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Community Kitchen to teach food-service to job seekers having the toughest time

Pittsburgh Community Kitchen has been quietly working since July to create a catering business that provides food-service training to people who often have the toughest time getting a job: those reentering society from jail, people who have experienced recent homelessness, and individuals recovering from drug and alcohol abuse or who have experienced behavioral health issues.
 
"And it's often more than one" issue that their clients are getting past, says Jennifer Flanagan, who founded the Kitchen along with Tod Shoenberger, an executive chef with 20 years of operational experience in the food industry. “Food service is a really forgiving industry,” Flanagan says, “if you are responsible and have some skills,” and the Kitchen will offer "more than job readiness – industry-specific training."
 
Flanagan works for Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services, where she co-directs a Department of Justice-funded program offering workforce development for former inmates, so she has important experience creating such a program. And there are 42 other community kitchens with similar missions in the national Catalyst Kitchens Network, which originated in Seattle.
 
The Kitchen has already undertaken catering jobs for nearly half a year. "You can't really train people if you're not running the business well," she says. The free program uses chefs as teachers and also offers clientele access to case managers to provide extra support and make referrals to social-service agencies. "Our goal is to get them through the their barriers and stabilized" in life, she explains.
 
To accompany the training experience, which begins with the new year, the Kitchen already has a shared-use commercial kitchen in Pittsburgh Public Market’s recently opened Penn Avenue location. There, they’ll also train participants in co-packing: working with smaller food producers to produce their products and/or pack them for sale.
 
In addition, the Kitchen is planning a restaurant – at a location to be determined – that will “make the restaurant experience available to folks who couldn't necessarily support it,” Flanagan says. They’re also expecting to put a 10,000-square-foot commissary kitchen, using green technology, in the Energy Innovation Center opening in the Hill District in late 2014.
 
”We're looking to do other things to support whatever communities we go into," she adds, such as making meals from the 30,000 pounds of end-of-shelf-life produce tossed by food banks every month.
 
Concludes Flanagan: "I'm excited to start the training in January, and see where it takes us."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jennifer Flanagan, Pittsburgh Community Kitchen

Thought school was tough? Stigma of mental illness makes it tougher

Getting kids to encourage their classmates to stop stigmatizing mental health issues is somewhat uncharted territory, which is one of the reasons Pittsburgh Cares is teaming with Allegheny County to devise new school-based programs around this issue.
 
The program, Stand Together, began a few weeks ago with workshops in 10 area schools: Pittsburgh's Perry and Allderdice high schools and the Environmental Charter School, Propel Braddock Hills, South Allegheny Middle School, South Brook Middle School, South Park High School, Woodland Hills Junior High School and West Mifflin Area middle and high schools.
 
Working with the county's Office of Behavioral Health in the Department of Human Services, Pittsburgh Cares devised an initial full-day workshop in which the students learn about both mental illness and the stigma that often goes along with it.
 
Nationally, says Holly McGraw-Turkovic, program director at Pittsburgh Cares, 16 percent of school-age kids with mental illness will think about suicide, with up 44 percent of them dropping out of school, while about two thirds do not even receive treatment. “There’s a lot of myths out there connected to mental illness,” says McGraw-Turkovic. “Stigma comes from students being isolated."
 
During the first workshop, students also paint an "awareness icon" – a mannequin that they cover with positive messages about mental health issues. The second workshop uses Pittsburgh Cares' strength as a nonprofit affiliate of the national HandsOn Network – creating service-learning projects – and focuses it on the subject of mental illness stigma. The kids will brainstorm project ideas, then apply for the organization's mini-grant program for $100-$1000 to fund each project.
 
At the Stand Together website, the organization will be posting project ideas and guides, local connections and educational material on the issue, mental health fact sheets and a photo collections from finished projects, as well as a blog and project assessment tools.
 
South Allegheny is the only school so far to have completed its second workshop, and ideas for effective programs may be tough to devise, McGraw-Turkovic notes. There weren't many successful national programs to use as models, she says, so the pilot year of this two-year program will be testing how much kids' attitudes and knowledge have changed from its effects.
 
“We’re hoping in two years we can share this model with all our HandsOn affiliates across the country," she says, "giving them all the tools they need to replicate this program.” Stand Together was funded by a $105,000 grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Holly McGraw-Turkovic, Pittsburgh Cares

Eat for a good cause with Bite Catering from Community Human Services

It's not unusual for a nonprofit to engage in social enterprises, or to raise money through side businesses, but it's probably unusual for that business to be catering.
 
