HEARTH

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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.

Rebuilding Together – Pittsburgh

Right from the start I’ll come clean with the fact that I really love the model that Rebuilding Together – Pittsburgh has developed to impact individuals, homes, and entire communities. They have been at work here in Pittsburgh for 23, years and during that time they have completed over 2,300 projects focused on low-income seniors, veterans, and those with disabilities. But the work that Rebuilding Together accomplished for these individuals has also provided a huge boost for neighboring homes, and often the surrounding neighborhood as a whole.

 What do they do?

 Rebuilding Together works from a simple vision. They want to see everyone in a safe and healthy home. To realize this vision, the primary focus of the organization has always been home repair. This often means tackling some of the most basic aspects of a home: plumbing, electrical, roof and floor repairs are frequently needed in order to make a home safe. But, because a large portion of the population they served is aging or has difficulty getting around, this can also mean retrofitting a home with safety features like grab bars and wheelchair ramps. Rebuilding Together will also weatherize a home so that utility costs become more manageable for the owner.

A second, innovative aspect of what Rebuilding Together – Pittsburgh is doing can be found in their Jobs First initiative that started a few years ago. With this program, members of the neighborhood where the project is being conducted are brought on as short-term employees. These employees are given stable work for about eight months while they are being trained to be team leaders. In completing the program, they develop the skills and work history that is necessary for transitioning over to full-time employment in a service trade.

 Why do they do it?

 Helping to make a single home safe and healthy is an admirable goal, but Rebuilding Together – Pittsburgh does so much more. It’s always going to be a positive to undertake a project that will raise the value of a home. As a real estate agent, I call tell you that there are a number of excellent ways to do this. And, yes, it will have a positive impact (if ever so slightly) on the value of your neighbor’s homes as well. But when two, or ten, or even twenty homes, all within blocks of each other have improvements made that raise their value, this will really elevate the entire neighborhood. Rebuilding Together – Pittsburgh has discovered that they can exponentially increase their impact by focusing on particular communities, neighborhoods, and streets. This is how even the homeowners who are not working directly with Rebuilding Together- Pittsburgh are benefiting from the good work that is being done and an example of what can be accomplished by focusing on what the organization calls “comprehensive impact neighborhoods”. Currently, Rebuilding Together – Pittsburgh has given seven local neighborhoods this designation as they look to focus their work on places where they can have the greatest overall impact.

When long-time residents aren’t able to stay in their homes, the neighborhood loses a neighbor. If this happens repeatedly, the neighborhood begins to lose its history, even its identity. Rebuilding Together wants to increase the ability of residents to age in place: to keep the homes where their children grew up and where so many life events took place. There is dignity in this; there is preservation of community; there is kindness.

 How you can help?

 Rebuilding Together – Pittsburgh is the perfect organization for those of you who don’t mind getting your hands a bit dirty. There is something extremely satisfying about working with your hands to make something safer and better. While finding new “capacity volunteers” with some construction skills is an important goal right now for Rebuilding Together, I have been assured that everyone can do something. Please don’t let your perceived lack of abilities hold you back from getting involved with this group. They will find you a role, and probably teach you some useful skills in the process.

Your financial and in-kind donations will also be put to very good use here. If you need specific ideas, please don’t hesitate to reach out (provide link). Things like handrails, windows and appliances are almost always necessary for making a home more livable. Hardware store gifts cards will be put to good use. This is an organization that prides itself on the ways it has creatively collaborated with a variety partners. Offer your suggestion, there will likely be a way to use it.

Jeremiah’s Place

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope for the future. – Jeremiah 29:11  (Inspirational and founding verse of Jeremiah’s Place: A relief nursery in Pittsburgh, PA)

 

How’s your support network? Seriously. How many people do you have in your life that whom you could count on with the things that are most precious to you? How many of these people live close to you? How many of them would drop anything at any moment to come offer you the assistance you need?

Hopefully you have trustworthy, dependable people in your life. But I don’t think you’d be terribly unusual if that list you just made in your head was pretty short. Now imagine you moved to a new city or were recently estranged from your family for one reason or another. It’s not too hard to conceive of yourself in a place where you need help but don’t have anywhere to turn, is it?

