Light of Life Rescue Mission

Long before I ever lived in Pittsburgh or worked with folks who had experienced homelessness, I remember riding into the city with my Dad to go to a Pirates game.  As we approached the stadium I saw men who looked as though they had experienced some of the hardest things that life can offer hanging out along Western Avenue.  I didn’t really have a point of reference to know what was going on at that time. What had happened?  Why were they here?  How could we help?

Fast forward 30-plus years, and I’m now a Northside resident. The answer to “what happened” is very large and very complex. But the answer to “why are they here” and “how can we help” could be found right there on Western Avenue. The Light of Life Rescue Mission has been working to serve the homeless and the hungry here in Pittsburgh for over 60 years now.  While best methods for serving people and the Mission’s capacity to serve have changed and grown over the years, they continue to provide a home for the homeless, food for the hungry, and build disciples for the Kingdom of God.

That Christian commitment is indubitably foundational at Light of Life Rescue Mission.  There is a chapel, studies, and prayer.  But a different faith, or a lack of faith, in no way precludes someone from receiving the help that he or she needs. Fellowship is available to people who use the services here, but it is not forced on them.

Speaking of services, Light of Life has expanded to provide a number of different services to members of the community.  The Meal Ministry is often a person’s first introduction to what the Rescue Mission can offer. Breakfast and dinner are served seven days a week to not only program participants, but to the community at large. Anyone who is hungry, is welcome. Last year they served over 200,000 meals with the help of dedicated volunteers, generous donors, and an amazing kitchen staff.


There are also 22 beds dedicated to emergency shelter for men in the community who might need it. Beyond having a safe place to sleep, the men are provided with shower facilities, clean clothes and access to case managers.  Staying in the emergency shelter is often a first step towards one of the more structured programs offered through Light of Life to help men reestablish a life that isn’t marked by housing instability.

For men, the Light of Life Rescue Mission currently offers three different long-term programs tailored to the specific needs of the participants. The eight bed Housing and Employment program provides stable housing, case management and connection to a variety of employment, educational, housing, and medical services to help prepare the men to work and live on their own again.

The Year Long Recovery Program has 30 beds and is set up in 4 phases for men who have been struggling with addiction. Here community and a variety of therapies work hand-in-hand to support the men’s sobriety and prepare them to transition back into society. Additionally, there are 8 more beds dedicated to mental health. This program operates alongside the Recovery Program, but also provides dedicated mental healthcare and is available for a longer time frame to ensure the stability of the participants.

Knowing there are also needs among single mothers and their children, Light of Life also established a Women and Children’s program. They are able to provide comprehensive care and help fitted to the specific needs of the women and families. Services include: housing in a local apartment, transportation, childcare, intensive counseling, education, and training, as well as the opportunity to heal and become part of a community that will allow them to grow as mothers and help them return to independent living when the time is right.

How to Help


I really want to emphasize just what an important part of our community Light of Life has been over the last sixty years. Thousand of Pittsburgh Residents have received help and love by entering these doors. If you’d like to join in with their work, I’d of course recommend all the usual ways.  Please give, volunteer, and pray.

Specifically, the most pressing needs right now are for Large, XL and XXL size men’s socks and underwear (no briefs) as well as razors and deodorant. For single or small groups of volunteers, the kitchen always needs help with preparing and serving meals.

Eye of the Needle


Something that significantly changed in the way that Light of Life served people over the last 10-15 years has been the way our region has experienced what is commonly called the “Opioid Epidemic”. At some point I’ll share my own personal story about this, but for now, I’d really encourage you to watch this video and familiarize yourself with the way heroin has damaged the lives of thousands around Pittsburgh and made caring for the homeless a much more desperate situation.

(Special thanks to Michael Ray for the use of the cover photo)

The Still Remembered Project

There are some things that people just do not talk about. Topics that people avoid because of discomfort.  Because they don’t know what to say. Because they aren’t really sure how to wrap their minds around what has happened.

