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Rent-free Wilkinsburg storefront up for grabs for interested arts nonprofit

Do you work for an arts nonprofit in need of office or gallery space? Wilkinsburg may have just the place for you.
PMC Management Company, LLC, a firm that owns commercial property in Wilkinsburg, has offered to temporarily donate a storefront at 811 Wood St. to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or government-run arts organization.
The space will be available for donation for up to two years while the firm renovates the building’s upper floors. The unit will be donated rent-free, but interested organizations must agree to pay utilities. 
Qualified organizations must provide documentation detailing their nonprofit or government status as well as a plan for the donated space by Dec. 15. This information may be sent to Chuck Alcorn, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation economic development coordinator, via email (chuck@wilkinsburgcdc.org) or general delivery (1001 Wood St., Wilkinsburg, PA 15221).
Activating the storefront goes hand in hand with WCDC’s mission to revitalize Wilkinsburg and surrounding areas through business and residential development and cultural enrichment.
“We really see this as an opportunity to bring in another positive aspect to Wilkinsburg,” Alcorn said. He added that the storefront is a promising space for local artists, as the unit is large enough to showcase work. “[We] hope that people see the potential in the space and contact us with proposals.”
For questions about this opportunity, please email (chuck@wilkinsburgcdc.org) or call Chuck Alcorn at (412) 727-7855.
Source: Chuck Alcorn, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation

Indiegogo campaign helps Bloomfield Sandwich Shop continue free turkey tradition

A bountiful Thanksgiving feast isn’t a guarantee. It’s often a luxury many cannot afford. And some people don’t have the option of spending the holiday with family. But in Pittsburgh, a certain Mama makes sure a good Thanksgiving dinner is attainable for all.
Mama Ros’ Sandwich Shop, also known as The Bloomfield Sandwich Shop, has been providing free Thanksgiving meals to anyone who needs it for 12 years. The shop on Liberty Avenue serves about 200 Thanksgiving meals per year, but anticipates about 400 diners this Thursday.
“It's open to everyone and anyone, not specifically the homeless. It's just about giving back to the community and sharing a meal with your fellow Pittsburgher,”
said Jon Potter, who has been lending a hand to Mama Ros’ this year. “We are also delivering 130 meals to people who are not able to make it to the store that day.”
The shop can support this increase thanks in part to an Indiegogo.com initiative that raised $3,000 last spring.  Mama Ros’ Sandwich Shop customers took to the crowdfunding website to help the local business known for helping others after a particularly hard winter affected funds.
While eating at Mama Ros’ earlier this year, Jonathan Tai, a magician, and Potter, a local jack-of-all trades paraglider and hostel owner, met the Mama and the Papa themselves, Rosalyn Dukes and her partner Mike Miller. Tai and Potter were inspired to help them raise money for the shop by launching the online campaign.
In a previous interview, Tai said the restaurant has a reputation for wanting to feed everyone, even those who can’t always afford it. That’s not just on Thanksgiving, but 365 days a year. The campaign, which reached its $3,000 goal, helped Dukes and Miller continue to do just that.
A video on the Indiegogo.com page discusses the mom and pop’s annual Thanksgiving feast. “We try every year, as best we can, to serve as many people as we can a free Thanksgiving dinner,” Dukes says in the clip.
She added that patrons are welcome to eat in the diner, or they can take the traditional turkey dinner home with them. The meals are pay what you can or pay nothing at all. Last November, Mama Ros’ served more than 15 20-pound turkeys.
“It’s for everybody,” Miller adds in the video. “College kids that can’t come home. People that have families who just can’t, right now, afford to have a good turkey dinner.”
Potter said the community rallied around the shop; now, this is Mama Ros’ way of giving back.
“The purpose was to get them back on their feet because they help the community so much. Because of the help the community gave back, they are able to put on their annual free Thanksgiving meal,” he said.
Potter added that the campaign also helped spread awareness about the shop and its mission to feed people, even when they can’t afford to pay.
“When you go there, you feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen … that’s why it’s so special,” he said.  
Potter said 400 pounds of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans will be served at Mama Ros’ on Thanksgiving Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Source: Jon Potter, Indiegogo “Saving Mama Ros' Sandwich Shop”

Homeless shelter opens early for severe weather season

Due to the bitter chill that descended on Pittsburgh in mid-November, the Severe Weather Safety Center opened earlier than planned to shelter Pittsburgh’s population of street homeless people.

