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Urban Chicken Coop Tour shows the fun side of urban chicken farming

Chickens and urban living aren’t typically two terms that go hand-in-hand, but this year’s 4th annual Chicks-in-the-Hood Pittsburgh Urban Chicken Coop Tour proves that you can have a taste of country living right in your own city backyard.

The tour, on Sun., June 8, is organized by Pittsburgh Pro-Poultry People and is a one-day, self-guided tour of 15 Pittsburgh residents’ chicken coops in the North Side and East End neighborhoods of the city.  Last year, the tour attracted more than 250 attendees. Tickets are $10 for adults and include a tour booklet, a map with directions to each participating coop on the tour and an official Chicks-in-the-Hood collectible pin. All proceeds will benefit the Animal Rescue League. Last year’s tour raised $2,540 to benefit Just Harvest.

“The tour is meant to promote the joys of backyard chickens,” says Jody Noble-Choder, founder and organizer of the tour. “We are passionate about chickens for many reasons—they bring us closer to the food chain and the circle of life, they provide fresh eggs, create fertilizer for the garden, are voracious insect eaters, and are great pets. They’re funny, affectionate and educational.”

Noble-Choder lives in the old US Army Corps of Engineers Lockmaster’s house at the Highland Park Dam on the Allegheny River. She’s been a chicken farmer for the past five years and currently has 11 chickens with creative names like Buffy the Wormslayer, Attila the Hen, Vera Wing, Hillary Rodham Chicken, and Margaret Hatcher to name a few.  Her chickens free range on the banks of the Allegheny River.

“I was a Martha Stewart devotee,” says Noble-Choder. “Martha had Easter Egger chickens that laid blue green eggs and I wanted some. When my husband and I moved to our home, we created a variety of gardens including an organic potager garden. We’ve also incorporated various sustainable practices into our gardens including rain barrels, composting, and solar panels. Chickens in the garden were a natural fit.”

Noble-Choder says chickens need approximately 2 square feet of coop space and 3 square feet of outdoor space per chicken and that an average size city lot can easily accommodate three to five chickens. They are also relatively easy to care for.

“Chickens require less time for care than my dogs,” she says. “You don't have to walk your chicken every day.  Each morning, I let my chickens out of their coop and into their run. I give them feed and make sure they have water. In the evening, the chickens go into their coop themselves and I lock the coop each night to ensure that they do not fall prey to night time predators such as raccoons. I also gather the eggs each evening. Once a week I clean the coop. A fun summer evening for us is sitting in a lawn chair with a glass of wine and watching the chicken antics.”

Tour attendees will get the chance to meet Noble-Choder’s chickens on the tour as well as learn the ins and outs of owning your own chickens.

“Tour attendees enjoy meeting—many for the first time—chickens and learning how to care for them and the benefits of having backyard chickens,” says Noble-Choder. “Many times, the wife will be dragging her reluctant husband along the tour because she wants chickens and he is resistant. Usually by the end of the tour he is convinced and ready to build a coop.”

Currently, the City of Pittsburgh regulates chickens under the zoning code, requiring a zoning variance for a chicken coop, however, the Pittsburgh Pro-Poultry People, Burgh’s Bees and Grow Pittsburgh have been working with City Planning on more chicken/bee friendly regulations.

“The consensus seems to be that chickens are an animal control rather than zoning issue,” says Noble-Choder. “The hope is to change the current regulations from zoning to animal control.”

Noble-Choder also notes that each municipality has different requirements concerning chickens and to check with your municipal zoning officer to understand what your municipality’s specific requirements are if you’re interested in starting your own backyard chicken farm.

Tickets can be purchased the day of the tour at Commonplace Voluto www.commonplacecoffee.com at 5467 Penn Avenue in Friendship/Garfield; Tazza D’Oro  www.tazzadoro.com at 1125 North Highland Avenue in Highland Park; Animal Nature  www.animalnature.net at 7610 Forbes Avenue in Regent Square; Thompson 0.08 Acres at 1240 Resaca Place, Pittsburgh  15212; and Choderwood at 7665 Lock Way West, Pittsburgh 15206, located at the Highland Park Dam at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Allegheny River Boulevard. 

