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Health : Civic Impact

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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
 

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
 

Just Harvest wins national farmers market poster contest

Just Harvest won first place in the Farmers Market Coalition’s first-ever nationwide farmers market poster contest, beating out more than 160 entries for a prize of $1,000.

Just Harvest will use the funds to support their mission of educating, empowering and mobilizing people to eliminate hunger, poverty and economic injustice in our communities by influencing public policy, engaging in advocacy, and connecting people to public benefits.

"We are also enormously gratified by the national recognition of our efforts—that we are seen as the best in the country in creatively promoting this type of program,” says Emily Schmidlapp, Just Harvest's Fresh Access coordinator.

Just Harvest’s poster for Fresh Access won in the Best EBT and/or Incentive Program poster category of the contest. The designer of the poster was Doug Dean, Art Director of Wall-to-Wall.

Fresh Access enables the use of food stamp/electronic benefits transfer (EBT), credit and debit cards with participating vendors at these markets. At the Just Harvest tent, shoppers swipe their card and receive tokens, which can be used as cash to purchase food.

Use of the program has grown rapidly. Last market season, total sales topped $42,000 that benefited local farmers and communities. As of June 30 this year, sales have quadrupled since the same time last year.

Since its inception, the Fresh Access Program has grown from being in two Citiparks farmers markets in 2013 to seven markets in 2014, as well as the Swissvale Farmers Market and the Market Square Farmers Market operated by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Fresh Access will also be available at the Bloomfield Farmers Market and Lawrenceville Farmers Market before the close of summer.

"We are thrilled by the success of this program, but not surprised," Schmidlapp says. "The nearly one in four Pittsburghers who live in poverty are literally hungry for fresh food options. Half of all Pittsburgh residents live in neighborhoods that lack access to nutritious food. This program helps address that problem while putting money in the pockets of local farmers and contributing to healthy, vibrant communities. It's a win-win-win."

Anyone interested in posting one of the award-winning posters to help promote Fresh Access can contact Katie Mahoney at Just Harvest via katiem@justharvest.org.

Vintage school bus turned fermentation lab rolls into town

Fermentation on Wheels will be rolling into Pittsburgh this month with a variety of free workshops to bridge communities and restore a genuine fascination and interest in local, traditionally preserved foods.

Fermentation on Wheels is a creative education and food-preservation project founded in Oregon by culinary artist Tara Whitsitt who converted a 1986 International Harvester school bus into a fermentation lab and workshop space in the summer of 2013. In October that year, she hit the road and has since made more than 100 stops in 23 states and traveled more than 7,000 miles in her bus.

While in Pittsburgh, Whitsitt will be incorporating regional produce that she acquires from local farms and farmer’s markets into her fermentation workshops being held Aug.15 through Aug. 23.

“Each workshop presents something new and surprising as farms are growing different vegetable varieties,” says Whitsitt. “The produce available at the farm or farmer’s market I visit will determine what I bring to each workshop. Given that it’s summer, I might ferment cucumbers or zucchini, but honestly it’s going to be what inspires or excites me in the moment.”

Whitsitt’s first event will be at Chatham University where she’ll hold a community potluck and culture share. on Aug. 15 from 4PM to 7PM

For the culture share, attendees are encouraged to bring starter cultures of their own for exchange and discussion as well as bring an empty jar to take a culture home. Cultures are a key component to the fermentation process and are used to help inhibit the growth of undesirable microorganisms and promote the growth of desired bacteria.

The potluck at Chatham will feature a fermented-food theme and a 30- to 45-minute talk about fermentation.

“The potluck is open to all who are interested in fermentation and my project,” she says. “It’s meant to bridge the community of fermenters—beginners and experts alike—so that they can teach and learn from one another. It’s an exercise in community building and attendees are encouraged to bring all types of foods, fermented or non-fermented. “

An additional vegetable fermentation workshop for adults is in the works at Wigle Whiskey on Aug. 23.

Whitsitt will also be hosting educational workshops for children and youth while she's in town. She’ll be participating in Children Museum of Pittsburgh’s “Pickle Day” on Aug. 16 from 11AM to 3PM and will also hold a fermentation workshop for ages 10 and older at the museum on Aug. 20 from 5PM to 6:30PM.

