gould adds. "We can either view climate change as a daunting challenge for which we can do little or we can view it as an opportunity … for us to shift what we value." For our region, this spells opportunities for doing business by emphasizing the local, the collaborative and the interdependent, all toward maximizing social benefit, "where businesses' values come from their role in improving community."
 
Nature does not negotiate, Hawken concluded, and we fail to appreciate this fact at our own peril.
 
Projjal Dutta, director of sustainability initiatives for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, spoke on?“Taking the car out of carbon,” addressing how public transport systems in dense cities improve our quality of life and help us move from sprawl to community building, reducing carbon emissions in the meantime.
 
Gould says he was also very impressed with Jerry Tinianow, chief sustainability officer for Denver, who "brought home the message of how sustainability at its core is about behavior and choice," and with Jeanne VanBriesen, Carnegie Mellon University professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of their Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems (Water-QUEST) project. He says she "raised awareness to the literal reality that all water use is highly energy-dependent," and that an efficient use of water resources would be a sign of true sustainability for a region or society.
 
The audience was also invited to discuss their best recommendations for our region, led by representatives from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, who, Gould says, will use the discussion to put together their next regional agenda report, due at the end of January.
 
"Our region has the opportunity to seize being the place the world goes to in order to solve hard problems," was the conclusion of Mickey McManus, CEO and principal of MAYA Design, Gould says. "The Pittsburgh region is uniquely positioned to be the leading site for a shift to building an ecosystem for business based on these concepts of mutuality and innovation … The result can be rising to the top of the economic value chain while achieving a transition to a more functional, sustainable natural systems-based economy."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Court Gould, Sustainable Pittsburgh

Kids+Creativity gathers to celebrate year of accomplishment

The Kids+Creativity Network will celebrate its second year with an Assembly on Dec. 12, 3- 5:30 p.m. at the Carnegie Museum of Art. It will be a chance for members of the Network, which aims to remake learning in the Pittsburgh region, to examine what they’ve accomplished individually and as a group.
 
Cathy Lewis Long, head of the Sprout Fund, which supports Kids+Creativity, will give the state-of-the-Network address, outlining how far the group has come since the last Assembly, including its tremendous growth and the way members have built connections locally and nationally.
 
She will be joined by Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, who will speak about how her organization, which assists the county’s school districts, has been teaming with those districts to advance teachers’ professional development and update classroom lessons and activities. Thanassis Rikakis, vice provost for Carnegie Mellon University, will talk about CMU’s new initiatives to integrate art, design and technology both at CMU and with their K-12 school partners. Rita Catalano, head of the Fred Rogers Center, will also add her organization's perspective.
 
They will be followed by brief “ignite talks” by individual Kids+Creativity members – five-minute snapshots of successful programs designed to inspire conversations and motivate members to create new endeavors of their own.
 
Finally, the Assembly will offer four breakout sessions centered around several key Kids+Creativity topics:
 
1. Ways to develop partnerships with schools. Ryan Coon, Sprout program officer, notes that “more and more schools are getting involved in Kids+Creativity and are really interested in partnering with members to bring new ideas into their classrooms.”
 
2. Access and equity for new classroom technology, especially for underserved communities, both in and out of schools
 
3. How to become a part of the new Remake Learning Digital Corps (see Pop City’s coverage here [http://www.popcitymedia.com/forgood/remakelearningdigitalcorps120413.aspx]); and
 
4. A hands-on maker activity led by staff from Garfield’s Assemble space.
 
The Assembly, concludes Coon, "is a good opportunity to see some of the things Kids+Creativity is up to and a chance to make partnerships with some of the network's active members."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Ryan Coon, The Sprout Fund

The Bagpiper's Hymnal! A Pottery-at-home kit! Nonprofit gifts are best

The Nonprofit Holiday Gift Catalog is back, and its bagpipe-ier and bully-er than ever.
 
The annual compendium, now in its fourth year from the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, brings together some of the best items available as holiday presents from local nonprofits, “so that you can give gifts that mean something," says Center Programs Team Leader Carrie Richards, who put the catalog together with Evening Receptionist David Little.
 
Among the groups new this year to the catalog is the Balmoral School of Piping and Drumming, which offers The Bagpipers' Hymnal and a Piper's necktie.
 
"I had never heard of them before, but they're here in Pittsburgh,” Richards says. “The Bayer Center works with mom and pop nonprofits … and I was tickled that they wanted to be a part of it."
 
Other organizations new to the catalog are Biggies Bullies, which supports and rescues the bully breed of dog and Volunteers of America, which is selling a bracelet to support people with disabilities.
 
The Union Project, which runs a pottery studio among its projects, is offering The Clay Case this year. "It’s everything you need to work with clay at home with your family," she says. "They're kind of selling you a mess in a kit, which is pretty fantastic."
 
"The nonprofits are always thankful for the free publicity” of the catalog, she adds. “But I always hear from people: 'It made me feel like I was contributing something in my gift buying.'"
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Carrie Richards, Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management

Sculptor teams with high-school kids for anti-violence projects

"When you introduce something through art,” says Pittsburgh sculptor Blaine Siegel, “you're opening a different perception, a different doorway. Especially when kids talk about violence, it's just about 'Do this, don't do that.' Not the 'Why?' Art makes you think harder to find meaning. That's when there is a different thought process – kids are more engaged and you get to a much better place."
 
