Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank

“The Blessing is in the Diaper”

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My family has needed diapers for 5 of the past 6 1/2 years, and I’m excited to share that, with a third child to arrive this summer, the total will likely end up being over 8 years worth of diapers in a 10 year period when all is said and done. While this is something we can afford, we are also very fortunate in that our boys’ grandparents have gladly cover a lot of that expense so far.

But what happens when you can’t afford all those diapers?  What happens when the expense that I’ve seen estimated at as high as $1,500 per year for diapers and wipes is more than you can bear?  There are not government programs out there for this most basic of needs.  Sadly, many parents end up leaving their babies in dirty diapers for far too long.  Some even try to clean, dry, and reuse diapers that are meant to be disposable in order to reduce the expense that comes from using additional diapers.

I’m sure it’s not surprising to consider that a baby wearing a dirty diaper is much more likely to experience discomfort that can lead to skin irritation and lots of crying.  It’s a really difficult position for a parent to be in.  I speak from experience when I say that a baby who is difficult to console can make a parent feel pretty helpless.

By many accounts, this has been an under-reported need for a while.  Parents can be embarrassed to say that they aren’t able to meet the most basic needs of their children.  The children are obviously far to young to advocate for themselves, beyond their cries.  Fortunately for families in our area who find themselves stuck in this sort of a situation, we have the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank.

The Western PA Diaper Bank exists for two main purposes and are basically accomplished through on primary action (or series of actions).  On a macro scale, the diaper bank exists to raise awareness of the diaper shortage that many low-income people experience and advocate for their help.  The topic received some press last year when President Obama made it a part of his Mother’s Day address.  On a more micro, personal scale, the diaper bank works to do the dirty work of collecting and distributing diapers to local organizations that have direct contact with needy family in and around Pittsburgh.  Each purpose works to accomplish their vision of ensuring that every child has enough diapers to remain clean, healthy, and dry.  And each purpose is primarily addressed through diaper drives, both small and large.

This nonprofit organization was established here in 2012 and is affiliated with the National Diaper Bank Network.  They are entirely volunteer-run and a large number of the diapers distributed come from diaper drives conducted by local schools, churches, and individuals.  Once collected, the diapers are distributed through the Diaper Bank’s 32 local partner agencies.

In the spirit of joining the work of organizations that we are featuring here on Better the Burgh, I’d like to announce that we are conducting a diaper drive over the next two weeks. Let’s work together to collect as many diapers as we can for this worthwhile organization.  I’ll plan on delivering them on March 31st.  Please reach out to me here, or through the Facebook page if you are interested in donating.  I’ll either give you my address if you’d like to drop them off or try to coordinate a time and location where I could come pick them up from you.

I’ve pulled the below video from the National Diaper Bank network’s Youtube page.  It was used for a specific organization’s drive but it is absolutely applicable to to what I’m sharing here.  Please check it out.

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North Hills Community Outreach

I’ve taken a little bit longer in getting this next blog post out.  Part of that is because I’m getting a lot busier with work.  But the other part has been that every time I’ve thought of writing about North Hills Community Outreach, I felt a little bit overwhelmed.  I visited their main North Hills location in Alison Park last month to learn about what they do; I’ve read their literature and brochures; I’ve scoured their website – and then every time I sat down to write about their work, I wondered where on earth to start.

They have a mission of “addressing the needs of people in crisis, hardship, and poverty” for those who live in the northern portions of Allegheny County.  And as they’ve grown from a tiny group founded by clergy in the North Hills in response to some serious flooding that occurred in 1986, they’ve been able to address more and more needs through a growing variety of programs.

I’m going to end up sharing a lot of facts and statistics in this post, mostly because they are impressive and North Hills Community Outreach has done such a good job tracking what they do.  In fact, if I were just telling you what most impressed me when I was at their offices, it would be their commitment to wise stewardship and making use of every single opportunity to give.  Their is no waste in this organization.  Bring them your leftover , blue Giant Eagle grocery bags.  They can put them to use.  Donating food?  They will even clip the Box tops and make sure they are given to a school in need.  Printing on just one side of that internal document?  They don’t through it away.  They put it back in the copier and use the other side.  Every dime and every donation are treated with the utmost respect.  It all matters.

The following numbers are from their most recent annual report.

3,804 families and 33,117 people were assisted in the fiscal year 2015-2016

1,743 volunteers logged 39,000 hour of assistance.  (This is the equivalent of 19 full-time staff).

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185 senior citizens received 5,817 rides from the Free Rides for Seniors ride share program that operates two vehicles along the Route 28 corridor.

-Seasonal sharing projects were able to done 1,060 holiday gifts, 241 winter warms utility credits, 2,000 winter coats, 130 spring baskets, & 1,240 backpacks filled with school supplies.

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29 working people with low income were able to purchase cars through the Community Auto Program.

4,450 lbs of organic produce were distributed through the NHCO Community Gardens.