That's what Community Human Services has been developing for the last year. The Oakland nonprofit already serves half-price lunches for those in need in its Bite Café on Lawn Street, dishing out about 5,000 a year. With their chef and executive staff aiming to cook up healthy fare for the neighborhood, Director Of Community Programs Trevor Smith said the organization decided it was time to take their talents to a wider audience.
 
The café, Smith says, provides " a chance to make some folks get a hot meal and have a chance to socialize.” However, he adds, "we honestly lose money for each meal that we sell" there. With Bite Catering, the organization is trying make the café services self-sustaining.
 
“Food is a common theme of what we do,” Smith notes, since the group also runs a food pantry and a second kitchen. “So it fits in with the character of the agency.”
 
So far, Bite has catered lots of meals for a number of other nonprofits – for meetings of 10 and dinners for 100, from the United Way and Forbes Funds to neighborhood churches and groups. Now they are trying to build up their business among for-profit companies as well.
 
“Nonprofits are or should be looking for ways to generate funding” from nontraditional sources, Smith says. “It certainly requires that our team work harder but by no means is it beyond their capacity.”
 
His hope for Bite Catering, he concludes, “is that it is able to fund in its entirety the lunches, and that we do an excellent job of catering, that we do great food and great service … If we can do that, the money for lunches will fall into place.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Trevor Smith, Community Human Services

How do homeless children do homework?

“The largest percentage of individuals who are experiencing homelessness are children – they far outnumber those individuals you see on the street,” says Bill Wolfe, executive director? of the Homeless Children's Education Fund? in the Strip District.
 
The latest federal stats show there are nearly 1.2 million homeless kids in the U.S. More than 1,700 of them are in Allegheny County. “That is a number that continues to grow,” Wolfe says.
 
And the problem is spread throughout the area, too: “A lot of people think that homelessness and poverty in general is just an urban problem. But there are 43 school districts in Allegheny County and every one of them has children experiencing homelessness. The only way we are going to break this cycle of homelessness is education.”
 
That's why the Homeless Children's Education Fund has services in all 27 county agencies that serve the homeless – 20 shelters and seven places that provide services during the day. “We have become the educational wing for those 27 facilities," Wolfe says.
 
Founder Joe Lagana, the retired head of the local Allegheny Intermediate Unit, "visited some of the shelters and agencies, and he noticed that when the kids came [there] they were basically put in front of a television set," Wolfe says. "The agencies didn’t have anybody to do [education] and the moms and dads were struggling with their own issues.”
 
In 17 of the facilities, the Fund has built learning and resource centers with computers and spots for kids to do homework. It provides tutors and volunteer mentors to work with kids after school and pays reading specialists to work on literacy issues. It brings in art, music and language lessons as well as artists to work with the students.
 
“Those portions of our programs really work to get the parents involved in the educational process with the children,” he says.
 
The Fund also provides books and schools supplies. Each August, with the help of Citizens Bank, the Fund distributes 2,500 new backpacks filled with age-appropriate school supplies.
 
The Fund is always looking for people to spread the word about the need in our community, and for volunteer help" “We are in constant need of volunteers to go in and work with children in the shelters. We will take one day a month if that is all you can give.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bill Wolfe, Homeless Children's Education Fund

Find the right hire, intern to CEO, via Nonprofit Talent

Nonprofits looking for great matches for everyone from executive directors to volunteers now have someplace central to turn: Nonprofit Talent.

On Nov. 1, Todd Owens and Michelle Pagano Heck left spots with other local talent-search agencies to start the new venture. "We are extremely passionate about the work the nonprofit organizations do," says Owens. "We are, at our core, people who care tremendously about people and organizations that are working to help society.
 
"The whole premise of our business is that nonprofit organizations need talent in many forms to meet their missions," he says – from interns to board members, from volunteers to full-time staff. Now nonprofits here and across the state can find people in those four categories through Nonprofit Talent's services and through their website. "We can do a full executive search to find a CEO or someone in other key leadership roles. We can assess current talent and make recommendations on how the organization can better serve its mission."
 
