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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

Profit from this nonprofit speaker series

The Forbes Funds are hoping to increase the number of social entrepreneurs working in Pittsburgh, says the nonprofit's director of innovation, Garrett Cooper, so here's a hopeful sign: The first event in Forbes' Social Innovation Forum, a new free speakers' series beginning Oct. 30, is already fully booked.
Happily, the organization plans to hold the event quarterly. The first one features current social entrepreneurs talking about today's technology as well as tech ideas in the development stage, along with a discussion of crowd-funding and the experience of one local nonprofit, the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. The first social entrepreneur panel includes representatives from the Reuse Technology Collaborative, Nonprofit Compliance Resource Collaborative and Conversant Labs.
"Pittsburgh has come a long way in seeding technology innovation," Cooper says, citing the city's current ranking as number seven in the U.S. for tech employment and number 13 among cities for tech start-ups, as well as the local presence of Carnegie Mellon University and Google. "Yet these innovations have yet to cross over to benefit the nonprofit sector.
"We wish to seed excitement about social entrepreneurism as a viable career path," he adds. "We hope that a handful of techies and entrepreneurs walk out of the discussions and think to themselves, 'I want to develop solutions for nonprofits, and I have a basic understanding of some of the next steps I need to take to make it a reality.'" He also hopes the series helps develop "a pipeline of social entrepreneurs to assist local nonprofits."
Forbes plans on keeping these forums small, with about 50 participants each. Future events will include reps from technology companies, nonprofits, government, foundations and local universities – not to mention free beer and wine.
Learn more about the Forbes Fund's efforts at their website.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Garrett Cooper, Forbes Funds

Accessible arts performances are good for everyone, says FISA Foundation

The FISA Foundation's multi-year effort to expand arts access for people with disabilities is having a real impact, according to a new report compiled by the organization.
"While we’ve come a long way in changing attitudes and promoting inclusion of people with disabilities," says Kristy Trautmann, FISA's executive director, "it is still very upsetting how many organizations and individuals consider accessibility as an afterthought, if they think about it at all. Too often the focus of accessibility planning is still about meeting the code," – doing only what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires – "as if to communicate that we would have done less if we could have."
To get past that way of thinking, FISA has spent the last five years bringing arts groups to a deeper understanding of how arts accessibility is not only the right thing to do, but it's good for business as well. The report reviews the changes arts groups can make in their performances and presentations, from more accessible seating to sign-language interpretation, assistive listening devices, large-print programs, captioning and "touch tours." More than that, it shows how local arts groups have benefited from changing their practices, with City Theatre and Pittsburgh Opera leading the charge.
FISA teamed with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to help local arts groups discover low-cost accessibility aids. They held accessibility workshops for the groups and involved those with disabilities in assessing needs, building an audience and creating and staging disability-focused art pieces.
"It’s inspiring to see how many arts managers are now champions of accessibility and inclusion," says Trautmann. "They are driving this agenda because they deeply believe in it. We can all learn a lot from their example.
"One of the challenges is that many people who could benefit from these efforts don’t think of themselves as disabled," she adds. "They just know their hearing or vision 'isn’t what it used to be.' Many people used to love the arts but have reluctantly stopped purchasing tickets because it stopped being enjoyable. We want them to know that it’s time to come back and try again."
Rona Nesbit, executive vice president of the Cultural Trust, notes that "adding diversity to our audiences enhances everyone's experience. We believe that half of the pleasure of artistic engagement is being able to experience it with others."
And other cities' arts groups are taking notice, she adds: Representatives from the Cleveland Playhouse attended the recent autism-friendly performance of "The Lion King." The Trust also has received a request to serve as a consultant for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as well as other arts groups around the country.
"We are up front about the fact that this is a work in progress," says Trautmann. "The most important thing any community member can do is to give feedback. If you have a good experience – if something works for you – let the arts organizations know. And if you see an opportunity for something to be better – let them know that too."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Kristy Trautmann, FISA Foundation; Rona Nesbit, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Clean Air Dash shows athletes, others how to push for pollution solution