Now let’s amp up the intensity of the situation a little bit more. What if you had a young child… or two? What if you had no way of really dealing with an emergency situation of your own because making sure your kids are alright will always be the top priority over and above any other need?

As of April 2014, Pittsburgh now has a good way to address these critical questions. Jeremiah’s Place on the city’s East End is our region’s only crisis nursery that is available 24/7 to care for children six and under when a parent or guardian is in desperate need of help.

 What do they do?

 Jeremiah’s Place is a temporary helping hand to parents when they need it most. The caring staff members and volunteers provide short-term (up to 72 hours) crisis care for children whose regular caregivers are in a desperate situation.

The facility itself is similar to most day cares. There are separate play areas for babies, toddlers, and big kids. There are spaces for both free play and structured activities. There is a kitchenette where warm, nutritious meals are prepared three times a day. But what is unusual here is that there are also three bedrooms equipped with space for up to twelve children to sleep overnight. Emergencies don’t just happen during business hours, and Jeremiah’s Place acknowledges this by providing overnight care for families in need.

 Why do they do it?

 Have you ever tried to go to a doctor’s appointment with a two-year-old? What about a job interview with a four-month-old strapped in a carrier? Can you imagine if your furnace broke in the middle of winter and the repair man couldn’t make it until tomorrow afternoon? Really, the list of reasons why a person might need help caring for his children is pretty long. It can even include the need for a few hours respite when a tired mom feels like the stresses of her world are about to push her into the ground.

Since its founding, over 600 children have been cared for at Jeremiah’s Place free of charge. Support staff is on hand to help parents address their emergency situations if they aren’t sure where to turn or who to contact.

Jeremiah’s Place exists because of the recognition that parents are often faced with extremely difficult choices. Knowing that your children are safe, even if it’s just for a few hours, can make facing those choices so much easier.

 How can you help?

 There are a lot of great ways to help Jeremiah’s Place if this sounds like an organization you’d like to see continue their hard work. Of course financial assistance and volunteer help are crucial. Some other specific needs that were mentioned when I visited recently included: new shoes (of all sizes), clothing for bigger kids (4t and up), gift cards to Giant Eagle or Target so that the staff can meet a specific need for a kid when they come in, and little kid appropriate craft supplies.

Additionally, if you’d like to volunteer but don’t yet have all of your clearances (something you must have when working with children) the staff can also use assistants when they attend events where they look to raise money and awareness for the mission.

To learn more about Jeremiah’s Place, how you can make use of their services, how you can donate, or to find other specific ways in which you can help, please email info@jeremiahsplace.org.

Little Sisters of the Poor

Be kind, especially with the infirm. Love them well … Oh yes! Be kind. It is a great grace God is giving you. In serving the aged, it is he himself whom you are serving. – Saint Jeanne Jugan

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Have you ever spent much time in a nursing home? What were your impressions? I can assure you that if you have the opportunity to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home and independent living apartments in the Brighton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh, it will be different from what you expect. You will see with your own eyes what can happen when love and the dignity of the individual are made the highest priority in nursing care.

My first experience of their facility on Benton Avenue came soon after moving to the neighborhood. My wife and son were invited to attend a “Tunes with Tots” program at the home where preschoolers serenaded and sang with the residents. That evening my wife, who has been a nurse for nearly a decade, reported to me that she had never been in a nursing home as nice as this one. It wasn’t long until I had the chance to see it for myself. As usual, her assessment was spot on.

 What do they do?

 To tell it as simply as possible, the Little Sisters of the Poor provide a home for the indigent elderly from the city of Pittsburgh. All residents must be at least 65 years old and financially needy – meaning they could not afford to be cared for by any other facility. Here in the Pittsburgh home there are 48 private rooms for nursing home residents and 45 independent living apartments.