Family moves into Habitat for Humanity home after years in refugee camp

Originally from Burundi, new homeowners Beuline Ndikumana and Issa Ntamagendro were displaced by civil war in 1972 and forced into a refugee camp where their five children were born. After moving to America in 2008, they partnered with Habitat for Humanity to escape living in an overcrowded, public housing project. Now, after investing more than 350 hours of "sweat equity" work on their home as a down payment, the family will finally have a place to call their own.

The family received the keys to their home in a dedication ceremony held on Sat., May 17 where they signed papers for an interest free mortgage which will include escrow for homeowner’s insurance, municipal, county and school taxes. Their monthly payments will be less than $600. 

In 2011, Habitat acquired the property from a real estate agent who was aware of the organization’s search for a home large enough to fit the family.  

“A Howard Hanna realtor familiar with our program knew we were looking for an affordable home that would house 6 persons and that we love putting families into Sharpsburg and the Fox Chapel School District,” says Maggie Withrow, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Greater Pittsburgh. “The realtor had a house for sale in Sharpsburg that we evaluated and determined that a $50,000 purchase price to Habitat would ultimately be affordable to the family once we did a complete rehab.”

As part of their agreement with Habitat Pittsburgh to receive the house, Ndikumana and Ntamagendro helped work on repairs to the home. The organization allows homeowners to invest a minimum of 350 hours of sweat equity in place of a traditional down payment. This equity can be earned by working on their own home, the homes of others or by working in the ReStore retail outlet in Edgewood.

“Most low-income families do not have, and can likely never save, the cash down payment for a house,” says Withrow. “For traditional down payments, banks could require 10-25% of the cost of the house. For example, for a $90,000 house, a family would have to save a minimum of $9,000 which is totally out of reach.”

Although Ndikumana and Ntamagendro committed many hours to repairing their home, they certainly weren’t alone in the effort. More than 800 volunteers helped with repairs and updates that included converting an upstairs apartment kitchen into a bedroom, renovating all bathrooms, replacing windows, installing a new kitchen, new drywall, new molding, and reconfiguring walls. The house also needed a new furnace and new electrical work.

“It’s the largest house Habitat Pittsburgh has remodeled and it took us just over two years to complete,” says Withrow.

The project was made possible through the aid of several organizations. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh provided volunteers from more than 15 congregations. Funds from the Fox Chapel Area School District’s annual telethon were also used to complete much needed weatherization work on the 124-year-old home. Additional supporters include Dollar Bank, Excela Health, General Motors, KDA Company, the Pittsburgh Association of Petroleum Geologists (PAPG), and Travelers Insurance, who helped rehabilitate this house through their financial sponsorship and volunteer labor. Volunteer groups from the Knights of Columbus, Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, Nexus Real Estate, NAIOP, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and local universities also worked closely alongside the family in rehabilitating the home.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity Greater Pittsburgh visit www.pittsburghhabitat.org.

Source: Maggie Withrow, Habitat for Humanity Greater Pittsburgh
Photos from Habitat for Humanity Greater Pittsburgh and Ken Eber

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

Tennis program for autistic youth launches in Pittsburgh

A non-profit that makes tennis available to children with autism is launching in Pittsburgh this month at Shady Side Academy with its inaugural workshop being held on Sat., May 24.

The non-profit, ACEing Autism, is a national organization that uses its nationwide volunteer network to reach more than 500 children every week through its tennis programs. The program uses the sport of tennis as a means to enhance health and fitness, hand-eye coordination and motor development, as well as improve social skills for children with autism.

“Organized sports can provide important behavioral therapies for children with autism,” says Sara Longo, the program director for ACEing Autism in Pittsburgh. “There is a huge need for organized sports programs in the autistic community.”

As the program director, Longo will run the nine-week workshop at Shady Side Academy on Saturdays starting May 24. The first hour of each workshop is dedicated to children under 10 years old. The second hour is for children ages 11 to 20. No experience is required and all equipment is provided to the children participating. The cost for the workshop is $135 and special arrangements can be made for low income families looking to participate in the program.

Longo will run the program as a volunteer. She works fulltime as a Therapeutic Staff Support at the Watson Institute and has years of experience volunteering at local autism summer camps and outreach centers. She’s also an experienced tennis player.  

“I had the idea in my head for awhile that I wanted to open a tennis camp for children with autism,” says Longo. “When I was ready to act on it, I searched to see what was currently offered and found ACEing Autism. I immediately fell in love with their mission and reached out to the founder to see if I could open a branch in Pittsburgh.”