“It’s important to educate our youth about food since they will be managing and participating in our future food system,” she says. “This system plays a huge role in our environmental impact, which will ultimately decide how long we can happily live here on Earth. It’s so important that we learn to consume food and other resources more thoughtfully.”

With all of her workshops, Whitsitt hopes participants walk away with a better understanding of our food system and the confidence to begin fermenting in their own home kitchens.

“I hope participants leave with a sense of being able to comfortably and fearlessly ferment in their own kitchens and that they’ll think twice about the foods they consume,” she says. “I also want participants to gain a new perspective on bacteria and its importance to our eco-system and how we tie into the greater world of living things. My project is a way to display a sustainable and simple lifestyle that encourages people to use energy more efficiently and intentionally.”

For more information and the full workshop schedule visit www.fermentationonwheels.com

PGH Funded: Komen Pittsburgh awards $1 million in grants

Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh has awarded $1 million in community grants to local organizations looking to fund breast health education, screening and treatment initiatives throughout western and central Pennsylvania.

Since Komen Pittsburgh’s inception in 1993, the organization has awarded more than $18.5 million to local organizations through its grant program. Komen Pittsburgh awards large grants once a year and small grants on a monthly basis that help serve emerging needs.

The majority of the funds raised for the grant program are acquired through Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.

“The largest source of our funding comes from a long-time Pittsburgh tradition–our annual Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure that takes place every Mother’s Day in Schenley Park,” says Kathy Purcell, chief executive officer of Komen Pittsburgh. “Funds are raised for Race through a variety of sources including individual pledges and corporate sponsorship. It’s this community’s tremendous support of our Race that enables us to provide services throughout our region.”

Purcell adds that 75 percent of all the money donated to Komen Pittsburgh remains in the region to serve the local community.

“Komen Pittsburgh is a local organization,” she says. “The contributions we receive come from people who live and work in our community. It’s our responsibility to put those funds to work in a manner that best meets the community needs. We service 34 counties in western and central Pennsylvania, and we work diligently to have the broadest reach possible in those counties.”

Of the $1 million recently awarded, more than half of it has been awarded to Adagio Health for its Mammogram Voucher Program.

“Our greatest tool in the fight against breast cancer is early detection, and Komen Pittsburgh’s Mammogram Voucher Program (MVP) reduces barriers for uninsured women and men so that they can access potentially life-saving breast screenings,” Purcell says.“The MVP is also the only program in Pennsylvania that includes men and has no age limitations.”

The entire list of grant awardees is featured below.

Adagio Health
Mammogram Voucher Program, $568,063.00

Cornerstone Care, Inc.
Dancing with a Pink Ribbon Breast Health Outreach, $72,484.00

YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh
ENCOREplus – Bilingual Breast Health Program, $61,190.00

J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital Foundation
Breast Health Coordinator, $57,000.00

Magee Womencare International
Wisewomen Ministries: Trained Peers Providing Culturally Appropriate Breast Health Education and Support, $44,050.00

Allegheny General Hospital
Breast Imaging Fellowship, $30,000.00

Allegheny General Hospital
Interdisciplinary Breast Surgical Fellowship, $30,000.00

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
Breast Imaging Fellowship, $30,000.00

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
Interdisciplinary Breast Surgical Fellowship, $30,000.00

Indiana Regional Medical Center
Small Choices – Big Change, $28,046.00

UPMC Hamot
Telemedicine Cancer Risk Genetic Counseling in Erie, Altoona, and Johnstown UPMC Facilities, $25,792.00

Allied Coordinated Transportation Services
Transportation Program for Breast Health Care, $23,375.00

Organizations interested in being a recipient of a Komen Pittsburgh grant must apply during the organization’s Request for Applications period that is issued mid-summer of each year with a submission deadline of December. An independent, confidential panel then reviews the applications and evaluates them on how well they address the needs identified in the Komen Pittsburgh Community Profile. Any non-profit within the 34-county service area that provides breast services is eligible to submit an application.