Operated by Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s Operation Safety Net and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the Severe Weather Safety Center opened on Nov. 13 instead of the scheduled date of Nov. 15.

The shelter provides temporary, overnight accommodations for men at the Smithfield United Church of Christ at 620 Smithfield St., Downtown. New this year, homeless women seeking shelter will report directly to Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship at 13 Pride St., Uptown.

Both locations will offer professional social services, medical care and protection from frigid temperatures to people who do not typically use other existing shelter services. On nights when the temperature drops to 25 degrees Fahrenheit or below or when dangerous winter weather exists or is predicted by the National Weather Service, the Severe Weather Safety Center will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. until March 15, 2015.

“In the past, there were a lot of incidents of frostbite and people didn’t have the option to go inside during the winter,” said Operation Safety Net Program Manager Stephanie Chiappini said, adding that cases of frostbite and deaths due to cold weather were more common before the shelter opened. “Now that there is a shelter we don’t see nearly as much frostbite.”

In the past five years, Operation Safety Net has successfully connected more than 1,200 of the individuals it serves to housing, according to a media release.

Chiappini said the shelter costs $85,000 to operate each year, and the organization is always seeking donations from individuals, corporations, churches and other organizations willing to help people who are homeless. 

To support Operation Safety Net with a secure online donation, visit pmhs.org and specify that your gift is intended for the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter. To make alternate arrangements for a donation, contact Pittsburgh Mercy Health System Development at 724-934-3537 or email Development@pmhs.org

During the winter of 2013-14, one of the coldest on record, the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter operated 79 nights, an increase of 17 from the previous winter. The shelter served 156 individuals on Feb. 11, 2014, the highest number for that season. The low temperature for that day was 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Campaign supports local musicians at Bloomfield Saturday Market

Hatch, a crowd-sourcing platform that helps to fund projects that benefit communities in Allegheny County, is collaborating with Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation (PDCDC) for a campaign to support the Bloomfield Saturday Market.

Specifically, Hatch and PDCDC will be working to support the continued employment of local musicians at each market next year. This year's market was open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays from May 31 through Nov. 1 at 5050 Liberty Ave.

“The music is a great aspect of the markets,” says Christina Howell, Program Manager for the Bloomfield Development Corporation, which organized the market. “People will talk to the musicians and get to know their neighbors.”

Funding for this year's market came from Allegheny Health Network, state and city government, and sponsorships. The market featured many local produce growers and locally interested organizations including The Pittsburgh Pie Guy, Pollak’s Candies, Ohio City Pasta, Zeke’s Coffee, Good L’Oven Bakery, HealCrest Urban Farm, Butter Hill Farm, Olive & Marlowe and Freedom Farms.

“The market’s goal is to improve the health and wellness of the community through access to fresh produce and recipes,” says Howell.

With the Hatch campaign, Bloomfield Community Development hopes to raise $2,070 to bring live music to all four hours of each market next year. Typically, musical artists at the market are from the greater Pittsburgh region.

“The more we can support a hyper-local community, the better off we are in Bloomfield,” says Howell.

Click here to donate to the campaign through Nov. 15.

Art pop-up supports transitional services for women

Life transitions can be difficult, especially for women who traditionally earn less than men. That’s why The Center for Women strives to help women get their feet back on the ground after experiencing life circumstances such as returning to work after being a stay-at-home parent, losing a spouse, or going through a divorce.

To help support and increase community awareness for their services, The Center for Women has partnered with Pittsburgh 10, a collective of primarily female local artists, to host a one-day pop-up art exhibit from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 19, at The Center on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

The event will feature new works from Zivi Aviraz, Lila Hirsch-Brody, Kathi DePasse, Joel Kranich, Helen Naimark, Lilli Nieland, Jane Ogren, Phiris (Kathy) Sickels, David Sparks, and Susan Sparks. The work of jewelry designer Danielle Brannigan and ceramicist Sally Allan will also be exhibited.

“We are excited to welcome the Pittsburgh 10 to exhibit their unique pieces at The Center for Women,” says Becky Abrams, director at the center. “We’re always eager to bring new people into The Center to learn more about our programs and volunteer needs, and this collaboration with the Pittsburgh 10 is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for us to raise funds as well as awareness for our programs.”

Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase their favorite pieces from the exhibit and a portion of the proceeds will benefit The Center for Women to support its mission. The organization strives to be a resource for information, referrals, and programming to provide financial and career readiness skills to a vulnerable population of women in transition.

“Getting back on your feet after a transition can lead to financial devastation if you are not knowledgeable about what resources are available to help you,” says Abrams. “Women who are returning to the workforce after raising children are faced with needing to brush up on their career skills, learning new skills and entering a very different and competitive job market.”

The Center, which opened in August 2013, offers services to women of all backgrounds, including Financial Fitness and Return to the Workforce workshops; personal, financial, and career mentoring; internships and job shadowing opportunities; and consultations with volunteer attorneys and financial experts.

“The Center’s programming promotes economic independence, building on and complementing existing career center programming, most of which focuses on hard skills such as resume development, interview skills and vocational assessments,” says Abrams. “The Center’s programming includes focus on ‘soft’ skills such as coaching and mentoring, job experience, self-esteem building, appropriate dress and workforce readiness. These programs and services are important to women in transition so that they can have a place to support them while they get back on their feet. Women helping women to reach and maintain financial independence is the goal of The Center for Women.”

For more information, visit www.centerforwomenpgh.org.

At 10 years, City of Asylum Pittsburgh honors five exiled writers

Yaghoub Yadali was a writer in Iran when he wrote The Rituals of Restlessness in 2004. Three years later, he was sentenced to a year in prison due to the descriptions of an adulterous love affair in his debut novel.

All around the world, literary artists like Yadali are persecuted and even exiled for their writings. A fortunate few of these writers have found refuge in organizations like City of Asylum Pittsburgh that provide them with the sanctuary and support they need to continue their craft and reestablish themselves in a new country.

This month, City of Asylum Pittsburgh is celebrating its 10th anniversary by honoring five exiled writers who have sought sanctuary through the organization: Huang Xiang, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Khet Mar, Israel Centeno and Yaghoub Yadali.

The five honored writers will be reading from their novels at a celebration event on Saturday, Oct. 18, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Alphabet City Tent on Sampsonia Way in the North Side.

The event is free to the public and tickets can be reserved online. Prior to the free event City of Asylum will be holding a private reception from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m with tickets available for $75 per person. Reception attendees will have their choice of one book and enjoy an international dinner buffet and drinks, as well as the opportunity to mingle with the night's honorees.

Since its inception, City of Asylum Pittsburgh has hosted more than 15 exiled, visiting and exchange writers and presented more than 250 authors and musicians from 42 countries in free readings and concerts. The organization provides an invaluable resource to these writers and also a learning opportunity for the Pittsburgh community.

"There is no more powerful way to be reminded of the importance of defending creative free expression in our own lives," says Henry Reese, founder of City of Asylum Pittsburgh. "When we provide sanctuary to an exiled writer in our community, we also make space in ourselves for important human values."

In addition to providing housing to exiled writers, the organization also provides additional assistance like a stipend, medical benefits, transportation and even an immigration attorney. Services such as commissioning English translations, helping writers find a publisher or securing employment for spouses, are tailored to each writer’s skills and needs in an effort to help the writer become stable and self-supporting.

Among its most visible advancements since City of Asylum’s founding are a series of homes with writing on the exterior. It all started in 2004, when exiled writer Huang Xiang covered his City of Asylum residence with Chinese calligraphies of his poems. The overwhelming response from visitors and neighbors led to the development of additional houses on Sampsonia Way that feature text-based artwork on the facades. Since then, public awareness and community interest in the organization has grown beyond Reese's expectations.

"We had no idea that a program providing sanctuary to endangered, exiled writers would resonate so deeply in the community," says Reese. "We only thought about the writers and making a new home for them, and then we discovered that our own neighborhood was being transformed in the process."

The organization has also developed monthly readings with international authors and translators, an annual free Jazz Poetry Concert, the founding and continued publishing of Sampsonia Way magazine and a sister city exchange with Brussels, Belgium.

While the past 10 years have been a successful journey so far, Reese hopes that City of Asylum continues to grow and make an impact in Pittsburgh.

"We would like to grow our writer sanctuary program so it can support a half-dozen or more exiled writers concurrently," says Reese. "We also hope our neighborhood will be be an inspiring community to live in, where art and the imagination are central."