"Even the healthiest people – athletes – can be affected by poor air quality," says Rachel Filippini, executive director of GASP, the Group Against Smog and Pollution. Educating athletes and everyone else about air-quality issues, and what they can do to improve them, formed the impetus for GASP's first Clean Air Dash and Festival on Oct. 19 in the South Side Riverfront Park. It's a 5K run along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, with a festival featuring the Venture Outdoors climbing wall, yoga demonstrations, pumpkin painting and a Pittsburgh Passion obstacle course.
Also supporting the Clean Air Dash is the local Breathe Project coalition, funded by the Heinz Endowments.
Carnegie Mellon University’s mobile laboratory, dubbed Community Health: Air Pollution in Pittsburgh or CHAPP, will make its debut at the event. "It's a way of them taking a very sophisticated laboratory out into the community," explains Filippini. "Air quality has been improving over the years but we still have high levels of fine particulates, ground-level ozone and hazardous air pollutants."
Fine particulates come from diesel vehicles as well as from coal-fired power plants, coke-making facilities and wood burning. "They are still a significant problem – probably of greatest concern because they are so pervasive and come from so many sources and are still relatively high when compared to other parts of the country. And they are linked to so many health concerns," including asthma and other respiratory problems, as well as strokes and heart attacks.
Runners, for instance, can minimize their exposure to pollution by enjoying their sport far from main thoroughfares and rush hours, as well as earlier in the day. And everyone can become an air-quality champion, she adds, by writing letters about pollution solutions to their elected officials, attending hearings on environmental issues, and changing their behavior – from riding to walking, or from private to public transportation.
"There is a lot to do in achieving cleaner air," Filipinni concludes, "and we all have a role to play achieving that goal."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rachel Filippini, GASP

Even "accidental techies" can benefit from TechNow

Even  “accidental techies" can get a lot out of this year's TechNow conference, says Johna Lingelbach, network administrator for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. She'll be presenting at the session "BYOD OMG" ("D" stands for "device").
"Year after year, people of varying skill level and work experience get together to share ideas," she says. "There is a strong comfort level of networking with all."
Run by the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, this year's conference takes place Oct. 24 at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township and offers nonprofits the latest in tech trends and information.
Keynote speaker for this 10th annual conference is Gavin Clabaugh, vice president of information services at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Clabaugh is a founding member of the board of Aspiration, which develops and funds IT solutions for nonprofits. The day also offers sessions on "Looking Great Everywhere:  Responsive Web Design for Nonprofits," "#EverywhereAllTheTime: Integrating Technology Tools …" and "Impress Funders While Making Your Mission and Message Clear."
"Not only will you learn what's on the cutting edge of nonprofit technology, you'll also network with some great thought leaders," says Craig Grella, executive director of OrgSpring and one of the "Looking Great Everywhere" presenters. "I've made numerous connections at TechNow, many of whom became my close friends and business partners."
"Our goal," concludes Cindy Leonard, consulting team leader for the Bayer Center "is to inspire nonprofits to think about all the different ways that technology affects our missions and how it can be leveraged successfully to enhance operations and program outcomes."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Cindy Leonard, Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management

What do SNL, Orange is the New Black and Louie Anderson have in common?

The director of "Saturday Night Live," a writer on "Orange is the New Black" and comedian Louie Anderson, whose animated series Life With Louie earned Emmys in the 1990s, all have Pittsburgh connections, but more importantly they are coming to the city to speak as part of the new Steeltown Spotlight Series.
Steeltown Entertainment Project is all about connecting Pittsburgh to the entertainment industry, says President and CEO Carl Kurlander: "How many projects, how many people, can we bring back here and connect with people here and build an industry?"
Spotlight will feature the stories of people who made it from here to there – to Hollywood, of course. And the two towns now have something more in common, Kurlander says: "Imagine a town that for 100 years made the same product. Then, overnight, technology changed the product. Am I talking about Pittsburgh and the steel industry in 1980 or am I talking about Hollywood today?" The Netflix model of series distribution – all at once, for watching at any pace – "has changed everything" in Hollywood, he says.
Pittsburgh native Lauren Morelli, who writes for the Netflix series "Orange Is The New Black," opens the Spotlight program on Oct. 15 at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Building. She started her career as a dancer, then began reviewing dance performances, branching into writing short stories before joining the writer's room at "Orange."
Kurlander points to Morelli as one of the new breed of television creators. Today, she helps run "Orange" episodes filmed in New York and is part of a mostly female writing team.
Louie Anderson will appear on Oct. 22 for an event co-sponsored by the Toonseum, including a chance for audience members to have episodes from their lives turned into cartoon storyboards. Anderson will be joined by his series co-creator Matthew O’Callaghan and Joe Wos, head of the Toonseum.
Animation, says Kurlander, is not only a popular entertainment format, "but it produces a lot of jobs."
Pitcairn-raised Don Roy King, director of SNL for the past eight years, will speak this spring – on a date to be determined. "SNL, everyone knows, nurtures talent – and they go on to be legends," Kurlander notes. "Pittsburgh's starting to have a scene here … and Don is going to talk about not only directing live television but incubating talent."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Carl Kurlander, Steeltown Entertainment Project