For more information visit www.komenpittsburgh.org.

Summer Food Service Program helps prevent child hunger once school ends

More than 40,000 children in Allegheny County public schools get free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, leaving a large swath of county children vulnerable to hunger once the school year ends.

To help prevent children from suffering from hunger during the summer months, Allegheny County Department of Human Services is sponsoring more than 80 sites throughout the county to participate in the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded program that provides free breakfast and lunch to children under 18 years of age as well as eligible individuals with disabilities. The sites opened for the summer on June 9 and will provide free meals through Aug.15, 2014.

“Summer Food is food that’s in when school is out. It ensures a nutritious meal can be served when school cafeterias are closed for the summer,” says Sally Petrilli, service administrator for DHS Office of Community Services.

Petrilli adds that while many low-income families also receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), these benefits “can only be stretched so far for some families and Summer Food allows those families in need to focus on dinner and weekend meals, easing the burden a bit.”

Last year, 137,000 meals were served through Summer Food. To help encourage higher participation, Petrilli says the DHS-sponsored sites also offer recreational activities. This effort is especially important in light of a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center that shows only 18.7 percent of students who received free lunches in 2013 also participated in free summer meal programs.  

“Recreation options bring more children to participate and receive a meal,” she says. “This year Allegheny County Parks will host basketball mini camps at some of the sites. Allegheny County Department of Human Services will also provide arts and crafts materials and sports equipment like soccer balls.”

More information about the DHS-sponsored Summer Food Service Program sites can be found at www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/food.aspx

PGH Funded: McAuley Ministries award $222,500 in grants

McAuley Ministries, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s grant-making foundation, has awarded seven grants totaling $222,500 to seven local nonprofit organizations.

These grants are awarded to help support health and wellness, community development, capacity building and collaborative funding initiatives in the Hill District, Uptown and West Oakland, three Pittsburgh communities historically served by the Sisters of Mercy. The organizations awarded grants include ACH Clear Pathways, Consumer Health Coalition, Grow Pittsburgh, Hill District Consensus Group, Pittsburgh Foundation for the Jail Collaborative, YouthPlaces and YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

The McAuley Ministries was established in 2008 following the sale of Mercy Hospital to UPMC. The proceeds from the sale were used to establish the McAuley Ministires, a grant-making foundation named in honor of Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy. The foundation has awarded 318 grants totaling more than $11.76 million since its inception.

“These are challenging times for nonprofit organizations with fewer public—local, state, and federal—dollars available and increased competition for philanthropic support,” says Michele Rone Cooper, executive director of McAuley Ministries. “Our hope is that every grant McAuley Ministries awards will help to sustain initiatives that are making a difference to residents and the community and support new initiatives that have the potential to improve the quality of life in the community.”

In order to be considered for a grant, organizations must apply as well as fit a variety of criteria, including non-profit status, location in Hill District, Uptown or West Oakland, and having projects that are consistent with the foundation’s grant-making priorities of addressing health and wellness, community development, capacity building and collaborative funding initiatives. The McAuley Ministries Board of Directors, comprised mostly of Sisters of Mercy, look for a specific plan to determine the impact of each proposed project and also consider factors like the applicant’s track record and capacity to achieve outcomes.

“Through McAuley Ministries, the Sisters are continuing their outreach, albeit in a different way,” says Rone Cooper. “From the very beginning, the Sisters determined that their vision for the organization was that of a good neighbor, where our funding contributes to neighborhoods that are safe, vibrant and celebrated, and where residents are healthy and enabled to reach their full potential.”

The grant amounts and funded projects for each organization are detailed below.

ACH Clear Pathways
$7,500 for strategic planning and board development. ACH was founded in 2010 to provide urban children with visual and performing arts programming during out-of-school hours.

Consumer Health Coalition
$20,000 to educate and assist community-based organizations and consumers on the benefits provided through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the options available for enrollment.