The company has more than 100 positions posted on its website already and gets thousands of hits a day, he says. These postings are also spread through the company's social media and bi-weekly newsletter. This will be a particular help, Owens believes, to the 75 percent of nonprofits who have budgets under a million dollars and don't have well-developed human resources departments – or anyone whose specific job it is to seek and find the right personnel.
 
Nonprofit Talent already works with clients from here to Philadelphia, Doylestown, Lehigh Valley, Lancaster and Harrisburg. Their first major local client is a Pittsburgh Foundation-funded initiative called Talent City (Talent-city.com), a community project to identify those who can best serve in key leadership roles in the new mayoral administration beginning this January. It is also designed to solicit ideas about the future of Pittsburgh.
 
The local nonprofit sector is "fairly healthy," Owens allows, "in a community that is blessed with much largesse," including generous corporate donors, a successful United Way campaign, foundations still giving away the wealth of the industrial giants of the 1900s and new wealth being generated. "That's not to say that there aren't some challenges on the horizon" – including those Nonprofit Talent is designed to overcome.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Todd Owens, Nonprofit Talent

WorkAble finds clients jobs, even in recession

A year after beginning the countywide WorkAble job assistance program, it has a 90 percent job placement rate and is providing other important help for families on the edge of crisis during this recession.
 
The program is funded by the United Way and run by three faith-based groups – Jewish Family & Children's Service (JFCS), North Hills Community Outreach and South Hills Interfaith Ministries – but it is open to anyone who has found themselves un- or under-employed in recent years.
 
Just walk in the door of any of these agencies, call 412-904-5993 or click here and job counselors will take your employment and educational history and help figure out your employment needs and barriers. Do you have skills that could lead to more work in your field? Do you need to retrain? What else is going on in your life that you might need help with?
 
WorkAble has traditional workshops on resume writing, cover letters, job searches and networking as well as nontraditional ones on social media and budgeting, It brings in job recruiters and employers and holds career fairs once a month that offer mini-interviews with employers, not just places to drop off a resume.
 
But the program also provides deeper help, says JFCS Chief Operating Officer Linda Ehrenreich, using personal and group sessions to find out what other economic, social or psychological needs participants might have and helping them get aid for those issues as well. Each of the agencies has strengths in job counseling and all work with people who have barriers to gaining and retaining employment.
 
Of the 500 people served by WorkAble between October 2012 and today, 350 have graduated from the program, so to speak – and 330 have gotten jobs. But WorkAble is helping even after employment, assisting people with other needs that aid them in getting through life and keeping their jobs.
 
Says Ehrenreich: "It focuses on those who are falling off the cliff … the struggling families who are really in crisis.
 
For the future, she sees WorkAble expanding its volunteer base, seeking more corporate partners and developing its website and reach into the community. WorkAble is, she concludes, "a common sense model building on the strengths of three different agencies in three different locations."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Linda Ehrenreich, Jewish Family & Children's Service

MLK essay contest sending winners to Chautauqua

Carnegie Mellon University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards contest for local high-school and college students is calling for entries once again – and winners this year may get the chance to read their works at a special event in Chautauqua, New York.
 
Poetry and prose about students' personal experiences with race and discrimination are invited as contest entries by Nov. 22, with the awards ceremony set for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Jan. 20, 2014).  
 
It's sometimes difficult to get entries from kids in high school unless their teachers get involved and oversee the writing process, says organizer Jim Daniels, Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English at CMU. "It's a hard subject for [kids] to write about and they need a lot of encouragement," Daniels says, "but if we ignore or don't talk about it, it's just beneath the surface and horrible things happen."

Among the increasing subjects of past winners has been the experience of international students here and in their own countries, "a reminder that it is not just an issue for this country," he says. Last year's winners included a student from Sri Lanka who talked about her experience there and in Lebanon as a family of immigrants finding their way. Another winning essay concerned a student whose mixed Latin American heritage, he said, was not evident, even to fellow Latinos. The first time a stranger approached him as a fellow Hispanic, asking him in Spanish what country he was from, was a thrilling moment he was able to record for his essay.
 
For the contest's 15th year, says Daniels, the awards ceremony and reading will also involve a performance by the CMU drama department's gospel choir. But bringing winners to Chautauqua is the most exciting development, he says, helping both students and the audience ponder the issues of race and discrimination more often than one day per year.
 
"None of them had been there before," he says of the students he brought to New York. "They were particularly surprised by the enthusiasm of the audience. They wanted us to stay longer." The group had a lunch and tour and were interviewed by the local daily for a long article. "They want us back. We want to go back. It's an exciting development."
 