Why does S. Korea fear ceiling fans? WorldQuest trivia contest has the answers

Oct. 21 marks the 10th annual WorldQuest International Trivia Competition, offered by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, and "every year presents its own challenges in terms of asking questions that are relevant," says Dan Law, program officer for public policy programming for the Council. "It's not just, 'Name that official,' or 'Name that flag.'"
You'll have to get a team together and enter the contest, which raises funds for Council programs, to find out why South Koreans place signs near ceiling fans, warning its citizens not to sleep beneath a spinning one.
"We work very hard at bringing the world to Pittsburgh and bringing Pittsburgh to the world," he says; Council programs include seminars, video conferences and policy discussions for students, as well as breakfast briefings and weekly radio programs for adults in the community, featuring ambassadors, academics, journalists and other international figures.
WorldQuest has become "not just a trivia competition but an energetic show" at the Cabaret Theatre in the Cultural District downtown, attracting a cross-section of Pittsburgh teams of university students, law firms, financial institutions and nonprofits.
The five rounds of question categories include the year in review, where in the world, Pittsburgh and the world, international who's who and lost in translation, which Law describes as "interesting or even bizarre cultural quirks.
"This is one of the most challenging rounds but one of the funniest," he adds.
Each member of the winning team receives $150, while second- and third-prize winners get baskets of local show tickets, restaurant gift certificates and Pittsburgh memorabilia. Tops among the silent auction items is $2,000 worth of Delta Sky Miles.
The evening will be hosted by WTAE’s Sally Wiggin and 90.5 WESA’s Paul Guggenheimer, host of Essential Pittsburgh.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Dan Law, World Affairs Council

Students all over Pittsburgh design mobile apps at Winchester Thurston's App Lab

Mobile App Lab, Winchester Thurston's after-school app-designing class, has now expanded to allow high-school students from any school in the area to participate.
The program began in 2010 at the Shadyside school and focuses on teaching programming for mobile devices. "Many students have them and, if they don't, they see them in action," says program head David Nassar. "It's a real and tangible use of computer science today. All businesses are trying to create an app for their business. Even poets are creating poetry apps. Computer science is pervasive and I like to show the students that."
Students, who come from as close as Pittsburgh Obama or as far away as Quaker Valley and Mars, are expected to bring their knowledge back to their own schools. "We really want to bring computer science education to the forefront of people's minds in Pittsburgh and the larger area," says Nassar. Students who have already taken the course are acting as mentors, helping to teach current kids.
Students design lots of games, of course, but also some simple productivity apps, such as unit converters, and also work on painting and drawing programs. They come in with little to no programming knowledge and design apps they can complete in seven weeks.
"The students have come up with some pretty wild ideas," Nassar says. "It's exciting to see their creativity take them in directions I wouldn't have thought myself." They don't become full-fledged programmers after this short class, he notes, but it certainly piques their interest. "Students who hadn't even realized computer science might be something they would be excited about – they realize it."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: David Nassar, Winchester Thurston

Contemporary Craft's ENOUGH Violence exhibit is moving, and moving local groups to action

The new Society for Contemporary Craft (www.contemporarycraft.org) exhibit, ENOUGH Violence: Artists Speak Out, which opened Sept. 25, is not only bringing emotional and thought-provoking art to their Strip gallery but has brought community groups and victims of violence together to explore the powers of art – and the roots and solutions to violence.
The exhibit, which features sculptures and jewelry made from gun parts, figures of toddlers placed in violent situations normally perpetrated by adults, and a display of damaged doll dresses representing the victims of domestic violence, may prompt strong reactions at times, says the Society's Executive Director Janet McCall: "We're hearing from people that it's a hard show to take in. But it's an important message. We're glad we've done the show. It is opening up a lot of conversations. We're seeing a lot of people walking in the door who have never been here.
"For a lot of people, they feel so helpless and overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem," she adds. But she hopes the exhibit creates an occasion for getting at the root causes of violence, which may lead to concrete ideas for solutions.
McCall has already heard from local anti-violence groups that want to get involved in prompting further public discussion and action, and the Society has opened the door wide for such partnerships.
Artists involved with ENOUGH Violence have already been working with children with disabilities and those in schools and Allegheny County's Shuman Juvenile Detention Center to create their own artistic responses to living with violence. This month, fabric artist Tina Brewer will be working with RELIEF (Recognizing Every Lingering Inward Emotional Feeling) in McKeesport, a group that helps those who have lost a family member to violence. The group will use materials significant to their loved one to construct fabric vessels – collapsible boxes that will store memories and that can be connected to one another – to help with group members' healing. They will be displayed beginning in November as part of ENOUGH Violence.  
For the first Saturday of each month, the Society has invited local anti-violence groups to be available to talk to gallery patrons. They are also bringing in speakers, including:
  • October 18: Dr. Norman White of Saint Louis University will speak about street violence and Dr. Rolf Loeber, of the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine will talk about his decades-long study of anti-social and delinquent behavior risk factors in young boys and girls.
  • January 10, 2014: Dr. Judy Chang, also from Pitt's medical school, will give a talk on domestic violence and photographer Maria Montano will speak about her FACES project, for which she has taken 200 portraits of sexual-assault survivors.
  • January 20, 2014: Prof. Steve Gorelick of Hunter College will speak on violence in media and culture.
  • March 21, 2014: Dr. Ronald E. Voorhees of Carlow University will lead an informal discussion on the public health response to abuse and neglect.
"There are so many people who are in the community, particularly young people, who need help and don't even now there is help available," says Rachel Saul, the Society's studio program coordinator. Art, she adds, can be one place that generates understanding and healing. Artist Julie Sirek, who created the current exhibit's wall of identical white doll dresses that have been dirtied and damaged in various ways, says in her artist's statement that she witnessed domestic violence as a small child.
"What she learned was that she was never supposed to speak of it," Saul says. "She had to stuff away her feelings." Making the dresses has been a release for her, Saul adds, as viewing the art or making one's own pieces can be a release for anyone. Such work sends a message, Saul says: "This is not okay, and anyone who has had this experience must know that there is help out there, there are support services …"
Victims of violence, McCall says, are constantly reliving the moment of fear and experiencing the same feelings. "You need a process – something to help work through the emotion. I think art, for me, is always a therapeutic process. Even if you are not talking about it, the process allows you to visualize it … and let go of the feelings."
ENOUGH Violence even suggests ways for people to help the situation: volunteering at homeless shelters, getting involved politically for gun control, mentoring at-risk youth. "We hope," McCall concludes, "that for the groups who have come together, that we've connected, it won't be a one-time thing."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Janet McCall and Rachel Saul, Society for Contemporary Craft

