On October 6, the Braddock Carnegie Library began circulating more than just books and DVDs: works of ART are now available to all patrons who possess an Allegheny County library card. Just like books, DVDs, and music, you can take works of art home with you and have them in your house for up to three weeks at a time. The works of art available in the collection have been donated by several different artists – some are local, others are participating in the Carnegie International Exhibition (housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art). The art lending library allows patrons to experience different works of art in their own homes, as well as allowing artists to share their creations with a wider audience.
“All You Can Art” was the kickoff event. It attracted hundreds of people, and opened in conjunction with the 2013 Carnegie International exhibition. The idea of an art lending library started with an artist collaborative called Transformazium. The members – Ruthie Stringer, Dana Bishop-Root, and Leslie Stem – all work at the Braddock Library and are heavily invested in the community there. They have worked to get many members of the community involved in working at and helping to sustain the art lending library.
The art lending library is just the newest of many services at the Braddock Carnegie Library. The library is a place that is accessible for everyone in the community. Like most libraries, books and movies are in heavy circulation and the computers are often in use by community members – but Braddock Carnegie Library offers more than just circulating items and internet access. The children’s space (where most of my time is spent) is an almost-constant hub of afterschool activity – kids are always there to get on the computer or tablet, do crafts or homework, play with Legos or puppets, socialize with their peers, and sometimes they even read books. “Creative Wednesdays” are held from 4 to 5 (or 6, or 6:15) with a new craft for the kids to attempt every week. On Saturdays, both music class (in the room next door, containing a piano and a statue of Hermes) and clay class (in the pottery studio downstairs) are offered to the kids, free of charge. There is open studio time in the screen-printing shop upstairs (also brought to Braddock by Transformazium) for the kids on Thursday evenings, run by members of the Braddock Youth Project. For adults, the pottery studio is open on Tuesday and Thursday nights (free for residents of Braddock, and inexpensive for anyone else), and the screen printing shops is open on Saturdays. There are also many other programs and goings-on at the library – yoga class is held on Thursday nights, a community book club meets once a month, and different organizations hold meetings there throughout the week.
Serving at the Braddock Carnegie Library has given me an opportunity to see what community investment looks like. Most of the staff at the library lives in Braddock, and they work to make the library a community center, offering many resources to all that live in the 15104. Although it is not a large, expansive organization, it is an effective and a beautiful picture of what it looks like when people work to make their community a better place.
I wasn’t sure I could really do it. I had almost decided that I wouldn’t even try. It’s not because I’m blind that I was afraid to do the Zip Line as part of AmeriCorps KEYS team building day on Wednesday, October 16, 2013. Actually, as I stood on the rain-soaked grass, I saw my blindness as an asset: After all, I couldn’t scan the distance to which I had climbed and the ground below and fear that the height was giving me vertigo. No, I was apprehensive because I have had several falls in which I have broken and fractured bones and wasn’t eager to risk another fall. More importantly, though, I was afraid of somehow failing in this physical endeavor and didn’t want to embarrass myself so soon in front of fellow KEYS members. What finally changed my mind, though, was the ongoing encouragement from the very people I didn’t want to perceive me as a failure.
As I mounted the many steps while being supported by helping hands and steady arms, there were times when I still thought, “Oh, no! Why did I decide to do this” My fear was quickly replaced by the exhilarating sensation of flying freely through the rainy, rushing breeze.
“I lost my shoe,” I announced as my feet touched the ground and this wonderful victory secured by the wrapping paper of encouragement had ended. Or had it? I may have lost my shoe, but I won much more: I won the ability to trust more-to trust myself to dare to be comfortable with discomfort; and I won a greater ability to better understand that my fellow Keys members could the same knowledge and encouragement of youth to serve to believe in my abilities by embracing both differences and commonalities. Thanks to this culture of accepting and encouraging, I am eager to zip down many more Zip lines, feel the freedom of a rushing wind, and, yes, even lose my shoe!
The morning of September 18th was quite cold and quite brisk.
I was riding a black bicycle through the streets of Homewood, observing the sights and sounds of a usual morning run about in this beautiful city. A chilled, yet welcoming, wind was dancing past me, kissing my ears and nose; they were blushing red roses from the affection. At a stop light I looked at watch to ask her for the time, her silent response echoed 7:25. I was right on schedule.
That day marked an event that was here unto unknown to me and fellow AmeriCorps members serving in the community of Homewood. It was Walk to School Day, a sort of practice day for the International Walk to School Day that takes place on the 9th of October every year since 1997. A day in which the Keystone state ranks 4th in the entire country for the number of events held statewide, a day in which hundreds of thousands of youth across the globe will learn proper etiquette and safety apropos being a smart and safe pedestrian (while sneaking in some physical fitness as well, but that’s just between you and I).
At 7:30 I reached the Homewood Children’s Village office, located in the heart of the community, and met up with a trusted colleague, Tremar Baptiste. We were to be the leaders of a group of young students walking from central Homewood to Faison Elementary, Tremar took the role of photographer while I took the lead of the youth as walk captain.
After a short meeting to acquire all of the necessary accoutrements we traveled to the location wherein we were to meet all of the Walk to School Day participants, which, at the start, was a modest assortment of 7 scholars. However, as we started to walk, we also started to sing chants regarding pedestrian safety, we started to dance and sing, we started to tilt our heads back and laugh, we started to take pride in the community in which we walked and the community in which we created. This caused us to garner attention from other walkers, and by the time we reached Faison we were around 14 youth strong; all of us singing and dancing and proud.
It must have been a sight to see; me leading a group of scholars to school, encouraging them to sing and yell and dance away their excitement as Tremar buzzed about gracefully capturing every moment on film, a hummingbird zipping to and fro.