Miscarriage, stillbirth, and the early loss of a child are situations that are undoubtedly near the top of that list of topics to avoid.  But for the women and families who have experienced such loss, the grief is very real and is often very lonely. Sometimes nobody (or only a very select few) knows. Other times different understanding of what has happened can lead to hurtful words or avoidance.

Even now, five and four years after losses that left our family reeling, I feel very hesitant to share our story. In some ways it doesn’t even feel like mine to tell, as it was my wife who experienced that loss within her body.  She was the one who had already begun to feel that physical and emotional connection with those tiny people who we would never have the chance to meet on this side of heaven. As sad as I felt, it was she who truly bore that pain of loss.

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But I guess that’s one of the things that make something like miscarriage so disorienting. We don’t always have the right terms to talk about it. We don’t know whose story it is. We don’t know who will listen and understand and care in a way that acknowledges the reality of the loss.

The Still Remembered Project gets this. The women who operate this new Pittsburgh organization understand the sympathy and support needed to help with healing a broken heart, because they have experienced it as well. It is because of her loss that Lauren McLean initially helped form a Christian-based support group for grieving families.

From this support group, a larger mission grew that seeks to offer comfort to grieving families in a number of different fashions. In fact, there are now six different projects to help families heal that come under the Still Remembered Project umbrella.

Still Supported – Still Supported is a monthly peer support group for women who have experienced the loss of a baby (at any gestational stage). It’s a place to share, or listen. An opportunity to be around others who have experienced something similar to you and can understand, at least in part, the loss that you are experiencing. Even if your loss was not recent, you are welcome to attend.

Still Missed – Still Missed focuses specifically on families who are experiencing a miscarriage. One way they do this is by placing care packages with local hospitals and OB offices that can be shared with women after they learn of their miscarriage. It is a small gift to let her know that she is not alone, and that there are people who care about her and the child that was lost.

Still Remembered Memory Boxes – These are provided as bereavement boxes for families after a stillbirth or the death of a newborn. Mothers who experienced a similar loss create the boxes, filling them with items they believe will help the family memorialize the lost child.

Still Family – The Still Family project recognizes that it isn’t always just the mother and father who are disoriented by the loss of a child in pregnancy. There is support available for all family members, but with a special focus on the siblings. When possible, the hospital will provide a sibling bag to families that includes some comforting items and a book titled “We were gonna have a baby, but We had an angel instead.”

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Still Together – Still Together is the community outreach portion of the Still Remembered Project.  Here they seek to partner with medical professionals, hospitals, and other organizations to provide advocacy, education, and awareness of the fact that 25% of women in the United States experience some form of infant loss.

Stitched with Love – Stitched with Love donates handmade knitted, crocheted, and sewn baby blankets to hospitals to be given to families with the belief that every baby, no matter how brief their life, should have a cozy blanket. And every family should have a handmade keepsake to help with remembering their child.Untitled design (8)Please refer to the Still Remembered Project website for greater details on all of these projects and more. There is a wide variety of ways that you can donate or volunteer your time in support of local bereaved families.  And if you or your family have experienced this sort of a loss, please reach out.  You will be welcomed and heard.

On a very personal level, I commend this group to you if you’re grieving this type of loss or know of somebody who is. Their sensitivity and genuine care was obvious in my interactions with them. Sometimes we want to grieve alone.  But at other times it’s helpful to share, and remember that you are not alone.

Urban Impact Foundation

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Christmas seems like an appropriate time to share a profile on Urban Impact. At its heart, Christmas is the story of God responding to humanity’s great need by sending His Son to be the light in the darkness.  That’s really what Urban Impact wants to be as well.  They want to be a light. They want to connect, and love, and help. Their mission of transforming a community flows from this desire: one person, one family, one block at a time.