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The list could, honestly, go on and on.  I imagine there must be some limit to the number of services offered through North Hills community Outreach, but it really seems like they have worked very hard to meet every need and cover every gap in some way, shape, or form.  And for whetever they don’t do themselves, they’ve developed partnerships with a number of other Allegheny County organizations they can direct people towards.

How You Can Help

I know it sounds like they have all their bases covered, but they can only do this much because generous people and volunteers have been so willing to help.  Perhaps you could do that, too?  Some specific volunteer needs that were emphasized to me during my visit include weekday drivers to help get local seniors to appointments, people skilled with data entry (given what a great job they do tracking everything, this should be a surprise), and willing souls able to participate outside of the popular Thanksgiving through Christmas volunteer window.

Donations are gladly accepted.  They need to keep three large food pantries stocked (I’m told that canned potatoes, tomatoes, and peaches are especially popular); vehicle donations for Community Auto can do a lot of good; and appropriate items for the seasonal sharing projects are especially helpful.

Please call ahead if you have a specific or unique donation to share (412-487-6316).  They love to find a home for everything but they don’t have a lot of extra storage space to hold on to items that are a little outside of the norm.

I’ve honestly only scratched the surface here in sharing with you all that North Hills community Outreach does for North Hills residents.  It’s clear their founding pillars of faith, compassion, empowerment, and stewardship really do fuel the work they accomplish each day.  And if you don’t happen to live in the area that they service, take heart.  Just call the front desk and somebody will be able to direct you to an organization that can help you in your home area.  They really do have everything covered.

 

CCO

In hindsight, I think it is pretty true to say that I entered college woefully unprepared for the new freedoms and responsibilities that I had living somewhere other than under my parents’ roof.  I had been an above-average student, and athlete, and a church-going young man for the bulk of my adolescence.  I assumed I had it all together, but man was I wrong.

I’ll spare you the gory details (for now), but let’s just say it took about eight years and four colleges for me to even begin to even begin to “get it together.”  There are a lot of people I should express my gratitude to for the growth that I finally began to experience.  Strangely enough, more than a few of them were affiliated with an organization headquartered here in Pittsburgh called the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO).  Since that time I have continued to rub shoulders with people affiliated with the CCO from time to time.  I can say, without reservation, that every one of them has been an excellent individual, friend, and leader.  I really couldn’t be more impressed with the people who go to work for the CCO.  I hope that after learning a little more about them, you will join me in holding them in high regard.

What it Looks Like

The CCO was founded in 1971 when a group of clergy recognized a void on most college campuses.  Students at both private and state schools were being exposed to a flood of challenging, exciting new ideas – but there were very few opportunities for them to either pursue or grow in faith.  The CCO saw a need for for people who were equipped to come alongside of college students and help them think through all these new ideas in light of a worldview that believes all things belong to God, and that faithfulness to Him is best pursued communally.

Today the CCO is on 116 college campuses throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West.  It’s representatives are often partnered with a local church, and end up filling any of a wide variety of role on or off campus.  Some teach, others counsel, work with campus life, with athletes, or even in a coffee shop.  The CCO tries hard to design each role to meet the needs of a particular campus.

Many, though certainly not all of the CCO’s staff are recent college graduates themselves.  They are able to mentor and share life with students through service learning opportunities (locally or traveling), discussion groups, Bible studies, and just hanging out and having fun.  Ultimately, the goal is to strengthen and equip.  So many young people feel compelled to “make a difference” as they are exposed to new ideas and needs in college.  But it’s hard to know where to begin, or what foundation this “difference making” should be grounded in.  The CCO exists to encourage these students to recognize that their entire lives can be seen as service to Christ.  They can serve in their studies, their communities, their families, and their jobs; both now and when they move on from college life.

In what is certainly the highlight of the year, the CCO hold a huge conference called Jubilee at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh each February.  Well over a thousand students come together for a weekend that includes not only worship, but also doens of challenging speakers and sessions that examine a wide variety of disciplines and that challenge students to walk humbly, love justice, and live faithfully.  Most attend as part of a campus group, but if you know of a student who’d be interested in coming on his/her own, he or she would be more than welcome.  Actually, if this appeals to you personally but you’ve moved past your collegiate years, there is an afternoon at the conference known as Jubilee Professional where people of all ages come together to discuss what it looks like to work faithfully in their particular vocations.

I really hope that my true affection for the people affiliated with the CCO comes through in this blog post.  The people I have known have challenged and encouraged me.  They have pushed me to grow in the way that I think about God and the way that I care more about other people.  I really can’t recommend the transformative work that they do more highly.  If you know of a college student on a campus where the CCO is present, encourage them to take a look.  And if you are in a position to help support this work financially, know that you would be giving to a group that seeks to be good stewards of all that they are given.  CCO staff fund-raise individually, much like a missionary would, for at least part of their salaries.  In doing this they not only keep costs down for the organization, but they also allow friends and supporters the opportunity to partner in the valuable work being done.

 

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.