Grow Pittsburgh
$50,000 to establish an Edible Schoolyard program at Pittsburgh Miller African-Centered Academy and bring garden-based education to elementary school students. Grow Pittsburgh’s City Growers program will be established at two sites: the Centre Avenue YMCA through its residential men’s program and at the abandoned Martin Luther King baseball field between Uptown and the Hill District. Both initiatives will reinforce the benefits of gardening and the nutritional benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Hill District Consensus Group
$5,000 to address the “play deficit” among children. Community members will construct a custom KaBOOM! playground, designed by Hill District children. The Consensus Group will recruit a team of parents, neighbors, and community members to plan the playground and an additional 100 community members to participate in the construction.

Pittsburgh Foundation for the Jail Collaborative
$50,000 over two years. The Jail Collaborative is a public/private partnership designed to give incarcerated men and women a second chance, support successful re-entry to the community and, by doing so, keep families together and strengthen neighborhoods.

YouthPlaces
$40,000 to support a violence prevention initiative that will employ 75-80 teens and young adults during the summer.

YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh
$50,000 over two years to provide access to the Thelma Lovette YMCA. Financial assistance will be offered to 85 to 100 low-income Hill District families. Families must contribute a nominal portion of the membership fee and access the facility a minimum of eight visits per month to qualify for the subsidy.

For more information about the McAuley Ministries grant-making foundation visit www.mcauleyministries.org.

Source: Michele Rone Cooper, McAuley Ministries

Awesome Pittsburgh awards Farm Truck Foods $1,000 grant

Awesome Pittsburgh, an organization that awards monthly, $1,000 grants to people or groups with brilliant ideas, has announced its April grantee, Farm Truck Foods, a food truck solution for Pittsburgh’s food desert dilemma.

The USDA defines a food desert as an urban-neighborhood and/or rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable foods. There are seven identified food deserts in the greater Pittsburgh area including Clairton, Millvale, McKees Rocks, Stowe, East End, North Side and Hilltop.

Michelle Lagree, Meredith Neel and Landon DePaulo are the founders of Farm Truck Foods and are bringing their combined experiences in health to launch a food truck program that will travel to these identified desert communities and provide education and easier access to fresh, healthy foods.

“It is an honor to be able to say our business idea is a Pittsburgh Awesome Award winner,” says Lagree. “Our team knows Farm Truck Foods is something that is going to help boost Pittsburgh’s economy and health, and to have further assurance and help from a great organization like Awesome Pittsburgh makes it that much more exciting to get started.”

With the assistance of the Awesome Pittsburgh grant, Lagree says they will be able to make modifications to their truck to make it better suited for the Farm Truck Foods mission. The plan is to have a fully operational truck by this June.

“The money will be utilized for retrofitting our truck,” says Lagree. “This is a costly expense due to needing cooler space added along with storage for our produce and dried products.”

Farm Truck Foods will deliver fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, eggs and canned goods to low-income community members at affordable prices, as well as provide educational resources such as recipes, demonstrations and samples to introduce people to new foods.

“Our model is also different than others because we are not just selling these products to the community members and leaving. We are working hand in hand with the community to provide an educational resource,” says Lagree. “We believe that our food trucks will be one of the many solutions for alleviating the lack of options within food deserts.”

In order to serve each community as effectively as possible, Lagree says Farm Truck Foods will partner with community leadership, stakeholders and members.

“The plan will be to work together with the communities to determine how Farm Truck Foods can most effectively assist the residents,” says Lagree. “The communities will help determine our stop schedules, our stop locations and types of produce we sell.”

INSPIREPGH: Art students inspired by kids with sickle cell disease

Derrick Davis and his fellow members of INSPIREPGH – a group formed by Art Institute of Pittsburgh students to give back to the community – have been meeting with kids who have sickle cell disease on many Saturdays since December at the Children’s Institute. 
 
The art student group had originally connected with the Children's Sickle Cell Foundation, Inc. through their school’s graphic design curriculum, which gives advanced students the chance to help local community organizations with free design services.
 
But the relationship has deepened. "We first met the kids around Christmas,” recalls Davis, president of INSPIREPGH.  “We helped them pick out Christmas gifts. I had no idea there were so many children with this disease – and how passionate they were about art. We wanted to show them they could do anything they wanted to, that they can't be held back."
 