Over 20 years ago, Ed and Tammy Glover, Urban Impact’s founders, were living and working on the Northside of Pittsburgh. The problems in much of their community seemed big, even overwhelming. As they prayed for direction, they felt like they were being led to see that communities change when families change, and families change when individuals change, and individuals change when their hearts change, and hearts change when they know that they are loved.

This is the approach that Urban Impact has maintained, even as they have grown into an organization that was able to serve nearly 2,000 children last year. Little hearts changed as relationships are built in a number of different contexts. Urban Impact has partnered with Northside schools, churches, and other nonprofit organizations to create a wide variety of programs that offer things neighborhood children and teens both want and need.

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The list of programs is impressive.  I’ll just scratch the surface here.  They have broken it down into four categories, each with a wide variety of options.

  1. Performing Arts – There are choirs and instrument performance lessons with groups for a variety of ages. There are a number of different theater classes and performance groups. Students can learn to dance, or work in a number of different visual arts disciplines like painting, photography, and stage setup.
  2. Athletics – As a Northside resident myself, I had my first introduction to Urban Impact when my oldest son took part in their Spring soccer program. I was impressed to learn that in addition to soccer, they offers kids the opportunity to participate in basketball, baseball, and swimming programs for all different levels of skills and abilities.
  3. Education – Urban Impact is able to offer in-school and after-school support with both literacy and math for Northside students. The Sumer educational structure at the organization’s very popular Summer Camp can help ameliorate some of the unfortunate drop off that may occur when students are away from the classroom for three months of vacation.
  4. Options – Urban Impact’s most recently developed program category looks to help prepare middle and high school student for employment and life after graduation.  There is a job readiness program, a program that helps students consider various careers and educational avenues, a mentoring program, and an SAT prep course.

From what I’ve heard, the program are excellent and the leaders are caring. This is a good place for kids to come participate in activities they love, get the help that they need, and be a part of a community of caring adults who are invested in their success.

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In addition to these programs, Urban Impact also hosts and leads Bible studies for spiritual nourishment and provide meals or snacks for students when programs extend through meal times so that the kids are physically nourished as well.

There more, including a number of special events throughout the year, but I’ll leave you to explore these as you look at their website. Participation in the various programs isn’t limited to Northside children, although all of the programs are located on the Northside because it is Urban Impact’s home turf.

I met with Urban Missionary and Director of Athletics, Seth Reichart (please watch the interview below), and he said there are three great ways to partner with Urban Impact.  They invite you to:

  1. Pray
  2. Volunteer – There are a number of different volunteer opportunities with Urban Impact. Just reach out, and they will help you find the right fit.
  3. Give – especially now. There is currently a large matching grant that will match your gift dollar for dollar. If you are considering an end-of-the-year donation, your gift to the Urban Impact Foundation would be doubled.

Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serous learning.”  – Mr. Rogers

I love being a dad. I’m not the primary caregiver in our home, but I do make a real effort to spend as much time as schedules will allow with my boys. Still, I’m one of the first to admit that long stretches of time at home with little kids can be hard. Like a lot of parents, I discovered early on in my fatherhood experience that both my kids and I have a lot more fun (and stay a lot more sane) if we can get out and do things.

Like many of you, I’ve walked the aisles at Target, I’ve hung out at a variety of playgrounds, and I’ve made many “special” trips to places like the Science Center or the Children’s Museum. If you are a parent of toddlers or preschoolers and you’re out there searching for another good option – one that allows for a wide variety of creative play – please allow me to introduce you to the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library.

The Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library (PTLL), located in Shadyside, has been around since the ’70s, but I’ve discovered that even a lot of long-time Pittsburghers don’t know about it. I’d like to help change that because the PTLL is a great place for kids and caregivers alike.

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Located in a church basement, the play space has a number of different areas to encourage all the activity and healthy development that kids need. There are special sections for art projects, book reading, having a snack, and making sure that the littlest guests can safely explore and play at their own pace while the bigger kids are zooming around other areas.