Next year, City of Asylum will open the Alphabet City literary center, which will feature flexible seating for up to 125 guests and serve as a home for readings, performances, seminars and cultural events, in addition to a bookstore and café.

"We would like to make Alphabet City a hub for Pittsburgh's creative cultural and social life, where you can always find interesting conversation, books, and performances along with good food and drink," says Reese.

Pressley Ridge students create new permanent art mural downtown

For people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, art and creativity have been proven to improve and enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being. With this in mind, Pressley Ridge School for Autism is organizing the creation of a mural Downtown, crafted with help from students at the school.

“Art acts as a visual tool for communication as well as a multi-sensory activity for children who have autism,” says Kelly Weimer, Director of Autism Services at Pressley Ridge. “For someone who may have difficulty with language, the art-making process becomes an outlet for self-expression and creativity. It gives children a way to express themselves in a positive manner. Children who have autism also respond to sensory input differently than most people. The smell and the feel of paint both contribute to opening up the children’s senses when they are exploring the materials, giving them a new experience.”

The mural is being painted on the brick wall of a building at 1208 Fifth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh and will become a permanent art installation.

The first painting day was Saturday, Oct. 4.  A second painting session will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11, and is open to the public.

“We’re hoping even more folks can help this Saturday at our final Community Paint Day,” says Weimer.

To help plan and coordinate this mural project, Pressley Ridge partnered with Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project (MLK Mural).

“Pressley Ridge has been working closely with MLK Mural for the entire process,” says Weimer. “MLK Mural frequently does these types of programs to engage youth in their community through art, but we wanted to collaborate on something specific to the autism community and our children.”
Kyle Holbrook, founder of MLK Mural, designed the mural to incorporate both the Pittsburgh Penguins and features of the autism community like illustrations that will appeal to the senses of the kids and the puzzle piece symbol often used for autism awareness.
“[The puzzle piece] signifies the complexity of the disorder, but also the diversity of people affected by autism,” says Weimer.
Once the mural is completed, Weimer hopes it will serve as a permanent reminder to children of the positive impact they can make on the city.

“This project will showcase how talented and passionate our students are. They can create something amazing and affect the community in such a positive way, just like anyone else,” says Weimer. “We hope that the Pittsburgh community can view this mural and think of the students at the Pressley Ridge School for Autism in a new and inspiring way.”
To learn more about Pressley Ridge School for Autism, please visit www.PressleyRidge.org.

ASSET hopes to close STEM funding gap with new scholarship program

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, ASSET, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing teaching and learning to empower students, announced a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Scholarship Program to support innovative STEM education programs.

All school districts and education organizations including libraries or tutoring programs may apply for a piece of the anticipated $200,000 scholarship pie for the 2014-2015 school year. Recently, ASSET was awarded a $50,000 matching grant from The Hillman Foundation to help reach this grant pool goal. Other sponsors include Bayer Corporation, Dollar Bank Foundation and Westinghouse.

“At ASSET, our focus is on directly impacting teachers and students,” said Dr. Cynthia Pulkowski, Executive Director. “Establishing the STEM Scholarship Program is the perfect way to celebrate our 20th anniversary because the program is representative of our mission — advancing teaching and learning to engage, inspire and empower all students.”

According to ASSET, budget constraints in many school districts have resulted in drastic reductions to vital STEM education programs that help children develop necessary skills and knowledge to succeed. Through this scholarship program, ASSET hopes to help some school districts close the funding gap and ensure that high-quality STEM education opportunities are available to all students, regardless of budget constraints.

Dollars granted through the scholarship will provide classroom materials and/or professional development for educators; increase student participation in hands-on STEM learning; and enhance educators’ effective instrumental practices.

The first round application deadline was Sept. 15 and applications and scholarships will be reviewed and awarded as received. While any school district or educational organization is invited to apply, preference will be given to organizations with a high percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, high levels of diversity and low proficiency on state assessments.

To apply or learn more about ASSET’s STEM Scholarship Program, visit www.assetinc.org

ATHENA Awards recognize excellence in professional women

This year's Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Awards Program honored the president and CEO of UPMC Health Plan and the sales manager for Lightning Energy Services.

For 24 years, The Allegheny Conference on Community Development has recognized exceptional professional women through the Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award and the ATHENA Young Professionals Award.

