Have I mentioned lately what an encouragement it is to work on this blog?  Nearly every week I meet with and learn about people who recognized a need and worked at creating a plan to meet that need.  Some of these organization are small – just starting out – while others are well-established here in the area.  Some focus on a niche need, while others confront huge problems with the hope of making lasting changes.  HEARTH probably fits better into that latter category.  They have a beautiful, clean, multi-building campus in the North Hills where they work to live up to the acronym from which their name is derived.  Homelessness Ends with Advocacy, Resources, Training, and Housing.

HEARTH is categorized as transitional housing. They provide apartment, sometimes for as long as two years, for families.  These families are almost always headed by a female who is either homeless or fleeing domestic violence situation.  This service alone would be a worthwhile mission.  A huge percentage of shelters and long-term transitional programs are set up for single adults, but what happens when there are one, or two, or even four children who find themselves in the same situation as their adult caregiver?  To provide a safe, clean location for the entire family to remain together while Mom takes the steps necessary to return them all to a place of stability is exactly what is needed.

And that is what you’ll find at HEARTH  Yes, there are 20 fully-furnished apartments categorized as transitional housing available to families in need.  But as the organization seek to fulfill its stated purpose HEARTH’s program provides so much more than just shelter from the storm.  Program participants have to be motivated to become self-sufficient.  Weekly case management meetings help the head of the family plan and then achieve the necessary educational and vocational training for lifting the family out of poverty.  Additionally, regular life skills classes at the facility provide a variety of other types of training that is important for leading a family that will thrive.

The facility itself contains all the amenities that help create both a home while living there and success one it become time to move on.  On the grounds there is a learning center, childcare room, playground, and sports court for the kids, while the head of household has access to a computer lab, exercise room, food pantry, clothing closet, and a little store for paper products, toiletries, and the like.  HEARTH goes to great lengths to feel like a home and not a shelter.  While there are some rules and restrictions for the safety of everyone in the program, participants are free to come and go as they seek to establish, or reestablish, a normal life for themselves and their children.

Since the program’s founding in 1998, they have seen unquestioned success.  84% of their families have gone on to permanent housing, 75% to full-time employment; 88% increased their educational levels, and 89% increased their income.  when you consider the fact that these numbers also represent children who’s circumstances have improved because of what HEARTH offers, it’s easy to see why this program has such a strong reputation.

Want to help?

HEARTH provides a variety of opportunities for volunteer help.  Things like providing transportation, mentoring, teaching a life skills class, organizing one of the pantries, and joining a committee to help with event planning are just some of the available options for individuals or groups.  To learn more, please head over to the organization’s website and fill out the prospective volunteer’s form.

Both in-kind and financial donations are also accepted and greatly appreciated.  If you’re considering an in-kind gift, please coordinate through the following link to make sure the items are appropriate and timely.  Financial gifts are always appropriate and timely, but perhaps now more than ever.  Starting in 2017, HEARTH will lose about 420K in federal funding because Allegheny Country is no longer directing that money towards transitional housing.  So if you are able to give, or especially if you are able to advocate for transitional housing, please connect with HEARTH so that those resources can be best utilized.

Finally, HEARTH hold four major fundraising events throughout the year as a means of promoting their mission and raising money to maintain the program.  The next event will be Hops for HEARTH, a beer-tasting event held downtown in April.  Ive been assured that it is both a good time and serves a good purpose.  Please consider attending, becoming a sponsor, or helping out if April 16th is free on your calendar.



The Community Institute for Education

In considering this blog post on The Community Institute for Education, it’s become apparent to me that I need to change my usual format to do this organization justice.   Their program is structured in such a way that they learn about the “why” before they tackle the “what”. So it makes sense that I do something similar here as well. We’ll learn about why the Institute is important and then we’ll discuss what they do.

The Community Institute for Education is an arm of a D.C based, non-partisan think-tank called The Center for Public Justice (CPJ), which seeks to help citizens consider what it means to pursue “liberty and justice for all” through the lens of a Christian worldview. The Institute is based solely here in Pittsburgh under the leadership of its Director, Charity Haubrich. Ms. Haubrich was kind enough to meet with me recently to help me get a better understanding of why the Institute exists.

The Institute exists to help people think through some pretty big questions. What is the role of a citizen in the policy-shaping process? What does each layer of government (federal, sate, local) do with regards to the education of our children? What should they do? Does a one-size-fits-all approach actually meet the needs of all our children? Do children, regardless of zip code, have an equal opportunity when it comes to the quality of their education? If not, how should that be ameliorated? Who is ultimately responsible for the education of a child? What is an equitable way to fund education when our government permits many forms (public, parochial, charter, home, etc.), but picks and chooses where its financial support goes?

Needless to say, these are tough issues to consider. Ms. Haubrich doesn’t pretend that The Community Institute for Education has all the answers to these question, or to to others that will naturally arise. But what they have done is created a forum where people from all different backgrounds can come together to better understand the concerns that we face with regards to educating our youngest citizens. The Institute offers a framework to prompt discussion of tangible ideas that can be implemented in education. Ultimately, The Community Institute for Education hopes to empower parents and community members in a way that will allow them to participate in the education process for the sake of their children and for the children who don’t have anyone advocating on their behalf.

Participants come together for three weekends over the span of two months to learn from each other, government officials, school leaders, and education advocates through exercises, case studies, and round table discussions. In the process, each participant looks to name a specific issue that concerns them, and works to develop the tools necessary to address the concern in their community with the assistance of appropriate community leaders.  This is a two step process in which participants first learn and then do.

I was particularly struck by a line from the website that a participant in last Spring’s cohort at the Institute shared. She described the goal of the Institute as “coming to care about a raw deal that isn’t your deal.” That really sums up what’s going on here. Perhaps you don’t have children in the Pittsburgh Public School system. But the fact remains that there are some kids in this system that for any number of reasons, are receiving a sub-par education. If that matters to you (and it should for any number of reasons), this program can help you think through what could and should be done, as well as teach you how you can be the one to do some of that work. If you’re interested, you can learn a lot more through the organization’s website. The next cohort will begin March of 2017 but sign-ups are starting soon. Feel free to reach out to Ms. Haubrich directly at Charity.Haubric@CPJustice.org to ask about enrolling or for answers if you have specific questions about the program.