With over 400 toys, the PTLL is appropriate for children from birth to age 6. There is even a kitchen with reasonably prices snacks for the little ones (but you are welcome to bring your own), coffee for caregivers, and bottled water for nursing mothers.

Your first visit to the PTLL is free.  After that you pay $5 per kid (but a max of $10 per family). And while these admission fees do support the play space, there are actually a couple of other options for really joining in on the work that makes this cooperative organization what it is.

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Membership – especially as volunteer members – is a crucial aspect of the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library’s operation. There is actually a multi-tiered scale when it comes to membership that seeks to make membership possible for families at all different levels of financial flexibility and time availability. As a member you can opt to pay a little more and volunteer a little less, or volunteer a little more and pay a little less. Either way, as you get acquainted with the operation, you’ll see how it truly is caring and committed volunteers that make things work there.

PTLL is actually in the midst of a volunteer drive right now. The idea of “many hands make light work” is very apt here. If yo’ve never visited, I’d absolutely recommend bringing your little one along and taking advantage of all the great imaginative options for play. And once you have visited, and see what a great place it is for Pittsburgh kids and the people who love them, it might be worth considering joining in to help with work (your kids come and play while you are on your 2 hour volunteer shift).

There is a lot more information on the organization’s website, so I’d encourage you to click on the link and learn about things like hosting birthday parties, or actually borrowing a toy (it is a lending library, after all). An even better idea might be to just show up for your first free visit (or your next visit if you’ve already visited in the past). It’s a perfect place for a rainy day, a snowy, day, a hot and sweaty day, or any day you just need to get out of the house and want to make sure your little one has a safe and stimulating place to play.

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Beverly’s Birthdays


Can you remember any of your birthday parties from when you were growing up? For some of us, that might be a real stretch to tap that far back in our memories. But, for many of you, I imagine that there was at least one very special birthday that you can still remember – 20, 30, or 40 years later.

I remember a bowling party when I turned 8 (I think I rolled a 36), and I remember a sleepover I had when I turned 12 (don’t tell my parents, but we snuck out of the basement and roamed the neighborhood late that night). My oldest son, who turned 7 this year, plans the theme of his birthday parties for months in advance.  Kids love to have a special day where they are the reason to celebrate.


Beverly’s Birthdays exists because this is not the reality for every child. The organization got it’s start when the founder, Megs Yunn, spoke with a little girl named Beverly who had never had a birthday party, or even a piece of birthday cake. As Megs began to look more closely at this set of circumstances, she found that Beverly wasn’t the only child in the Pittsburgh area who had never been celebrated on her birthday…not by a long shot.

This didn’t sit well with Megs, and if the support she has been able to rally in the less than six years since she founded the organization is any indication, it hasn’t set will with a number of people. In that short time, Beverly’s Birthdays has come up with 5 different programs to help local kids who are homeless and/or member of needy families experience the joy of being celebrated on their birthdays.

The first, and what is probably the largest, of those programs is the actual Birthday Parties. Beverly’s Birthdays has partnered with over 60 organizations that work with local people in need to host monthly or seasonal birthday parties for the children they are serving.  The guests are the other children connected to the organization, and everyone gets treated to food, cake, games, decorations, and treat bags; all the things that would normally be part of a kid’s birthday party.


Additionally, the children celebrated at these parties receive birthday presents. Each package includes age and gender appropriate gifts, as well as a book and a tooth paste/tooth brush set.

While kids of all ages are eligible for a celebration, Beverly’s Birthdays realized that a lot of these families could benefit from support on the baby’s actual day of birth. Out of this realization came the Itty Bitty Birthday Cheer program, which partners with many of the same local agencies to host group baby showers that supply newborns with many essential item for the first year of life.