Beyond the basics of room, board, and medical care (which are all provided with excellence), what sets this home apart is that it truly feels like a home. The Little Sisters and their staff have created an environment in which everyone is loved and cared for in a holistic way that attends to each resident’s physical, social, and spiritual needs. While some facilities are sadly known for the isolation and loneliness of the residents, the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Pittsburgh is just the opposite. Everyone there recognized as a member of the family here in this home and is encouraged to participate, as they are able, in the community around them.

Why do they do it?

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Entrance to Little Sisters of the Poor – Pittsburgh

 The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious order founded by Saint Jeanne Jugan in France 180 years ago. The story goes that when Jugan was a young woman, she saw an elderly woman begging on the side of the road. Jugan responded by bringing the poor woman home to her apartment, placing the woman in her bed, and returning to the streets to beg on her behalf. The Little Sisters have carried on this tradition based on the belief that human life is sacred and that each unique life, especially the lives of the poorest and the weakest, should be embraced with hospitality and compassion.

The need amongst the elderly poor has not lessened in two centuries. In fact, as families go their disparate ways in this modern world, the need has likely grown. There are still many elderly poor here in Pittsburgh who face decisions like having to choose between medication and food each month. The waiting list for admission to the home is, sadly, very long. The order’s local Mother believes they could easily fill up seven or eight similarly sized homes without any difficulty if they had the resources to do so.

 How you can help

There are many events at this hidden gem on Pittsburgh’s Northside where your help would be welcomed. Volunteer opportunities abound but perhaps the most valuable role would be to simply serve as a willing visitor and companion. Not every resident has family and friends who are able to sit with him or her. Perhaps you could be that person whose presence would enrich and comfort a resident whose long life brought them to this place of need.

Of course donations, both in-kind and financial, are also necessary for the Little Sisters’ mission to remain stable and even grow. Around 50% of the home’s budget is funded through the donations of supporters who believe in the work that is being done.   I’d really encourage you to visit. Your opinion of what a nursing home should be will likely be change if you share even a small role in increasing the joy that infuses this home.

Senior Pet and Animal Rescue

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“Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.” – Sydney Jean Seward

My dad is fond of saying that “rescued pets love you more.”  He believes they truly appreciate the face that you took them from a situation where they were not receiving the care and attention they needed and gave them a good home.

For some reason I have always felt like his idea was a little bit silly.  It’s not that I really disagreed with him, I guess I just hadn’t spent much time thinking about it.  That changed one recent morning when I had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Pease, a founder of Senior Pet and Animal Rescue (SPAAR).  SPAAR’s founding was the result of two friends, who were experienced volunteers in animal shelters around Pittsburgh, comparing notes and realizing there was a real need for helping families to keep their senior pets and helping to rescue senior pets that no longer had a home.

What do they do?

SPAAR’s mission, in simplest terms, is to make sure that senior pets (6+ for dogs and 8+ for cats) are being taken care of by a fmily that loves them.  sometimes that means helping a family that cannot afford to care for their senior pet by assisting with medical bills and supplies via a program Ferdiand’s Fund.   Other times it means helping to find a foster home or new adoptive home for a senior pet when a local shelter hasn’t had success in finding a willing family.

Additionally, a unique aspect of SPAAR’s mission is to provide hospice care for pets that have been given a terminal diagnosis.  As these cats and dogs are often especially difficult to find a match for, SPAAR seeks to not only find homes for these pets, but has also fostered relationships with local veterinarians to provide appropriate end-of-life care that allows for comfortable and love-filled final days.

Why do they do it?

Beyond simply being animal lovers, SPAAR’s founders Laura Broklebank and Jennifer Pease saw first-hand the gap that existed for senior animals when it came to finding homes and meeting high costs.  Each had experienced this with her own pets and witnessed it while assisting in local shelters.

On average, older pets tend to be both more expensive to care for and more difficult to find homes for.  This can make for a difficult set of circumstances but it is also exactly the reason why SPAAR exists.  An older pet can be the perfect match for some homes, and SPAAR wants to help make those connections.

How can you help?

As with all the groups that we will be profiling on Better the Burgh, SPAAR has a real need for financial assistance.  Even with the good relationship they enjoy with local vets, the hospice care in particular, can become very costly. Beyond this, in-kind donations are very much appreciated.  SPAAR tries to provide everything necessary for foster parts to care for their cats and dogs: food, toys, cleaning supplies and everything in between.