Explains Tamara Pavlock, academic chair of graphic design, web and interactive media at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh: “They felt it would help the children with their pain to do these art projects.The strength of these children is amazing."
 
Now INSPIREPGH is holding ARTICULATE ART, an auction fundraiser at Sonoma Grille downtown on March 20, emceed by Franco Dok Harris.
 
Participants will have the opportunity to bid on original works by local artists and photographers Duane Rieder, Scott Smathers, Mark Bender, Terese Jungle, Mick Opalko, Elizabeth Castonquay and Karl Huber. Rieder and Smathers are Art Institute alumni, while the others are school faculty members. Pavlock, Davis and his fellow INSPIREPGH officers are also preparing artwork inspired by the kids whom they’ve met through the foundation. 
 
"We have such a great relationship with them,” concludes Pavlock about the foundation. She expects her students to continue this relationship – and their time with the kids – in the future.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Derrick Davis and Tamara Pavlock, Art Institute of Pittsburgh

'Housing options' offers creative housing solutions for those with disabilities

Among people with disabilities such as autism in Pennsylvania, there's a 17,000-person waiting list seeking community housing funds, says Linda Marino, resource coordinator at Jewish Family & Children’s Service (www.jfcspgh.org) (JF&CS).
 
That’s why JF&CS and Jewish Residential Services, which focuses its support work on families of individuals with special needs, will present “Housing options for individuals with disabilities” on March 4 at Rodef Shalom in Oakland.
 
Local disability housing advocates appearing to speak and answer questions include Deborah Friedman, executive director of Jewish Residential Services, who will talk about current residential programs and plans for housing in Squirrel Hill; Mary Hartley, a consultant for the United Way of Allegheny County’s 21andAble Initiative, discussing innovative housing models for adults with disabilities; Elliot Frank, president of Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh, who will speak on The Heidelberg Apartment project for autism spectrum adults and typical adults living together; Nancy Murray, head of the ARC of Greater Pittsburgh and ACHIEVA, will talk on ACHIEVA’s “A Home of My Own” program that combines a family's private resources with government funding and natural supports to help people with disabilities to live safely in a home of their choice; and Robert Garber, an attorney, landlord, court-appointed co-guardian and family member of an individual with special needs, whose topic is privately arranging residential services for a family member with special needs.
 
The event, Marino says, “isn’t a step-by-step approach to getting housing. Some people are doing some very creative things to get housing for their loved ones,” and the event will highlight “how housing can be provided by thinking outside the box,” such as creating housing with other parents of adult children with disabilities, or directly with a social services agency.
 
She points to The Heidelberg Apartment project as a great example of community housing possibilities. “We want them all to live in the community together – that’s what inclusion is all about,” she says of adults with disabilities, although there are various degrees of independence. “A lot of people can live in the community with support. Everybody’s different, so everybodys needs are at a different level. The preference is for folks to live in a community. My son’s group home is in a community and he’s a part of the community.”
 
The presentation is free and open to the community and includes a light kosher meal at 6 p.m. Registration is required. For more information or to register, contact Marino at 412-422-7200 or email here.
 
 “I think this is a good start for a lot of people looking for adults to live in their community and not in their [family] houses,” she says.
 
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Linda Marino, Jewish Family & Children’s Service

Could your nonprofit benefit from 46 weeks of help?

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

Lending Hearts keeps kids with cancer 'looking ahead'

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

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

Groundbreaking videogame from Schell and Yale teaches teens risks of HIV

Schell Games, teaming with Yale University, has created a game that aims to teach at-risk teens about smart decision-making and wise behavior to reduce their chances of getting AIDS. The game, PlayForward: Elm City Stories, is now being tested by the Yale team on several hundred teens to see just how effective it can be, before it will likely be rolled out to schools, community groups and the public.
 
"If you get them to make better risk choices, across the board," says Sabrina Culyba, Schell senior game designer, about the game's intended players, ages 11-14, "you can influence their exposure to HIV."
 