Once she gets her footing at Shady Side Academy, Longo hopes to expand the reach of the program.

“I am happy to make it my personal mission to grow ACEing Autism’s presence in Pittsburgh,” she says. “I hope to be able to expand to different schools in the future.”

For more information about ACEing Autism, visit http://www.aceingautism.com/.

PETA names Pittsburgher 'Sexiest Vegan Next Door'

Ashley Frohnert beat hundreds of contestants from around the country to win the title of “Sexiest Vegan Next Door.” The online competition was run by animal rights organization PETA and with the help of her newfound title, she hopes to become a more prominent and recognized voice for animal rights in western Pennsylvania.

 “I was surprised, excited and shocked when PETA told me I won,” says Frohnert. “This contest has definitely been on a lot of my friends', family, co-workers' and acquaintances' radar and I couldn't wait to let everyone know I had won.”

Frohnert, who currently lives in Garfield, became a vegetarian in 2008 when she learned of the harsh treatment of animals in routine factory farming. Shortly after, she decided to go vegan.

“I went fully vegan after learning how the egg industry violently disposes of male chicks as well as learning of the awful lives female dairy cows live and the fate of their babies,” says Frohnert.

She hopes her newfound fame as PETA’s “Sexiest Vegan Next Door” will aid in her pursuit of helping animals.
“I have been getting many questions and inquiries about my vegan lifestyle during my quest for the Sexiest Vegan title,” Frohnert says. “I feel that winning has made even more people interested in learning more about veganism.”

Frohnert currently volunteers with local animal shelters and recently raised $1,200 for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society by completing a half-marathon. Her latest project is working with the Mayor Bill Peduto to launch a “Meatless Monday” program in Pittsburgh Public Schools cafeterias. She’s also organizing the Pittsburgh Walk for Farm Animals, is involved with the Foie Gras Free Pittsburgh campaign organized by Voices for Animals, and wants to make Pittsburgh a no-kill city for animal shelters.

“My hope is that bringing attention to these topics will at least get them on the city's radar for now,” she says. “Things may not change overnight, but over the next couple years we may see valuable changes helping animals.”

Homewood youth program, ARThouse, relocates to permanent home

ARThouse, an arts education program for children in Homewood, started when children began joining artist and sculptor Vanessa German on her front porch as she created art. The casual gathering of children on her porch quickly grew into a program requiring more space than her porch could offer. After utilizing a temporary space, ARThouse will now be establishing permanent roots in the community with a new space solely dedicated to the program.  

“The ARThouse started out as a porch, a porch where I worked because the ceiling in the basement was too low, a porch where kids came to sit with me and make art,” says German. “The kids in my neighborhood showed me what my front porch was for, the kids who recognized the creative power of art. They demanded access to the space and materials the way that only children can, making a spectacle of their love and joy.”

German and the children would use anything and everything as canvases for their art—slate from rooftops of demolished houses, scrap wood, bricks, cardboard, shoeboxes and anything else they could find. In time, her porch became too crowded with children joining her to create art. She was offered an empty home down the street as a temporary space to work with the kids and has been there for the past two years.

“For the last two years kids have been coming after school and on the weekends to paint, for a snack, or a hug, or a kind word,” says German. “They stop by to see their work on display. The house is their gallery and is filled to the brim with art. People stop on the street to stare and say it makes them feel good to see something so beautiful in the neighborhood and that all the kids have a safe place to go.”

With her time expired at the temporary space, German is now preparing to relocate the program to a new home where it can become a more permanent fixture in the community.

The new space is more than twice the size of the temporary space German utilized for ARThouse. It’s a two family home with nearly 1,000 square feet of space on the first floor. It includes a kitchen, bathroom, and three large open spaces that will provide plenty of creative space for children.

“Now we have the opportunity to have a space that is not only ours, but that would belong to the community,” says German. “There will always be space for everyone at the new house. It is on the same block as the temporary house and it has an attached vacant lot. Imagine in the spring and summer there being art making outside in a safe, fenced in space. All of this good can happen in a neighborhood that most people don't hear about unless something violent and tragic has occurred.”

Before German can begin using the space to its full potential, some repairs and updates need to be made. The home needs plumbing, electric, porch and roof repairs, as well as new flooring, new windows, a fence and landscape/gardening.

German is selling five of her sculptures and has set up an indiegogo campaign to help raise funds to help pay for the repairs and updates for the space.

