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By Austin Vaught
Contributing Writer 

MWCDC spins off trail corps, ED to head new entity


Last updated 12/7/2015 at 7:12pm

Big changes are ahead for the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC), when executive director Ilyssa Manspeizer officially steps down on Dec. 14 to lead the spin-off of the Emerald Trail Corps in January.

The Emerald Trail Corps was formed by the MWCDC in 2011 to help adults find gainful employment while improving trails and green space in Mount Washington’s Emerald View Park.

According to Ms. Manspeizer, the decision to spin-out the organization was made because the MWCDC is nearing the end of the Woodland Trail construction as well as an increase in project requests from areas outside of Mount Washington.

“It seems like the opportunity and the need for these kinds of professional trail improvements, trail construction, and habitat restoration, and then even possibly in other areas as well, the need is still out there,” Ms. Manspeizer said. “Even if [the MWCDC’s] need is greatly reduced.

The new organization will use Pittsburgh Conservation Corps (PCC) as a working name, and will go through a branding effort to decide on a permanent long term identity.

Two MWCDC employees will join Ms. Manspeizer. Both Emerald Trail Corps Program Manager Thomas Guentner and Emerald Trail Corps Crew Leader Shawn Taylor will join the PCC by the end of the first quarter of 2016.

Ms. Manspeizer started her career with the MWCDC in December of 2006 and took over the executive director position on May 19, 2014. Her departure will mark the fourth executive director change for the MWCDC since 2008.

“I think we can look at the phases for each of the executive directors and identify those key things that each accomplished before they moved on,” Ms. Manspeizer said. “There were some really great accomplishments for both the work that we’ve done as well as the professionalization of the organization.”

She also said it’s a great time for the MWCDC and she is excited to see how the board and staff are going to be creating new opportunities.

“We are an organization that is respected across the city for what we’ve accomplished over the last 10 years,” Ms. Manspeizer said. “Our real estate program is growing. Our park program is still strong. We have one of the best trained staff and most capable staff of any CDC across the city.”

The MWCDC will continue to be an advising partner to PCC and will continue to use its services.

The PCC submitted a joint grant application with several Pittsburgh-based nonprofits including GTech Strategies, Allegheny Land Trust, PGH Works, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

According to a press release from GTech Strategies, the PCC will initially be funded by a two-year seed grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. GTech will also serve as the PCC’s fiscal sponsor.

Ms. Manspeizer said the PCC’s revenue model is based on finding enough contracts to support the salaries of its crew teams in order to complete park projects. However, the organization also plans to seek foundation, state, and federal support to hire a case manager, complete and provide training and future employment connections to crew members.

The PCC will also be looking to add additional services such as gardening, food production, habitat restoration work, vacant lot work, and stormwater management.

“It will be an exciting time to see which ones will come to fruition immediately and which are long term conversations,” Ms. Manspeizer said.

While the PCC is currently searching for office space and plans to grow over the next year, Ms. Manspeizer said they plan to build responsibly over time.

“We want to make sure we expand appropriately,” Ms. Manspeizer said. “So we can continue to give really high quality results both for the space that we’re helping to steward as well as the individuals for who we’re hopefully providing new opportunities.”

The PCC will start with one or two crews in the summer of 2016 before building to three or four over the next few years. The crews will consist of individuals who are struggling to secure gainful employment. The PCC plans to recruit workers through nonprofits such as the Veterans Leadership Program and Voices Against Violence.

Ms. Manspeizer said that while she’s excited about the large scale impact the PCC can have, she has mixed emotions about leaving the MWCDC.

“There is a lot of tenderness and sadness towards the thought of leaving the MWCDC,” Ms. Manspeizer said. “It’s been nice to work hard to have a big impact on the geographic space of the community.”

The MWCDC board will meet in early December to discuss the transition period before a new executive director is named.


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