The touch-enabled iPad game lets players create an aspirational avatar – a character they'd like to be – and build events into their young lives, such as a house, a job or travel opportunities. The avatars go through life experiences with their peers in grades seven through 12 and face branching choices that lead to different consequences.
 
The games within PlayForward include People Sense (in which players figure out how risky are different types of relationships); Refusal Power (about how people try to manipulate others into doing things, and the ability to say no to different kinds of peer pressure); Priority Sense (about the ability to make choices, including the levels of relationships with families and peers and the consequences of cumulative choices); and Know Power (which places players in a social conversation, during which peers express opinions while players learn how to defend their own stances).
 
Each player may end up picking an avatar of his or her own age and gender, but the goal of the game is to show stories of risk among a greater variety of people, both girls and boys. Each mini-game thus has 10 challenges for 10 types of character within the player's peer group.
 
The game, which won a 2013 DATA Award from the Pittsburgh Technology Council, was designed to be played over several weeks. "Completing those challenges and games allows you to find better paths and choices for your character," says Culyba. An epilogue shows what happens to each avatar in his or her twenties, using the player's aspirations and choices to show a welcome outcome of positive decisions or the health and income deficits of bad choices.
 
Yale's play2prevent team, led by Project Director Kimberly Hieftje, conceived the idea and got funding from the National Institutes of Health. They started a randomized, controlled trial of the game's effectiveness in February and have 115 kids enrolled, aiming for 330. They'll be measuring players' attitudes about and behavior toward drug and alcohol use as well as sex, before, during and as long as two years after the game.
 
Following the study, says Hieftje, they will talk to community members, parents and school directors "to see how can we get this game out there, who should be playing it and who can benefit?"
 
Was it tough to design a game that tries to change behavior and has a disease as its subject matter?
 
"Of course," Culyba says. "You have to walk the line. You're trying to talk about serious things. You have to be willing to talk about behavior in a very frank way.
 
"This game really wants to change behavior," she adds. "This is not really well understood in the game industry…. In real life, kids face emotional pressures that are different than when they are playing a game. That's a really tough challenge."
 
Writer: Marty Levine   
Sources: Sabrina Culyba, Schell Games; Kimberly Hieftje, Yale

Ever go sideways Hula Hooping? That's Fun Day at Clayton

Before kids were allowed to shake and shimmy in public using Hula Hoops, there was hoop rolling – and badminton, croquet, sack races and other activities for the overly dressed kids of Victorian times.
 
Now, in the name of 21st-century fitness, kids can take part in these games from the early 1900s and more at Let's Move Family Fun Day at the Frick on Sept. 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Let's Move is First Lady Michelle Obama's program focused on healthy eating and active lives for kids, but the Frick Art and Historical Center has managed to adapt it to include activities in and around Clayton, Henry Clay Frick's house.
 
Spokesperson Greg Langel anticipates that more than 700 people will attend this year. "We hope to provide our visitors the opportunity to use the Frick site in a new way," says Langel. "We have these grounds – five beautiful acres – and this day provides guests the chance to learn about historic, turn of the century Victorian games the Frick children participated in, and to be active on the site."
 
Other lawn games, of a more modern nature, include challenge hopscotch, bean-bag toss and a wacky obstacle course. Kids can also follow an activity guide on the site produced for a previous Let's Move event.
 
Langel hopes visitors will also tour Clayton. "A good portion of the displays and rooms in Clayton are children's rooms," he notes, "and much of what we talk about are the lives of the children." The day will also feature Yoga and a Story, for kids and their families, which combines a reading of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” with simple yoga moves, such as tree, boat and rock poses.
 
A free Victorian photo booth will give kids mustaches, hats and other props to use. And if they want to see nearly real Victorian photos, they can venture into the gallery for Clayton Days Revisited: A Project by Vik Muniz. Back in 1999, Muniz used Victorian-era camera equipment to take new photos at Clayton from children's point of view. His 65 prints were originally exhibited in 2000, but they're being redisplayed now with a selection of works by Muniz from the subsequent 13 years.
 
The event is sponsored by UPMC Health Plan.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Greg Langel, Frick Art and Historical Center
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