“The house will need some work—a lot of elbow grease, but we will fix this place up with care and with love,” says German. “We will transform it into the ARThouse.”

To learn more about the ARThouse, visit http://lovefrontporch.com.

'Kinky Boots' actor returns to Pittsburgh to chair Art for Change fundraiser

Actor and Pittsburgh native Billy Porter is returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh on May 12 to serve as the honorary chair for the Persad Center’s 26th Art for Change event, an annual art auction fundraiser held to benefit the organization.

Porter is well recognized for his performance in the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” where he portrayed the character Lola, a drag queen that helps main character, Charlie, save his shoe factory. Porter won a Tony award for Best Musical Actor in 2013 for his performance.

“The show Billy won the Tony for, Kinky Boots, very much fits into the work that Persad Center is doing by changing people’s hearts and minds about how people perceive the LGBTQ community,” says Bob McGrogan, Persad Center’s Director of Development. “Kinky Boots is a tale of a drag performer who helps save a failing shoe factory and along the way also changes the way a blue collar community perceives her. The Art for Change auction is the celebration of this kind of work.”

Art for Change serves as Persad Center’s largest annual fundraiser that helps the organization support its mission of improving the well-being of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities through outreach, prevention, training and advocacy, and professional counseling.

This year’s fundraising goal is $250,000 and will benefit the non-profit’s Free Care Fund that helps provide free services to the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities.

“Our Board of Directors has pledged that we will not deny our quality services to any eligible client regardless of their ability to pay,” says McGrogan. “We also do so much work in advocacy and outreach that is not charged for obviously. This work is made possible by the support of our Free Care Fund.”

The event, held at the Wyndham Grand in downtown from 6PM to 11PM, will feature a verbal and silent auction featuring over 200 donated works of art, including paintings, photography, sculpture, furniture and jewelry. Among the many notable pieces of art included in the auction is a Herb Ritts black and white photograph featuring Pee Wee Herman dressed as a cowboy posing with a horse. The auction will also feature artwork from local artists including Michael Lotenero, Thad Mosley, Mark Perrot, Martha Rial, Lila Hirsch Brody, Patrick Ruane and Jack Weiss.

“The event was started in 1988 and has been supported by the art community both locally and nationally ever since,” says McGrogan. “Many of the artists that donate have been donating for many, many years and keep coming back. We are honored and privileged of our relationship with the arts community.”

The event will also feature food from 20 different local restaurants, entertainment, and a cash bar. Guests who purchase VIP tickets will have access to a VIP lounge where Billy Porter will be greeting and mingling with guests.

General admission and VIP tickets for Art for Change can be purchased at www.persadcenter.com

Writer: Liz Miles
Source: Bob McGrogan, Persad Center

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.”

Beverly's Birthdays founder honored for providng celebrations for homeless youth

In recognition of her work with homeless children in the Pittsburgh region, Megan Yunn has been honored with a Hometown Heroes Award.

Hometown Heroes is a program created by KDKA radio to recognize ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things in the community. Yunn is being recognized as a Hero for her work with the non-profit she founded called Beverly’s Birthdays.

“I was really excited about the award,” says Yunn. “Personally it is a huge achievement, but even more so it is such great exposure for Beverly’s Birthdays. We were able to share our story with so many people and as a result we will get to spread more birthday cheer to so many deserving children.”

Beverly’s Birthdays provides birthday celebrations for homeless youth. Yunn got the idea for the non-profit after having an eye-opening conversation with Beverly, a 12-year-old girl she was helping with her homework at an afterschool program. Beverly told Yunn that she had never had a birthday party or had a birthday cake.

A few months after Beverly’s admission, Yunn submitted her non-profit idea to the “BE BIG in Your Community” contest, a signature component of the Clifford The Big Red Dog BE BIG! campaign, where she was selected as the first place winner and received a starter grant to make Beverly’s Birthdays a reality.

Since then Yunn and her organization have provided birthday celebrations and presents to more than 400 homeless children.

“The first year we serviced three shelters and provided birthdays for 60 children,” says Yunn. “In 2013 we expanded to 13 shelters and serviced 355 homeless children. In 2014 we are slated to partner with 16 shelters and service over 577 homeless youth.”