If you’d be interested in jumping in with both feet, SPAAR is also looking to add to its list of foster homes. There is an application and interview process, but your willingness to open up your home can give SPAAR the ability to meet the needs of even more senior animals from the Pittsburgh area.  Finally, many of the pets currently in foster care are also available for adoption.  The application process is fimilar to that for fostering, but you’d be helping to achieve SPAAR’s ultimate goal by providing a final, loving home for a cat or dog who would relish the chance to curl up next to you, share some warmth, and receive a thorough ear scratching.

If SPAAR sound like an organization you’d like to get behind, please visit their website via one of the links above to learn more.  And keep your eyes open for the fun events they are scheduled around town.  I’ll close with a little video I stumbled across that extols the virtues of owning an older dog.  I think you’ll find it is five minutes well spent.

Extravagant Love Makeover

Prior to my time in Pittsburgh I spent a few years working with an organization that provided respite care for homeless men and women in Washington, D.C. Most would come in broken, and hurting by a life lived on the streets.   Not infrequently, within a few days of receiving care, a new look would come across their faces.

Major problems don’t get solved in one day or even in a few weeks. But being cared for and the recognition that you are loved, can go a long way towards changing an attitude of hopelessness into a belief that more may just be possible. This is an approach that Denise Grave’s Extravagant Love Makeover Project has embraced by showering its participants with a day of attention, care, and, yes, love. Most of the big problems will still remain, but have no doubt: one day can indeed have a lasting impact for good.

What does Extravagant Love do?

On the surface, the Extravagant Love Project is a day of pampering each November for women who are in the midst of experiencing the most difficult sets of circumstances that life can throw at them. Women from shelters throughout the city are paired with volunteers who give them treatment that rivals the most luxurious spas in town. They spend the afternoon receiving manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, a new hairdo, and a new outfit. After this, they are whisked to a lavish ceremony hosted by the Pittsburgh Project, complete with dinner and a fashion show that allows the women to be the stars of the evening.

Where the Extravagant Love Makeover really makes its impact is in the genuine love with which these services are shared. It’s hard to really grasp the impact of what being made to feel special means to a person who’s life circumstances have put her in a place where she often ignored or rejected by the people around her.

The project’s founder, Denise Graves, works to make sure that all participants are the recipients of unconditional love throughout the day. Volunteers are prepped with training in regard to some of the how’s and why’s of homelessness, and are encouraged to allow natural friendship to grow as they remind the women that they are indeed loved.

 Why do they do it?

Ms. Graves makes it clear that the Extravagant Love Makeover is the outflow of her faith in God and the love that she has received. Each of us has a story, and we truly have no idea what another person has gone through to lead her to the place that she is in life now. Even at our very lowest points, our stories are not over. As long as there is life there can be hope. Often it takes some real encouragement and a tangible expression of love to begin believing that.

Ms. Graves notes that so many of the messages we hear in the present day tend to break things down into categories of “us” and “them.” But with the Extravagant Love Makeover, volunteers are looking to embrace what she calls “the power of we”. We are all made in God’s image. We are all important, and we all deserve to be recipients of love.

 How can you help?

With regards to immediate help, the needs are primarily financial. It takes a lot to organize this special day for the 100+ women who will have love lavished on them this November. The outfits, jewelry, and the full spa treatment are costly. If you are moved to help, donations are tax deductible and very much appreciated.

In the long term, there is a vision of growing the Extravagant Love Project here in Pittsburgh and in other cities. A plan for maintaining the relationships through ongoing friendships between the participants and volunteers is being developed. Conference weekends are being planned to help prepare volunteers and spread the vision to other locations.

To learn more, I’d recommend visiting the organization’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Extravagant-Love-Makeover-894707130599900/?fref=ts

You can reach out through their message button to find out about volunteering with, or donating to, this 501c3 organization.

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/109855364″>Extravagant Love Makeover | Our Stories</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/savisky”>Michael Savisky</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>