By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Public Allies Pittsburgh beginning three service projects in South Side


Three team service projects aimed at enhancing the quality-of-life on South Side are about to take root, with the hope they will bear fruit for years to come.

The projects are being undertaken by three teams from Public Allies Pittsburgh: "Economic Opportunity," "Veterans and Military Families," and "Healthy Futures."

The Economic Opportunity team will stage monthly "Souper Saturdays," with free food and other amenities; Veterans and Military Families will host a barbeque on June 2; and Healthy Futures will organize a youth summer gardening program at Bandi Shaum Field.

A main goal of the projects is to foster connections between residents and local nonprofits, and raise awareness of existing supportive services people may not be aware are available.

Public Allies, located at 33 Terminal Way in South Side, offers a 10-month apprenticeship program designed to develop the next generation of civic leaders.

As a national movement grounded in the belief that everyone leads, its goal is to strengthen communities, nonprofits, and individuals through civic participation.

Its signature AmeriCorps ally program prepares young adults, called allies, for leadership through nonprofit apprenticeships and leadership training.

One of the requirements is to develop sustainable community projects in partnership with local nonprofit organizations.

The projects must be sustainable within the community as the 23 allies comprising the three teams will be graduating from the program in June.

Each project revolves around a federal initiative, or focus area, chosen by the teams, and is the first time all three projects were centered in South Side.

Last week, the projects were unveiled in presentations in three South Side venues: Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, Smokin' Joe's Saloon, and St. Paul's Monastery.

The Economic Opportunity team will partner with the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community to present "Souper Saturdays," with the first taking place from noon to 3 p.m. on May 12 at the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, 2700 Jane St.

The monthly event will feature free food as well as free services with the goal of connecting local residents to existing resources under one roof.

Among the amenities will be free haircuts, free hygiene products, and organizations like Just Harvest explaining how to apply for food stamps and other government assistance.

Anyone may attend, and no registration is required.

Branden Ballard, the project manager, said the team's biggest challenge is marketing and outreach.

"We have to make sure the people are there and the providers are there," he said.

The Veterans and Military Families will host a free barbeque from noon to 4 p.m. on June 2 at 2417 East Carson St. The barbeque will honor those in the military, veterans, and their families with food, services, and the opportunity to network with organizations which serve them.

Its collaborators are the Brashear Association and the Veterans Leadership Program.

The team was inspired to choose this project after viewing a video about veterans in which it is stated, on average, 18 veterans a day commit suicide

The objectives of the event are fellowship, connection, and appreciation, with fellowship referring to connecting veterans with other veterans; connection referring to networking among veterans, veterans' service providers, and community organizations; and appreciation of the public for veterans' service and sacrifices.

The barbeque is open to everyone. To become involved, contact Emily at 724-875-6980.

The Health Futures project is creating a youth summer gardening program at the South Side Slopes community garden at Bandi Shaum Field, 18th and Mission streets.

The intended space is overgrown, and tends to be used as a community "dumping ground."

The objective is to create a sustainable summer gardening program for Voices Against Violence. The nonprofit organization, begun in 1996, offers mentoring, an academic-based program, summer camps, job assistance, and more to children and young adults.

The project goals are to enable behavioral change related to eating habits and food choices; to foster a strong work ethic and build skill sets; and to inspire lifelong community stewardship.

On April 5, there will be a meet-and-greet with Voices Against Violence members, followed by orientation and garden tour on April 30.

Mulching and garden construction will take place on May 5 and 12, with planting day and planting workshops on June 2.

Garden maintenance volunteers and mentors are needed.

The communal garden is a joint effort of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA), Grow Pittsburgh, South Side Community Council, and the city's Dept. of Public Works.

Campbell Minister, the project manager, said the biggest challenge is making sure relationships build among the project collaborators -- Voices Against Violence, Grow Pittsburgh, and the SSSNA -- to make it sustainable.

The allies spend Mondays through Thursdays at nonprofit placements, and train on Fridays.

Upon graduation they receive a $5,500 education stipend through AmeriCorps and "have the practical skills to work at a nonprofit in a leadership position," Ms. Minister said.


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