To provide parties, Beverly’s Birthdays partners with other non-profit organizations to help bring birthday parties to the homeless children in their programs. Each birthday party includes pizza, birthday cake, birthday treat bags, and games. On each child’s actual birthday, Beverly’s Birthdays sends a birthday box filled with small presents.

“I am amazed every day how far the organization has come in just two years,” says Yunn. “It is awesome and it is all thanks to the Pittsburgh community who has embraced this idea with open arms and hearts.”
 
Writer: Liz Miles
Source: Megan Yunn, Beverly's Birthdays

Do you have your act together? Pittsburgh parents make creating a will easier and more affordable

This past January, Andrew Fisher--a physician living in Friendship--was driving on an icy Turnpike when he found himself part of a 12-car pileup. As he climbed out of his vehicle to check on the condition of others, he was struck from behind, killed instantly. He was 35 years old.
 
Unfortunately, the Fisher family had not drawn up a will or gotten other formal paperwork in order. They aren't alone in this--according to a 2013 poll from Rocket Lawyer, only 39 percent of Americans have a will, let alone power of attorney, a living will or life insurance.
 
As Andrew's wife, Elly, faces her grief over losing her husband, she also has to spend thousands of dollars and navigate probate court in order to settle her husband's estate. "We're facing the possibility that the state of Pennsylvania will make me segregate some of our savings for the children," she says.
 
Obstacles to Organization

A lot of us are uncomfortable about the idea of this sort of paperwork. It's morbid and unpleasant. Nobody wants to sit down and think about who would take care of our children in the event of a tragedy.
 
Even when people do realize the importance of getting their act together, many couples are deterred by the cost. Drawing up this paperwork with a lawyer costs about $800, depending on the complexity of a couple's estate.
 
"We had looked into doing it before, actually met with a lawyer and spent an hour and a half discussing all of this paperwork," says Nadine Champsi Carl (of Pittsburgh Mommy Blog). "When we found out that filing with that law firm would cost nearly $1,000, we realized we just couldn't afford to do it at that time."
 
There are DIY options for folks who are unable to afford a lawyer. Numerous books and websites offer templates for wills, living wills, and power of attorney. But young families are often tripped up by the logistics of the DIY option.
 
Many of these documents require three witnesses not named in the document in addition to a stamp from a licensed notary. Carl, like most parents with young children, felt overwhelmed by the idea of coordinating childcare in addition to a time when she, her husband and any potential witnesses they needed would all be available at the same time.

The Answer: Family-friendly signing events

This past January, the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library hosted a Get Your Act Together event.
 
Four mobile notaries set up shop at tables in the front of the play space and families brought prepared paperwork they'd downloaded from legal sites or library books. They signed and served as one another's witnesses while their children all played together in a safe space.
 
Shaken by the death of Andrew Fisher just weeks before, many young couples in the area jumped at the opportunity to attend. The event reached capacity within hours of the announcement.
 
Elly Fisher agrees such events are important for young families. She says: "I think that anyone who's been upset about Andrew's death should at least make sure to have a conversation with their partner. After the death of a spouse, there is so much grief that it would be a gift to your partner and loved ones to leave a document that details your wishes so they don't have to make those decisions."

Families interested in a Get Your Act Together event can come to the next signing on April 28 at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library (5401 Centre Ave, Shadyside) Bring completed documents to have them signed and notarized at the event. Registration costs $31.20 per person and includes 3 notary stamps plus the notary travel fee. The event is limited to 20 people; click here to reserve a space.
 
Also, you can find checklists and necessary forms here and here.

Free gender neutral sewing workshop dispels stereotypes, promotes economic stability

In an attempt to demystify the sewing machine and dispel gender stereotypes in crafts, a free gender neutral sewing class will be held at the Mattress Factory Art Museum tomorrow from 6:30PM to 8:30PM

Jenn Gooch, a local artist, started the class last year in her former studio space in Lawrenceville called WERK. Since closing the studio earlier this year, Gooch has been able to continue her Gender Neutral Learn-to-Sew workshop with the help of a Seed Award grant from the Sprout Fund. She plans on holding the workshop monthly at different locations throughout the city.

“When I decided to close the WERK storefront, I really wanted to continue Gender-Neutral Learn-to-Sew as a pop-up event,” says Gooch. “Last year the class was BYO-Sewing Machine, but thanks in part to this Seed Award from Sprout, I was able to mobilize the class and purchase five sewing machines for attendants to work on if they are unable to bring their own machine. I also provide material, thread and other supplies at the classes.”