Daniels hopes this year's entrants include more college students too. "The more people who get involved in responding, the more rewarding the awards will be," he concludes. "There are always surprises; I learn something every year from these pieces."
 
Entries should be less than 2,000 words and double-spaced (or up to five poems) and should be sent as Microsoft Word attachments (.docx preferred) here or to MLK Writing Contest, Department of English, Baker Hall 259, CMU, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213.?Include your name, school, age, title of work(s) submitted, category of work(s) submitted (fiction, poetry, nonfiction), email address, home address and home phone number.

Selected entries are published by CMU.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jim Daniels, CMU

All nonprofits need apps, and CodeFest can design them

Nov. 15 is the deadline to submit your app needs to Steel City CodeFest, the 24-hour app-building event, which for its second year will concentrate on creating apps to help with the challenges nonprofits face.
 
"We see that nonprofits in general are very risk-averse in spending precious resources and investing in technology," says Garrett Cooper, director of innovation for the Forbes Funds, one CodeFest's organizers. Perhaps an expensive but unsuccessful technological fix burned them in the past, "so they are really cautious looking at the next generation of technology that might help them most efficiently," he says. Yet external demands from government and the public for accountability will force them to look for improvements. Cooper believes the majority of nonprofits can benefit from having even a single, simple app to help staff communicate or work more efficiently.
 
CodeFest started last year when Google Pittsburgh asked to team with a city agency and approached the Urban Redevelopment Authority, says Jennifer Wilhelm, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategist at the URA. CodeFest 2013, in February, designed apps mostly for local government agencies but found that implementation of the apps has been slower than they'd hoped, she says. Organizers intend for this year's focus on apps for nonprofits – likely 10 of them -- will lead to their use more quickly in the community.
 
Last year's winning apps were ParkIt, for commuters wishing to pay for parking with their mobile devices; OpenDataPgh, "for connecting the communities of Pittsburgh and city government through an open data platform"; and enLightened, for people to share energy-use data for cost savings and conservation. About 20 teams in all designed as many apps.
 
"We really want a bridge for technology groups between the for-profit world and the non-profit world," Cooper says. Thus, Forbes and the partnering organizations – which include American Eagle, Google, Maya Design and the University of Pittsburgh – will continue to help develop the apps after CodeFest is finished. He believes these apps can show the rest of the city how technology can be beneficial for its charitable groups.
 
Concludes Cooper: "We think we are going to come up with several apps that really help the local nonprofit sector."
 
Get an application for CodeFest here and direct any questions to Brittany Schrenker.
 
Writer: Marty Levine 
Sources: Garrett Cooper, Forbes Funds; Jennifer Wilhelm, URA

At TRETC, tech meets education in and out of classrooms

The Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC) returns Nov. 19 and 20, and this year even more emphasis will be on helping educational efforts that happen outside of schools. Last year more than 400 educators from K-12 schools, universities and nonprofits attended the event.
 
The conference is growing in the number of attendees, educational sessions and vendors from the many local educational tech startups, says Justin Driscoll of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, one of the organizers.
 
TRETC, says another organizer, Norton Gusky of NLG-Consulting, "has kept the conversation alive in terms of the roles of technology as a better strategy for meeting the needs of learners, both in school and out of school." The conference aims to help educational programs best use, and use the best, technology in their learning spaces.
 
This year's first keynote speaker is Andrew Slack, Executive Director of the Harry Potter Alliance, a self-described group of "wizards and muggles" who are working for social change. Slack is a Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow spending the year in New York City developing the Imagine Better Network, which will try to enlist an even broader fantasy fandom into improving the real world. He'll be talking about participatory learning, civic engagement and mobilizing social media to do social good.
 
The other keynote speaker is Richard Culatta, acting director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education. "He's very involved in the whole idea of using technology to remake learning," Gusky says.
 
TRETC's local presenters will include Nikki Navta, who authored the Zulama curriculum, which blends classroom and online learning. She will be demonstrating how game-based learning – not just playing but conceiving and developing games – has become a powerful tool for education. Also presenting is Ed McKaveney, technology director for the Hampton Township School District, who was named Chief Technology Officer of the Year for 2013 by the Consortium for School Networking – the first such awardee in Pennsylvania.
 