To round out their programs, the group has come up with two additional ways to help local kid’s celebrate. The Birthday-in-a-bag program sends a preassembled bag filled with necessary party supplies home with families that use the services of local food pantries. And the Classroom Cheer program parters with local schools that serve a majority of children below the poverty line to allow for classroom parties for the kids who learn there.


How You Can Help

There are a wide variety of ways that a volunteer can join in on the work being done at Beverly’s Birthdays. Volunteers are needed to help host the birthday parties, bake cakes, and assemble birthday bags. Additionally, for service minded kids out there in the community, Beverly’s Birthdays has developed a really innovative program they call Champions in Cheer. In this program, applicants go through a leadership training process that help them design and implement a fundraising project for Beverly’s Birthdays.

Both financial and in-kind donations are gratefully accepted. Take a look at the current in-kind Wish List if you need some ideas for the organization’s most pressing needs, or feel free to reach out to them and discuss any number of creative ways to support this organization that spreads joy all around the Pittsburgh region.

Make-A-Wish of Greater Pennsylvania & West Virginia

I shared a little bit of my brother’s story when I did the profile on Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh last month.  His fight with cancer also put us in the position to experience, first hand, how the Make-A-Wish organization works.

When we were first approached by a hospital social worker about the prospect of working with Make-A-Wish, we were shocked.  We were under the impression that Make-A-Wish only worked with children who were considered terminal, and while we knew that Chris’s cancer diagnosis was very serious, were were absolutely not ready to believe that it might be terminal.  Apparently this is one of the greatest misconceptions about the work that Make-A-Wish does.

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While all Make-A-Wish recipients need to be between the ages of 2-18, and need to have been diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition, I was thrilled to learn that many beneficiaries go on to live full lives after gaining victory over their illnesses.  In fact, Make-A-Wish relies on the public to refer potential gift recipients to the program.  After communicating with the family, the organization will then look to verify the child’s eligibility through his or her physician.

My brother, like about half of the gift recipients, chose to go to Walk Disney World.  And while this trip is far and away the most popular choice for kids (Make-A-Wish and Disney have teamed up to make the trip extra-special for the kids and their families) there really are very few limits to what is possible for these kids’ special wishes.  Basically the options are broken down into five categories:

  1. I wish to go to…
  2. I wish to be…
  3. I wish to meet…
  4. I wish to have…
  5. I wish to give…

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Our local chapter, headquartered here in Pittsburgh, serves almost all of Pennsylvania and all of West Virginia.  They are quite busy.  Last year they fulfilled over 700 wishes, making them the first Make-A-Wish chapter in the world to cross that threshold. Since the chapter started up in Pittsburgh in 1983, they have fulfilled over 18,000 wishes.

Take a moment to stop and consider that number.  18,000 children, most whom were intimately acquainted with the inside of a hospital room and all the uncertainty that comes along with it.  18,000 kids whose little bodies had betrayed them in some way, shape, or form.  18,000 families who worried, prayed, and struggled, not knowing what the future would hold for their babies.  These 18,000 made a wish and had it granted.  They got to do something special. Something important. Something that allowed them and their families the opportunity to focus on something other than disease and doctors for a little while.  When medical treatment and crises have been your whole world, this sort of brief escape from reality is invaluable.

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How Can You Help?

Make-A-Wish does not receive any government funding or grants. This means they are fully dependent on private donations for the wishes that they are able to grant. Foundations and organizations do donate, but it’s still individuals who make up the largest percentage of the donations to Make-A-Wish. And, while 86% of your gift goes directly to wish-granting (it should go without saying that marketing and administrative fees are still very important), the organization even gives you the option to request that 100% of your donation goes to that end.  Beyond this, all donations remain with the local chapter. Your money will directly benefit local kids.

Make-A-Wish also has some really amazing ways to use volunteers. After some training, a volunteer can become part of a wish-granting team. These volunteers meet with families to help the ill child determine what wish will be best for him or her. After this, the volunteer continues to act as a liaison between the family and the organization throughout the process, helping to make things special for the wish child at every step along the way.