Gooch decided to make the class gender neutral to help promote and encourage individuals of any sex to embrace crafting.
“There are some ridiculous gender stereotypes in many crafts in the U.S. and fibers suffers some of the worst of these stereotypes,” says Gooch. “I wanted to create an open environment where anyone interested in learning how a sewing machine works can feel welcome.”

Through the workshop, Gooch helps to promote home economics, survival and economic sustainability.

“Clothing and shelter are basic needs and require sewing,” she says. “A few sewing skills can help an individual have control over their wardrobe, home furnishings and so much more. Everyone like's to feel like a million bucks, but being able to go to a thrift store, tailor something and get that feeling for five bucks and 30 minutes labor is priceless.”

Good says sewing was a skill she was taught as a child. She was brought up in a conservative Pentecostal community with churchwomen who would sew their own long skirts and other apparel. Her grandmother was also a seamstress and taught Gooch many of her sewing skills. 

“I come from people that made what they couldn't afford,” she says. “Manipulating the earth and its material with tools, be it sewing, woodworking, et cetera, not only gives you the power to be able to create and repair your own goods, but it's what makes us human.”

Click here for the WERK facebook page where you can find more information about the workshop and Gooch's other free or low-cost classes.

Writer: Liz Miles
Sources: Jenn Gooch, WERK

Pittsburgh sends first kid robotics team to compete with world

The first team from Pittsburgh is headed to the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis April 23-26, and it includes middle-schoolers for this normally high-school-only competition.
 
The team hails from the Sarah Heinz House, which runs 160 youth programs, including the local Boys & Girls Club of America. Robotics starts here in first grade, says Bob Bechtold, its director of outreach and corporate partnerships, so the kids are ready early for competition.

They've been in local competitions for five years, including the Pittsburgh Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in March, which placed them in line for St. Louis. And they were one match away from the world competition last year.

However, the team itself hasn't always been ready.

"Five years ago, we could hardly get our robot to move," Bechtold says. "To see the program grow to the point where the kids are telling the adults, 'Leave us alone, we've got this' – it's incredible."
 
To compete in the regional contest, the team received its instructions just six weeks ahead: Build a robot that could throw an exercise ball into a goal. At the regional contest, robots competed together on the field, six at a time, with some playing defense. Previous competitions had challenged robots to throw a Frisbee or basketball, or to kick a soccer ball.
 
The world championship will pit the best robots against each other in the same challenge. Bechtold compares it to a NASCAR race: "Every robot has its own pit. The kids are turning wrenches and working on computers."
 
The Sarah Heinz House team comes from 10 area schools. They beat 40 other teams in the regional competition and are ranked in the top three percent, compared to all 2,729 teams in the world, based on individual scoring. In St. Louis, they will compete against teams from across the country as well as from Israel, Canada, Mexico, Chile and the Dominican Republic.
 
Sarah Heinz House is hoping to get help raising the $15,000 to $20,000 needed to send the kids to St. Louis. "It's been a challenge for our organization," Bechtold admits. But, he says, "we've seen kids show emotion that we didn't know they even had in them [and] teamwork coming together." The quick turnaround for the earlier challenge forced the 20 team members to divide up into specialties, since all the robot design and manufacturing tasks have to be done at once, from the robot's frame to its programming.  

"They're definitely getting a lot of the STEM skills they need as well," Bechtold says.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bob Bechtold, Sarah Heinz House

Free for nonprofits: services of talented Point Park communications students

The free marketing and design services that Point Park University (PPU) students have been providing for local nonprofits is going big-time this fall, expanding to students from more disciplines and offering an expanded list of services to more nonprofits.
 
Now dubbed Wood Street Communications after PPU's location downtown, the program has been running unofficially for many years among students in the senior capstone course for public relations and advertising in the School of Communication. Each year they have been picking a nonprofit for whom to devise an integrated marketing campaign.
 
But when Wood Street director Heather Starr Fiedler was teaching a design class last year how to do fake logos for Disney World and fictitious brochures for Apple, she realized "we had to find a way to get our non-journalism students that real-world feel like our news students."
 
And, Fiedler says, "we could connect people in the nonprofit world with real world help. We have students who could act as skilled volunteers. One of our missions is to serve the community and it's a real great experience for our students."
 