"We feel really fortunate he is here in our backyard," says Gusky. He'll be speaking about such new tech developments as 3D printing and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
 
Justin Aglio and Joe Oliphant, co-principals at Propel Braddock Hills High Schooj, will talk about Propel's new focus on innovation and design. The Sprout Fund will also have a Remake Learning Zone to showcase the projects they've funded at the intersection of digital learning and media. Another part of the program will highlight the roles of women in technology.
 
TRETC has been so successful, says Gusky, that organizers are thinking about expanding it into a national conference. "How do we highlight the region, not just for the region, but for the entire country?" he says.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Norton Gusky, Justin Driscoll

HE-HO -- not a holiday fair, but housing and health help for artists

Individual artists are pioneers, of a sort--the first to move back into neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times. Then, once these places are made safe and attractive for the rest of us, real estate prices begin to rise--and artists get priced out.
 
Since they work for themselves, artists have also had a hard time getting health insurance, due to cost and availability. But with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) offering health insurance to more people--and requiring adults to buy it--now seemed the right time to reach out to help local artists with both issues. So was born HE-HO: Artists’ Health and Housing Fair for the Community from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, a free seminar to be held on Nov. 16, noon-6 p.m. at the Kingsley Association.
 
GPAC, says CEO Mitch Swain, "has made a commitment as an organization to do everything we can to help individual artists. We feel individual artists are an important cog as Pittsburgh seeks to redevelop itself."


HE-HO--for health and housing, of course--can benefit any low- to moderate-income Pittsburgher who needs help in these areas. HE-HO will include a home-buying workshop by sponsor Dollar Bank and another by Kingsley's NeighborWorks and a home-improvement session from the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

With help from the other sponsor, Highmark (Blue Cross Blue Shield), the event will also have free health screenings, and information and advice from the local Healthy Artists and Be Well!, PA Health Access Network and the Artists Health Insurance Resource Center of New York City.

From this last group, Renata Marinaro, who has been helping artists get health insurance for two decades, will talk the previous evening at 6 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers on "Navigating Health Care Reform for Arts Organizations, Collectives, and Arts Businesses," then address individual artists' needs at HE-HO.
 
GPAC has been hearing from its 67-member artists' advisory group that health insurance and housing are two big, tough issues for the local arts community. HE-HO organizer Christiane Leach, GPAC's artist relations coordinator and office manager, knows the artist's dilemma first-hand. She and other friends in the local arts community have donated their art to raise money for other artists' hospital bills. She has heard artists ask, "How can I live in a neighborhood, own a house and be part of the resurgence that is going on?" she says.
 
The event also includes information from local arts groups, yoga, massages, music (by Phat Man Dee, the Delicious Pastries and vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield), poetry, food and drink.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Mitch Swain and Christiane Leach,  Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

The newest college prep program in town already having success

In its second year in Pittsburgh, Higher Achievement is finding that it's a great fit for helping local 5th through 8th graders become college-bound.
 
"There are no entry requirements other than the will to do well," says Executive Director Wendy Etheridge Smith. "Both the child and the parent have to think that college is a good idea and that it is the goal." The nonprofit group aims to help kids "develop the culture and the character" to succeed.
 
Higher Achievement offers a summer program in the Hill District and Homewood, plus an afterschool program. "In order to compete effectively, students are going to graduate and go out and get more education," Smith says. "But you don't have to be a straight A fifth grader. You can be a C+ fifth grader and become a college scholar."
 
In fact, the program's average participant has a C+ average coming into the 5th grade. After a year in their program here, she says, 74 percent of students in math and 73 percent in reading went up a grade or maintained a high grade.
 
Besides academics and fun competitions surrounding them, the program offers electives in arts and recreation, from African drumming to jewelry making. The HA experience includes a three-day, two-night immersive college stay once a year, during which kids live in a dorm and take classes with college profs.
           
Higher Achievement, based in Washington, D.C., chose to come to Pittsburgh last year partly due to the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program and its Pathway programs designed to make sure kids are qualified for the scholarships. Today it operates in Pittsburgh Westinghouse and University Prep schools, which have the lowest percentage of Promise students.
 
Ninety-three percent of those who complete the HA program go to college and 76 percent of those students graduate, Smith says: "We're hoping to be a real catalyst for families and communities to reach for kids' dreams."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Wendy Etheridge Smith, Higher Achievement

Ready Freddy now ready to tackle school attendance issue

Ready Freddy is ready to move beyond its original mission of prepping kids for kindergarten enrollment to tackle school attendance problems.
 