During the awards luncheon on Monday, UPMC Health Plan President and CEO Diane Holder received the Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award. Amelia Papapetropoulos, Sales Manager for Lightning Energy Services, received the ATHENA Young Professionals Award.

The ATHENA Awards are named after the Greek goddess of strength and wisdom and annually recognize professional women who serve as exemplary examples of these traits. The Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Awards Program Luncheon is one of the largest stand-alone events of its kind among some 500 presented annually across the globe in affiliation with ATHENA International.

Holder was selected from a pool of 25 nominees and five finalists as this year’s Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award recipient. 

“Through their examples, inspiration and mentorship, ATHENA Awards recipients make a difference for countless women from many walks of life,” said Allegheny Conference Chief Financial Officer Janel Skelley. “That’s what distinguishes such ATHENA award recipients as Diane Holder, who joins the ranks of 23 other remarkable women we’ve been privileged to recognize with this award.”

Holder has led UMPC’s insurance division, as well as strategic and business operations, for 15 health-related insurance and health management companies. She focuses on helping people live longer, healthier lives and advocating for good health for all members of the community. Holder serves on numerous boards, mentors groups and individuals, and lends her support and guidance to the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Women Work and Standing Firm, among other organizations. She is a mother of three children.

Papapetropoulos was selected from a pool of 25 nominees and three finalists for The ATHENA Young Professional Award, which recognizes leaders under the age of 35.

She is the founder of Young Professional Women in Energy and works for equity and greater visibility for women in the energy sector. She is also president of Amelia’s Elegant Catering and developer of fire-resistant clothing for women field workers. She is a member of the region’s Young Professional Board for Junior Achievement, an evaluator at the University of Pittsburgh’s national entrepreneurship completion and has been named one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s “40 Under 40.” She is a contributing author to the book Empower! Women’s Stories of Breakthrough, Discovery and Triumph.

Other 2014 Athena Award Finalists include:
  • Linda Croushore, Executive Director, The Consortium for Public Education;
  • Susan Kirsch, Shareholder-Tax Advisory Services, Schneider Downs;
  • Karen Larrimer, Chief Customer Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, PNC; and
  • Suzy Teele, Chief Operating Officer, SnapRetail.
The other 2014 ATHENA Young Professional Award finalists, chosen from among 25 nominees, were:
  • Stephanie Garbe Compliance Senior Specialist, PNC; and
  • Sabrina Saunders, Executive Director, Strong Women Strong Girls.

Sample fine wine and food at HEARTH's annual fundraiser

An evening devoted to sampling wine and food from Pittsburgh's most beloved eateries will benefit HEARTH, a non-profit that provides safe and affordable housing for the area's homeless.

The Art of Wine & Food will feature treats from Bluebird Kitchen, The Capital Grille, Il Pizzaiolo, Mallorca, Jimmy Wan's, Willow and more from 6 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 2 at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side. 

This year, event organizers hope to raise $50,000. Last year's event raised $55,000. 

As the organization's largest annual fundraiser, The Art of Food & Wine supports HEARTH's mission of helping local families to become independent and self-sufficient through support services and adequate housing. 

“The event began in 2002 and was held at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild,” says event committee member Vicki Gill. “It’s developed into not only a fundraiser, but a ‘friend’ raiser bringing awareness of the programs HEARTH provides to people who love wine and food.”

Kelli Burns Entertainment will DJ for the evening. Guests can purchase tickets for a chance to win prizes in the Chinese auction, including an autographed Neil Walker jersey, overnight stays at some of Pittsburgh’s best hotels, a South African photo safari and golfing at Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

Sponsors for the festivities include Jackie and Chuck Fusina, First National Bank, TriState Capital Bank, Guardian Storage, RAK Medical Inc./Globus Medical, Savinis, D'Amico and Kane LLC, Sitko Bruno and Trek Development Group.

For more information, visit www.hearth-bp.org/winefood.htm

LunaMetrics provides valuable SEO training to non-profits for second year

With the success of last year’s free Search Engine Optimization training for non-profits and students, LunaMetrics has arranged to host the training again this year on Oct. 18 and 19 at its South Side offices.

According to Chris Vella, LunaMetrics search analyist and trainer for this year’s session, many non-profits find that learning SEO skills on their own is out of reach.