Green Schools Academy wants kids' green projects through November

Pittsburgh has turned last year's international green community-service day for local students into a two-month-long Green Schools Academy, and organizers at Green Building Alliance say they already have 1,661 kids, school officials and community members doing 22 projects created by 10 schools alongside representatives from local green agencies and businesses.
"Last year was a really great success," says the Alliance's Jenna Cramer, vice president of the Academy. "This is a great way to reach more people and talk about health and high-performing schools. It has allowed us to increase the number of projects and people involved."
The Academy kicked off in mid-September with projects such as Garden Day at the Environmental Charter School in Regent Square, Grow Pittsburgh's garden workshop at Pittsburgh Faison K-5 in Homewood, ALCOSAN's Eco-Mural lessons at Manchester Academy Charter School and others.
Projects coming up include talks on the benefits of native plants, school energy audits, green community tours, writing projects, local home repair efforts, community gardens, the creation of a worm bin for specialized composting, harvest festivals, and many more.
Other schools involved include Pittsburgh Langley K-8, Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8, Pittsburgh Perry High School, Spectrum Charter School, Kentucky Avenue School, Barrett Elementary School in the Steel Valley School District and Northwestern Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie.
"We want to make sure all schools provide healthy, safe and high-performing learning environments," says Cramer. That includes using the fewest resources possible, enhancing their environmental and sustainability education (which helps increase students' civic engagement and career preparation) and providing a healthy learning environment – from ensuring healthy indoor air quality and food to employing green cleaning and school gardens.
Create more projects and sign up for Green School Academy participation here
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jenna Cramer, Green Building Alliance

Nonprofit about to win 200 hours of expert advice from Social Venture Partners

One area nonprofit is about to get $12,500 and something even more valuable: hundreds of hours of advice and coaching from Social Venture Partners Pittsburgh.
SVPP focuses on giving their money and expertise to local nonprofits helping at-risk children, and for this year's Fall Pitch competition on Oct. 9 they have chosen two finalists helping homeless youth: HEARTH and the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, Inc.
SVPP representatives visited the 15 applicants. "We want to get the right kind of applicants," says Elizabeth Visnic, the organization's director. "Are they ready for us? Are they asking for something we can deliver?"
SVPP can spend up to 200 hours helping a nonprofit, involving work from about a dozen partners. They offer strategy mapping (a kind of strategic planning), financial sustainability planning and help with messaging and networking.
"Each of the two finalists has specific needs that our partners can respond to," says Visnic. Hearth recently relocated its facility to a purchased property and is restructuring its board to conduct its operations differently. The Allegheny Valley Association of Churches is doing "a large number of projects and like most nonprofits are responding to where the need is," she says. But they recognize they could be more effective with strategy mapping, she adds. "Everybody needs to figure out, in three to five years, how are we going to be here?"
Concludes Visnic: "With a little bit of our assistance they can go to deeper levels of what they do."
Attend SVPP's Fall Pitch by signing up here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Elizabeth Visnic, Social Venture Partners Pittsburgh
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