The program was begun in 2006 by the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Child Development, which devises demo projects and test programs for school improvement.
Ready Freddy has aimed to get all eligible kids enrolled in kindergarten on time, even early, so they can be prepared for that first day. Being ready to transition to kindergarten is an important factor for school success.
 
Ready Freddy concentrates on seven Pittsburgh Public School: Langley, King, Miller, Weil, Faison, Arlington and Spring Hill. At each school it puts together a kindergarten team made up of school staff, such as principals, kindergarten teachers, social workers, counselors and others, then reaches out to community groups in the neighborhood to get them involved as well.
 
At Pittsburgh King PreK-8, for instance, the team is working with Reading is Fundamental, A+ Schools and local family support centers to figure out new ways to reach the community. If families do not enroll early or on time, says the program director, Aisha White, schools can even have too few classrooms and teachers set to handle the incoming kids.
 
Ready Freddy teams have been handing out flyers, setting up parent welcome spots at child-care centers and going door to door in public housing, telling parents how to enroll at their local schools and informing them that the district's pre-K program is free to certain income levels. During summers, kindergarten clubs at the seven focal schools invite families to attend preparatory sessions.
 
The schools also hold transition events that allow kids and parents to tour their future school building and meet the teachers, "so that process is not so anxiety-based, once they start school in September," White says. "They will already have made a connection with the staff people at the school and they will better know what to expect."
 
Then, she says, "we make the first day of kindergarten a big deal," by welcoming kids at the door with refreshments and decorations.
 
"We've had major impact at the very beginning," reports White. "Ready Freddy was able to increase kindergarten enrollment to 100 percent" of eligible kids at King and Pittsburgh Weil PreK-5.
 
Today, the program is planning "to come up with strategies to encourage and reward attendance," she says. "Attendance is a major issue nationwide," and of course it affects a child's ability to perform well in school. Kids who miss 18 or more days of school per year in kindergarten perform worse than their peers in first grade. In fact, it affects their education for years: only 17 percent of kids with high absences in the first two grades are proficient in reading in third grade.
 
At Spring Hill, King and Arlington, a Public Allies Americorps volunteer is collecting kindergarten attendance data, visiting the schools and calling the families of absent kids to encourage their attendance. The first two schools now use a kindergarten parent newsletter to keep families informed about classroom work and activities, and all three schools are working to reward the classrooms with the best attendance. White is hoping businesses local to all seven schools will pitch in by donating items for attendance rewards.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Aisha White, Ready Freddy

Free nonprofit consulting -- you know you can use it

Local nonprofits have a chance to get free management consulting from the University of Pittsburgh, and they're jumping at the chance.
 
The annual Nonprofit Clinic, run by Prof. Kevin Kearns' "Consulting in Nonprofit Organizations" class in Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), gives second-year students headed for a life of public service the chance to serve now.
 
Not only is it a good educational experience for his students, Kearns says, but smaller nonprofits can take best advantage of free consulting, which includes marketing studies, feasibility studies, strategic planning, data collection, cost-benefit analyses and other services.
 
"The students bring some analytical skills, the nonprofits being the problems and it's a win-win for everybody," he says.
 
The four-year-old clinic always has "significantly more applicants than we can handle," he adds, since they can only help 10 nonprofits per year. While mostly social services groups apply, all types of nonprofits are eligible, including arts, economic development and neighborhood development groups.
 
One client last year, Kearns reports, asked the students to study how feasible it would be to apply for a complicated federal grant. The students found out that fulfilling the grant's requirements would cause the nonprofit to shift its mission and core values; they successfully warned the group not to seek this funding.
 
"They decided not to pursue that particular grant opportunity because it would have probably led them astray," says Kearns.
 
Applicants should contact Kearns here for an application form.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kevin Kearns, GSPIA

ReelAbilities fest shows the power of film to reveal hidden lives

"About 20 percent of American’s have some sort of disability," notes Kristy Trautmann, head of the FISA Foundation, which focuses on improving the lives of people with disabilities, as well as women and girls. "It’s the only minority group that any of us could join at any time through illness or accident. And yet many people were raised to avoid people with disabilities. Children are chastened not to stare, not to ask questions. In fact, if they were honest many adults would admit that they aren’t sure how to approach a person with a disability – they don’t know what language is appropriate or how to act, and they don’t want to offend."
 