Siegel, an artist in residence in Wilkinsburg High School during the previous school year, is still working with Wilkinsburg students in an effort to use art to deal with violence. Siegel and his students have created videos and will do readings and musical performances at the Society for Contemporary Craft’s “Enough Violence” exhibition on Dec. 13.
 
Last year, Siegel converted Wilkinsburg High School’s woodshop into an art studio where, twice a week, 18 students worked with him on his sculptures, then branched out to do their own artwork. He also visited their classes for talks and demonstrations. In an English class studying writers of the Harlem Renaissance, for instance, he added visual art to the mix, guiding students in creating a mosaic, while in a health class studying the respiratory system he helped students sculpt a model of a body with a mechanical lung that inhaled and exhaled, introducing them also to artists who created body-themed.
 
Wilkinsburg is the most violent high school in Pennsylvania, according to a state study in 2012.  "I don't believe it – but the perception exists," Siegel says. He showed his students a speech by Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban and has since spoken out widely about the violence – and her own reaction to it.
 
"I started to draw parallels between her and these kids' experiences," Siegel says. He noticed them constantly making music – singing, banging on lockers – "representing the beauty these students are able to create in this atmosphere of violence," he says.
 
He first approached the school band, which made a video of drumming a Pakistani beat from Malala's region as they walked through school halls.
 
Then Siegel took a snippet of Malala's speech to the UN, in which she spoke of not wanting to shoot her attackers in revenge, and overlaid it with stills from the school. He asked a group of its students whether they would shoot in revenge for a gun crime, and the majority said yes. Then he played them Malala’s UN speech, and they saw a picture of a girl their age.
 
"Opinions started to change,” he reports, “and it's interesting to see that happen."
 
When he took students to view the “Enough Violence” exhibit, which contains a wide range of artistic responses to our society’s violence, they were most affected by the sculpture at the front of the show, which depicts a toddler with a gun holding up fellow toddlers, some in diapers. It started a vital discussion, he says, about nature versus nurture, and how violence is introduced to people at a young age.
 
"That got a lot of sharing going,” Siegel says. “They're young adults but they're also older kids, so that piece got to them."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Blaine Siegel

Happy hours for globally minded people

"We call it happy hour for globally minded people," says Thomas Buell, Jr., director of marketing and the Study Pittsburgh initiative for GlobalPittsburgh.
 
He's talking about GlobalPittsburgh First Thursdays, held next on Dec. 5 at Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille in the Strip District from 5:30 to 8 p.m., then in February and following (after skipping January) at Steel Cactus in Shadyside.
 
About 150 people from across the globe and the city usually attend, from 37 countries and speaking 27 languages. The crowd, Buell says, includes "a lot of internationals – professionals, students and ex-pats – but also a lot of local people who are interested in learning about the world… They have travelled or they are interested in seeing how global Pittsburgh has become.
           
"It seems like it's really unlike a lot of networking, where people know each other," he adds. "This one, you can walk up to any table and introduce yourself. It's really friendly and welcoming.
           
Through this "citizen diplomacy," Buell says, the confluence of people can do things "the diplomats in Washington can't really achieve."
 
A hundred years ago, he notes, 33 percent of Pittsburghers were born outside the U.S. In recent years, that has fallen as low as four percent. Currently, it is around 10 percent. "This is a way to make Pittsburgh more welcoming and inclusive for people who live here, not just for newcomers," he says. "The visitors who come in learn from Pittsburgh but we want to make sure that Pittsburgh … learns from the people we bring in.
 
Register here for the event, which is free for GlobalPittsburgh members and $5 for others, and includes complimentary appetizers, prize drawings and more.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Thomas Buell, Jr., GlobalPittsburgh

Remake Learning Digital Corps: fresh troops for tech teaching

The Sprout Fund is looking to recruit up to 30 members of a new Remake Learning Digital Corps: technologists, university students, out-of-school-time teachers, makers, or "anyone interested in promoting and helping teens and tweens learn digital literacy," says Ani Martinez, a Sprout program associate who is coordinating the Corps.
 
The Corps is “going to change how youth develop digital literacy skills in afterschool programs throughout Allegheny County,” says Sprout program officer Ryan Coon.
 
Martinez says there are many tech programs that could use no- to low-cost tools in for their students but don't have the time or resources to train their own experts. “It's been a growing concern for connected educators for a long time," she says, referring to connected learning: the notion that young people learn better when they work with their peers, are personally interested in a subject and connect with the larger community.
 
The new Corps will be a travelling educational force, she says: "Hopefully, it will become a self-sustaining training platform that can be used with any educational site."
 
Corps members will learn Scratch, a programming language tool, and Thimble, developed by Mozilla as a way to learn coding. From there, Corps members can help students do everything from exploring Java to building hardware devices and apps, including working on a Hummingbird robotics kit, which teaches kids about circuits, lights, and motion.
 
Applications to be an instructor or site for the program close Dec. 20 and are available here. Sprout is looking 5-10 sites to deploy its first teachor-mentors.
 
"The hope," says Martinez, "is that [students] gain an interest in building and teaching themselves hardware and the Web at large – the 21st century communication skills and job training skills. If they can, early on, they will have a tremendous leg up when they reach the workforce."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Ani Martinez and Ryan Coon, Remake Learning Digital Corps
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