But the opportunities to help don’t end there. I’ll direct you to the chapter’s volunteer page where you can learn about a half-dozen more ways to contribute to the mission of granting wishes for kids with life-threatening illnesses.

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Wrapping it up

Since my brother did want to go to Disney Wold and enjoy the tip to it’s absolute fullest (something he tried to do with everything), he waited to take us along until his cancer was in remission (about 15 months after his initial diagnosis). He completed two major surgeries, a few rounds of chemotherapy, and ten weeks of daily radiation. By Thanksgiving of 1999 he was behaving like a normal teenager again, so that’s when we spent a fantastic week racing through the parks. Unfortunately Chris’s story wasn’t one with a happy ending.  His cancer ended up coming back and taking his life on Thanksgiving Day the following year.  But that week in Disney a year earlier was pure joy. And our memories of that week are still strong, and happy. We are truly grateful for that time we had together.

I’m sure other families have equally significant and memorable stories. In fact, I imagine there are 18,000 of them from out of the Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia offices. I’m grateful that we have Make-A-Wish here to serve local children. They truly are a group that Betters the ‘Burgh.


Foster Love Project

Did you know that when children go to live with a new family for foster care placement, it is sometimes with little more than the clothes on their backs? Perhaps they had only a few minute to toss belongings into a garbage bag as they are being shuffled out the door. Rarely is there an opportunity to carefully pack a bag of their best-loved belongings and outfits before they are taken to live in a new home.

Experienced foster Mom and founder of Foster Love Project, Kelly Hughes recognized this sad fact and knew it was wrong.  Different kids will pick up on it to different degrees, but there is a unfortunate message sent when your belongings are transported via garbage bag. Her initial plan, the “project” part of Foster Love Project, was to try to do something about this (temporarily) for the agency that she had worked with when welcoming her foster children.

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The plan was simple but profound: make sure the agency was supplied with bags to accompany a child when he or she was taken to live in a new home so that they would have something special, something of their own as they began a new life in a strange place. The packing instructions were as follows: Fill a bag (diaper or duffle) or backpack with these gender and age appropriate items.

  1. Pajamas (winter and summer)
  2. A book
  3. A stuffed animal
  4. A blanket
  5. A pack of socks
  6. A toothbrush & toothpaste
  7. Body wash and a scrubber

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From the beginning, Kelly was able to collect over 1,300 bags in just two month time (after an initial goal of 300).  It was obvious that the mission had struck a chord with people. Since then, just a couple of years later, the Project has taken off in a huge way. After outgrowing her living room, Foster Love Project is now located in some office space and storage rooms at the North Way Community Church in Dormont (2865 Espy Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15216).

Along with the number of bags, and supporters, the mission has grown as well. Now in addition to providing bags to be distributed at foster agencies around Western PA, they are also able to act as a distribution center for new or high-quality, gently-used items that foster children are likely to need. Foster families in need of clothing, books, diapers, car seats, and any number of other items are able to stop in at the Foster Love Project office to get supplies. Please check out their website and reach out if you are able to donate or if you have a need.

Foster Love Project actually hosts two large “drives” throughout the year. During the summer they conduct a gift card drive that can help foster families with clothing and school supplies for the back-to-school season.  And right now, they are about to enter their primary push for collecting bags. Throughout the months of November and December, businesses, neighborhood groups, churches, clubs and generous volunteers of all sorts work together to collect and fill bags so local agencies are prepared with bags to go along with each child placed in a new home.

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We’re really only scratching the surface of the ways that you could help.  In addition to the website, you may want to take a look at their Facebook page for ideas that will inspire you to put a bag together or bring family and friends in to help sort donations in the clothing room. this is an organization that thrives because caring people have been willing to come alongside of Kelly Hughes’ vision and help in the hard work. The more people who can volunteer, the more that can donate, the more children here in the Pittsburgh area will be impacted for the better.