That's why FISA has teamed with JFilm, whose annual Jewish Film Festival aims to promote diversity and inclusion, to bring ReelAbilities to Pittsburgh for the first time. Pop City is a media sponsor. The Oct. 26-29 film festival (begun in New York in 2007) aims to "change perceptions and celebrate the many contributions of people with disabilities to our society," Trautmann says.
 
"It’s all about looking and seeing and coming to better understand someone else’s experience," Trautmann adds.
 
Says Kathryn Spitz Cohan, JFilm executive director: "While television shows have recently added more characters with disabilities … it is in these films that we really get a deeper look into the lives of individuals with disabilities."
 
Each film is accompanied by local programming, including speakers, panel discussions, art exhibits. In Jet Li's first dramatic role, in "Ocean Heaven," he plays a single father of a son with autism; the ReelAbilities showing of this movie concludes with a talk on community and social capital by Al Condeluci, head of Community Living and Support Services, and a reception. A program of short films includes guided tours of the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory, while the documentary "Crooked Beauty" is followed by story telling and performance art emceed by stand-up comedian Marion Grodin.
 
Says Trautmann: "There are a lot of challenges still facing people with disabilities: stigma, lack of accessible housing, a shortage of services to help individuals live in the community, difficulty finding employment. We hope that the festival will help people see that inclusion of people with disabilities is an important issue for our whole community. It’s about justice, not about charity."
 
For more information, go to the ReelAbilities website, call 412-992-5203 or email here.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Kristy Trautmann, FISA Foundation; Kathryn Spitz Cohan, JFilm

Finding the kids most vulnerable for school trouble

A little knowledge is going a long way to help Pittsburgh Public Schools and other local districts pinpoint kids who are most vulnerable to falling behind or dropping out of school, and in devising early interventions.
 
Before 2010, the city school district didn't know how many of their kids were involved with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Office of Children, Youth and Families, which helps when youngsters are abused or neglected and sometimes separated from their families. But Erin Dalton, deputy director of DHS's Office of Data Analysis, Research, and Evaluation, credits Frederick W. Thieman, president of the Buhl Foundation, with bringing her agency and the school district together that year in their mutual quest to find better ways to serve local youth.
 
As a DHS report released just before the current school year says:
 
"While the protective benefits of involvement in the child welfare system are well documented, there is increasing recognition that the unstable family living situations and/or frequent placement changes experienced by children in this system can result in delays in school enrollment, increases in absenteeism, disruptive school changes and lack of continuity in curricula. These factors, in turn, are associated with negative school outcomes such as higher rates of dropout and truancy, lower achievement and increased risk of assignment to alternative school placements, and failure to receive critical special education services."
 
Previously, says Samantha Murphy, education liaison in the executive office of DHS, school districts have studied school absenteeism by looking at other possible contributing factors, such as children's gender or race. "Now it's a different conversation we're able to have," she says. The shared information allows the district and DHS to know whether the kids they have in common are absent or tardy, "so that our workers don't have to wait until there are 20 absences and a magistrate's hearing to intervene," Dalton says.
 
To help correct student attendance problems and subsequent achievement shortfalls, DHS and the district first targeted middle-school kids who got high scores on achievement tests but had low attendance and low grade-point averages. The idea of this effort, which lasted from 2011 until this year, was to take these smart kids and give them a different peer group and a challenging program at the gifted center in the city's West End, so "it would give them a different message about their future," Dalton says.  
 
The trouble was, she reports, "the kids weren't coming here often enough to expect a change" in their grades. Now the effort is aiming higher, she says, with after-school programs already having impacts on attendance and grades. This "Focus on Attendance" initiative kicked off in the 2012-13 school year. A school outreach specialist was hired for two district K-8 schools, working with staff as well as with 170 kids who missed too much school. The specialists involved the kids' families as well, and saw improved attendance as a result. The district also is emphasizing getting kids registered for kindergarten on time, making certain these children get on track from the very beginning of school.
 
DHS is now working with and sharing data with nine districts. "The relationships we're making between service providers and schools is really invaluable," says Murphy.
 
"We were among the first" to share data between the child-welfare office and school districts, notes Dalton. "Now, it's like, if you're not doing it, why aren't you working on that?"
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Erin Dalton and Samantha Murphy, Department of Human Services
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