“Non-profits have a lot to gain from learning SEO, especially in Pittsburgh where the non-profit sector thrives," Vella says. "Competition is a real threat to any organization, and employing SEO best practices helps an organization to get into fighting shape. SEO audits for organizations can cost upwards of $10,000, so this is truly a valuable opportunity.”

The training will provide non-profits with the tools they need to improve their web presence. The training is available for seven to eight non-profits and about 20 students. A group of students will recommend website changes for each non-profit to make in order to improve its SEO.

“Having a strong presence on the Internet is vital to any organization’s survival and that’s becoming a more widely accepted notion these days,” says Vella. “It’s not always obvious, however, how to build that strong presence an organization desires. SEO, search engine optimization, is about building or growing your audience and making your organization easier to discover online.“

Students benefit from the training by learning an employable skill, which Vella notes is increasingly important in today’s fierce job market.

“Students will also have the opportunity to network with other students interested in professional development from the Pittsburgh area and local non-profits,” says Vella. “We’ve also tried to involve organizations that could potentially offer the students internships following the training.”

Vella himself is an example of how the training can help students find employment. He attended the training last year and began working for the digital consulting firm a short time later.

“The training brought so many opportunities to me, and I eventually ended up being hired at LunaMetrics as a search analyst,” says Vella. “The tables have turned and I’m conducting the training this year. I hope to give this year’s students a similar experience.”

Learn more about the training at www.lunametrics.com/website-traffic/seo/pittsburgh-seo-training/

RADical Days offers free admission to more than 30 regional assets

The next few weeks are looking pretty rad thanks to free admission to the region's most beloved cultural gems, courtesy of the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) and its annual RADical Days.

In honor of RAD’s 20th anniversary, this year’s RADical Days will run for 20 days from Sept. 24 through Nov. 9. Free tours at PNC Park kick off the event on Sept. 24, followed by free admission and special programming from 35 other venues including the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Society for Contemporary Craft, Phipps Conservatory, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Heinz Field and more.

“RAD and the regional assets invite you to enjoy 20 RADical Days as a thank you to the public for its annual support of regional libraries, parks, sports facilities and arts and culture programming,” says David Donahoe, RAD Executive Director. 

Since its inception in 1994, RAD has funded nearly 150 regional assets through the one percent county sales tax paid by residents and visitors to Allegheny County. This tax has resulted in a major investment in the region and RAD-support assets, including libraries, parks, trails, sports and civic facilities, transit systems, arts organizations, and regional facilities like the zoo, conservatory, and aviary.

“With nearly $1.5 billion invested in Allegheny County since 1994, RAD sales tax dollars have sustained and improved our regional assets, which enhance our lives and communities in many ways,” says Donahoe.

While there are more than 35 locations offering free admission or programs, admission will not be free every day at every location. A schedule of all RADical Days offerings is available online. RADical Days alerts are also available via text message by texting RAD to 79797.

Tossing 75,000 water balloons for Team Tassy

One local organization's efforts to battle global poverty made a splash in Oakland's Schenley Plaza earlier this month, leaving a larger-than-life water balloon fight in its wake. 

Pittsburgh's Third Annual Great American Water Balloon Fight pitted more than 600 balloon-tossers against each other, divided among local celebrity team captains including Tall Cathy from 96.1 FM KISS, Sally Wiggin from WTAE-TV and Jonny Hartwell from 3WS radio station. More than 100 volunteers filled 75,000 water balloons for the event benefiting Team Tassy, which works to end global poverty.

Ian Rosenberger founded Team Tassy after traveling to Haiti to assist in relief efforts following the 2010 earthquake. While there, he befriended Tassy Fils-aime, a Haitian who needed surgery to remove a tumor from his face. Through fundraising, Rosenberger raised $100,000 to help pay for her surgery at Allegheny General Hospital. 

After Tassy’s surgery was funded, Rosenberger decided to continue his mission of helping Haitians and eliminating poverty and founded Team Tassy. The Great American Water Balloon Fight is now one of the organization’s most popular fundraisers.

"The Great American Water Balloon Fight was created because of two beliefs, the first being that giving should be a joy, and the second is that if we can get everyone involved with the fight to end global poverty, we can make it happen within our lifetime,” Rosenberger says.

Rosenberger said that Team Tassy's efforts expanded beyond Pittsburgh to Denver this year, adding that he hopes the organization will continue to expand their fight to end global poverty. 


Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry celebrates successful garden harvest

With the summer season coming to a close, Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry (SHCFP) is enjoying the peak harvests of its Squirrel Hill volunteer garden before it winds down for the fall. The garden was launched in the spring through a collaboration with Repair the World: Pittsburgh and has helped provide food pantry clients with fresh produce options in addition to traditional pantry staples.

“Part of SHCFP’s mission is to ensure our clients have access to fresh, nutritious healthy foods, and the new garden is a wonderful way of continuing and sustaining our efforts,” says Matthew Bolton, director of SHCFP. “Even though individuals in our community may be food-insecure and rely on our services for help, we make sure they don’t have to make nutritional sacrifices.”

The volunteer garden, located on Murray Avenue broke ground in early spring and throughout the summer the garden has been providing SHCFP with fresh produce to distribute to the more than 1,700 clients utilizing the pantry. Vegetables reaped from the garden include green beans, beats, tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables.

Everything from general garden operations to coordinating volunteers for ongoing garden care and harvests was done by SHCFP and Repair the World: Pittsburgh, a local non-profit dedicated to organizing one-time and ongoing service opportunities around the issues of education, food access, senior services and refugee resettlement.

Many low-income families struggle to have access to general food stuffs and its especially difficult for these families to access healthy foods that typically run a higher cost. This is why SCHFP has had the ongoing mission of providing healthy options to its clients like fruits and vegetables in addition to the traditional pantry staples of non-perishable food items.

While the garden was established by SCHFP and Repair the World: Pittsburgh, its ongoing successful harvesting is all thanks to dedicated volunteers who donate their time to maintain the garden, take care of the plants and harvest ripened vegetables.

"The Squirrel Hill volunteer garden truly showcases the tremendous spirt of volunteerism in Pittsburgh," Bolten says. "Our overall goal is to ensure food security for everyone and we can only fully do so with the support of our entire community."

For more information visit www.sqfoodpantry.org

Ready Freddy welcomes 2014 kindergarteners to Pittsburgh Public Schools

On Thursday, Aug. 28, Ready Freddy, a program devised by the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development, welcomed and encouraged incoming kindergarten students to Pittsburgh Public Schools for its sixth year.

The program launched in 2008 with a first-day-of-school event at one school. This year, Ready Freddy is at 14 Pittsburgh Public Schools and iterations of the program have been adopted in 20 different states. Expansion of the program in Pittsburgh has been thanks to the help of United Way, Carnegie Library, Reading is Fundamental, A+ Schools and the Housing Authority among others.

 “Often times Universities are criticized for being overly theoretical without understanding the practicalities of what it takes to apply the work directly in the community,” says says Ken Smyth-Leistico, assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development. “This office takes great pride in understanding the challenges of what occurs by those doing direct practice and utilizing theory and best practices to fill those gaps. Ready Freddy was developed and led by staff here and it grew organically by blending the interest area of local foundations, the expertise of the Office of Child Development staff, need assessments of local schools and other avenues for input.”

Ready Freddy is designed to increase awareness about the importance of kindergarten and to help ease the transition from the home to the classroom.

“Nearly half of all children struggle with the transition to kindergarten, according to national studies,” says Smythe-Leistico.
“Late arrivals and poor initial attendance are considered significant predictors for school failure. The Ready Freddy Program targets those children most likely to be absent on the first day.”

Months before students arrive for their first day of class and Ready Freddy’s first-day-of-school festivities, the Ready Freddy team canvasses city neighborhoods, enrolls children in kindergarten, takes parents on virtual tours of the schools, and shares activity calendars as well as an interactive Web book with families.

“There are a host of reasons why children might be nervous for the first day so to ensure we have an impact with as many children as possible, several types of activities are offered during the months leading up to the first day, the first day itself, and even the months that come after,” says Smyth-Leistico. “The first day itself has become a cause for celebration.”

To ease nerves, school entrances are transformed into festive, celebratory spaces. Community members students may know are invited to stand next to teachers the students are meeting for the first time and hand the kids off. After the first day of school, Ready Freddy continues to work with families to keep the kids in the classroom.

“Naturally, the normal challenges of everyday life will lead to children beginning to miss school,” Smyth-Leistico says. “The Ready Freddy Program promotes continued dialogue with families to help problem solve difficult circumstances to ensure missing school is not the result.”

Learn more about Ready Freddy at www.readyfreddy.org
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