The new student-run organization, officially debuting in the fall, will offer help with public relations and advertising, graphic and web design, photography and videography, event planning, social media and branding, and publication writing and design.
 
Pittsburgh Cares has already been connecting PPU to such clients as Sojourner House, for whom students did a montage video about their work for a fundraiser. They've also helped Dress for Success, and this semester are focusing on the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
 
In the past, 20-40 students have been involved, but with the expansion to photo, video, PR, graphic design and other classes, Wood Street should include 100 students, Fiedler says.
 
"Everybody is going to get involved," she says. "I want them to get professional, real-world experience so they have something to add to their portfolio." And she hopes "that the students get a sense of how good it feels to serve their community. The students so far have really ended up getting so much out of it, really falling in love with the nonprofits…"
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Heather Starr Fiedler, Point Park University

Spring Redd Up set to collect 300 tons of trash

A dozen years ago, Boris Weinstein's began a personal campaign to clean up litter in Shadyside. That campaign has transformed into bi-annual Redd Ups that collect 300 tons of trash in 300 communities throughout Allegheny and the surrounding counties of Beaver, Butler and Washington.

"Redd up" means to clear or to tidy in Pittsburghese.
 
"This works," Weinstein says of his organization, Citizens Against Litter, "because I was able to organize a network of leaders in all the neighborhoods – I call them 'Clean Pittsburgh Stewards' – and it's through them that we're able to have successful Redd Ups."
 
Now about 55 volunteers on average per community participate in the fall and spring Redd Ups. The spring version runs through May.
 
"I felt that if I could demonstrate the effectiveness of a volunteer organization on one neighborhood," he adds, "it could be replicated."
           
Litter comes from four main causes, Weinstein says: everyday carelessness; illegal dump sites that attract major collections; business owners who don't clean up their properties regularly; and too few waste containers at businesses and apartments, causing them to overflow. "That's where you get flyaway litter," he says.
 
This year's volunteer contingent includes several hundred Duquesne University students working on the South Side flats and slopes, Uptown and the Hill District on April 12.
 
To volunteer and find a neighborhood group with which to connect, call 412-688-9120 or e-mail Weinstein here.
 
As he concludes: "I always say, people who care must pick up for people who don't care."  
 
Writer: Marty Levine 
Source: Boris Weinstein, Citizens Against Litter

Local volunteer is a finalist fo the Alliance for Community Trees Volunteer of the Year Award

The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association (NMRWA) has a finalist for the Alliance for Community Trees 2013 Volunteer of the Year Award: Larry Patchel.
 
Patchel is a volunteer for many local organizations. He has promoted the value of urban trees and helped dig planting holes with kids at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and the Boys and Girls Club of Wilkinsburg. As a member of  the American Chestnut Foundation, Patchel helps to hybridize Chinese and American chestnuts, taking care of seedlings until they become trees. To benefit the Men’s Garden Club of Pittsburgh, he sharpens pruners and other tools annually in a tent at the Phipps Conservatory plant sale, and has attended all the tree plantings for the 500 Tree Initiative in Wilkinsburg, a program of the NMRWA.

The Alliance for Community Trees is a national organization dedicated to supporting urban forestry. Each year they give an award to an outstanding volunteer working to improve their community and neighborhood with trees.
 
The NMRWA was created in 2001 to restore and protect the area of Nine Mile Run that flows through the East End, Wilkinsburg, Edgewood and Swissvale. Much of the stream is underground, but 2.2 miles runs through Frick Park, and the group touts its recovery efforts there as “one of the largest and most successful urban stream and wetlands restorations in the United States,” which was completed in 2006.
 
Patchel, who has been part of the NMRWA since its beginning, is credited with many volunteer events for the group each year, particularly garden and tree plantings. The group also cites “his horticultural knowledge and vast range of experience to teach other volunteers about proper tree planting and pruning techniques, soil composition, plant taxonomy, and proper tool usage and safety.”
 
Patchel says he is most proud of helping with tree plantings along Penn Avenue, and says working with the Boys and Girls Club has been the most enjoyable.
 
“It is fun to see the kids just learning to use a shovel, rake or some other hand tool,” he says. Of the many kids he’s introduced to the environmental cause throughout the years, Patchel adds, “I hope they would get involved in any way that would help improve the only earth like planet we know of.”
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Larry Patchell, Nine Mile Run Watershed Association
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