July 17, 2007 |

Mount CDC staff is well traveled

The staff of the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation has worked all over the country and the world but they prefer the Mount.

Program Manager Greg Panza, a Castle Shannon native, worked in Phoenix. Park Resource Manager Ilyssa Manspeizer, who grew up in West Orange, N.J., was involved in organizing conservation projects in Africa. Ethan Raup, executive director, hails from Williamsport, PA, and took advanced sociology studies in England.

But Mount Washington and the Pittsburgh area proved irresistible for them.

Ms. Manspeizer first saw Pittsburgh when she and her family visited friends who live in Squirrel Hill. "We had a great time. The people are so nice here. It seemed like a place where a family could be happy," she said.

Mr. Panza started his MWCDC employment in December, 2005, Ms. Manspeizer was hired in December, 2006 and Mr. Raup has been executive director for a year and a half.

"I longed to come back to Pittsburgh," Mr. Panza, 36, who is single, said about his three years away in Phoenix. After receiving a degree in design from LaRoche College in the North Hills, he worked for Design Alliance Architects and Alcoa's north shore head-quarters for 10 years before accepting a job in Phoenix.

"It wasn't like here, where you go to the post office and you see the lady who works in the diner or your neighbor you know by name or where people sit out on their front porches. Pittsburgh is a beautiful city with its bridges and topography."

When he came back, he did volunteer work for Allentown community organizations before being originally hired as

MainStreets program manager for MWCDC. He now manages the business district initiatives, among other duties.

"Mount Washington is the San Francisco of the Pittsburgh area. "There's cobblestone streets, hilly topography, a beautiful view, Victorian homes along the hillside, all the bridges," Mr. Panza said. "The business district, which has a lot of potential, is a complex labyrinth of sloped streets."

When he lived on the South Side, he saw "oldtimers" sweeping the sidewalks and pulling weeds and he started doing the same thing. "Everyone was so responsible in keeping their area clean." Mr. Panza, who lives on Kathleen Street, wants the Mount Washington neighborhood to be free of blight and litter and has mentioned this at several MWCDC membership and community meetings. "It makes a big difference."

Ms. Manspeizer, 41, is married to Brian Cohen and they have two boys – Jacob, 13, and Tal, 10, - and two girls – Gili, 7, and Ori, 3.

"Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights are great places, full of passion and energy. There's a deep layer of generations. You encounter fifth generation Mount Washington residents," Ms. Manspeizer said. "I see my job as park resource manager as helping the Grandview Scenic Byway Park fulfill its potential."

Until consolidated into a park the land was a loose assortment of smaller parks, playing fields and hillsides.

She can be called Dr. Manspeizer but since that doesn't happen that often, she said people shouldn't be surprised if she doesn't quickly respond.

She holds a doctorate degree in anthropology from Binghamton University in New York, in addition to a master's degree in nature conservation from University College in London and a degree in environmental science from Cook College at Rutgers University.

During her undergraduate studies she spent time at a Kenya wild life game ranch due to her interest in large African mammals. After receiving her master's degree she worked in Africa setting up a data base for an elephant conservation project with a goal of hindering or stopping the ivory trade.

She was also involved with an elephant conservation monitoring project in Ethiopia.

"In major cities in Africa there is a vitality, a certain hum, that you don't find in other places. Both abject poverty and great wealth exist there."

Andi Sharp, MWCDC assistant director, was on vacation and unavailable for an interview. However, she too has worked overseas; she interned as a junior designer for Landor Associates in London in 1998 prior to holding other jobs such as assistant to the director for the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

She studied printmaking and painting at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. She holds a master of science in professional leadership from Carlow University and a fine arts degree with a major  in graphic design from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has been employed by the MWCDC for 18 months.

Summer intern Kim Tranel, 21, who attends Allegheny College in Meadville, has been assigned the task of clearing the park trails. "I like Pittsburgh. Although it took a while for me to find my way around."

Mr. Raup, 37, grew up not far from State College but now only visits his hometown of Williamsport during the holidays. He has a degree in history/political science from Brown University and a master's degree in sociology of law (political and sociological theory) from Cambridge University in England.

He and his wife, Tess McShane, have two sons, Jonah, 6, and Owen, 3.

"What struck Tess and me when we first visited Pittsburgh were the traditional nature of the communities and the beautiful architecture," Mr. Raup said.

Previously, he was deputy chief of staff for the county executive in King County (Seattle) and special assistant to the Seattle Mayor.

But his job as MWCDC executive director is "really the hardest job I ever had."

"We are pursuing an aggressive agenda and there are signs now that attitudes are changing and that there is an optimism in the community that raises expectations about what can be possible. People are reaching out to each other. That change of attitude can mean maintaining a revitalization."

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