While we were reveling outside, a few other members were hard at work within the newly built Faison Elementary. They were also participating in the Walk to School Day event, but in addition they were busy getting everyone excited for the Faison Family Fun night, which was to take place a little more than a week later, on the 25th.
It was quite a fun night indeed! The fete was catered by Grow Pittsburgh, an urban agriculture nonprofit and also an organization wherein two other members, Molly and Jim, serve. These two dedicated souls helped to provide locally grown sustenance for families to be nourished by and enjoy. It was a night of revelry, it was a night of dancing, it was a night of youth and parents and KEYS members and teachers coming together to break bread and share of themselves with each other.
Y’know, at this point I must digress;
a major reason why I believe AmeriCorps to be so fantastic is the sheer reason that we are everywhere, serving in myriad capacities and forming a strong and passionate network of individuals who care. We are a network of individuals who support each other, as we align under a singular banner with a simple motto; Getting things done. One week it’s two members heading a Walk to School Day event, the next its 6 members supporting a community bonding event.
I believe that I speak for all of my colleagues in Homewood and elsewhere around the city when I say, We are here because we care.
And also, well, we just love gettin’ things done, specially if it’s for America.
Perhaps we were mournful optimists or just “head over heels” for doing a community service project, in this case head over heels in mud, a group of pursuing AmeriCorps members gathered to clean one of Pittsburgh’s rivers of litter and filthy excrements. Combining forces with Allegheny CleanWays, a non-profit in Pittsburgh, we hiked to the Carrie Furnace Riversweep at the Monongahela River to begin our upheaval. At first, it was like entering a park preserve with high grassy meadows, caterpillars on our fingertips, and deep foliage of trees surrounding us. The crisp morning air breathed a fresh scent of Autumn, and with gardening gloves and shovels in hand, we set upon a trail to the river. Being the diligent KEYS Service Corps members that we are, coming to the threshold immediately of having to whack our own trail to the river didn’t wipe the smile from our faces. Bottles of unidentifiable liquids, Styrofoam containers, broken glass, sandals, beer kegs surrounded us and we set to work of disposing the litter. The service workers and representatives of Allegheny CleanWays shared with us their motto, to “engage and empower people to eliminate illegal dumping and littering in Allegheny County.” As littering and illegal waste degrades our community and quality of life, we were superheroes trying to improve the quality of life. I set my sight on a challenge right away when I spotted a barrel, knee deep in muddy waters. With the help of a few girls, we shoveled and scooped, dragged and carried it to be recycled. Among the various challenges of the day were refrigerators, barrels, and my own personal adversary, tires. We weren’t going to let a couple dozen stubborn tires tire us out! After much pulling and prodding, we were able to roll the tires to be taken to a dump with muddy faces and clothes to show for it. When I asked returning AmeriCorps member Kyle if his expectations were met at the end of the project, he replied, “Well, I certainly didn’t expect to be working with ticks or to get such a work out!” I will say, we work hard for America, and my father was right, hard labor does pay off. This program is a collaborative endeavor of several organizations with a common interest in the waterways of Pittsburgh. The Tireless Project was launched in 2003 by the Three Rivers Rowing Association. Since its beginnings, more than 2,600 volunteers have extracted 173 tons of debris, including 2170 tires and 310 bags of recyclables from the rivers’ shores. It certainly is a “tirefull” tireless project.
In the North Side of Pittsburgh there is poverty, brokenness, and dejectedness. There is also hope. There are youth that live in the various North Side communities that are transforming themselves and their community. The future is bright because of these students. The Pittsburgh Project is enabling these students to transform themselves and their community. The Pittsburgh Project is a youth development non-profit that has a program called Leaders in Training (LITs). The program is a high school youth development program that aims to develop work skills within the youth and prepare them for college. Part of the leaders’ training involves addressing an issue that plagues the community.
Homelessness is an issue that plagues the North Side. There are whole homeless communities that exist. The communities are often found under bridges. The staff of the LITs, the students, and I decided that we could make a difference. We decided that we would team up with Light of Life, a homeless outreach, to prepare a meal and serve it to the homeless people. Our meal was spaghetti and meat sauce. We purchased many pounds of spaghetti and gallons of tomato sauce. We served over 150 people all together.
This service project instilled in our youth the importance of service. We wanted them to realize that they could do something about the issue of homelessness. We accomplished this by having them prepare and serve a meal for the homeless that go to Light of Life. The project taught that if a person wants change in the community they must be that agent of change. The accomplishment of the service was an achievement, but there was more purpose behind our service than just feeding those in need.
The students at the Project are not rich by any means, but they do live in a degree of comfort. They are comfortable enough to be isolated from the issue of homelessness. One of the goals of this project was to have the youth confront this issue firsthand. The students had an opportunity to interact with the homeless people on an individual level.
The interaction was a growth opportunity for our youth. They were forced out of their comfort zone. The students saw homelessness face to face instead of at a distance as they had before. The students were at first tepid when approached by the people at the shelter, but soon warmed up to them after realizing they were people just like themselves. This service project was able to help foster community bonds between our youth and the homeless people.
Homelessness is no longer just a part of our youth’s community that is shunned and ignored. The problem has been personalized. Our youth understand homelessness on an individual level. Now when homelessness is mentioned or brought up in conversation they can think back to when they saw it firsthand. This firsthand experience will enrich them as citizens of their community as they confront problems of homelessness.
by Katie Woods
One of the most moving experiences I have been involved in during my term of service with AmeriCorps was the opportunity to participate in the building of a playground in Homewood. On April 13th, the Homewood Children’s Village, teamed up with Kaboom! to build a playground in just one day. There were over two hundred people at this event, which truly exemplified this community coming together for their children.
Although the actual playground was built in a day, it took months of planning before everything was ready for the build. As part of the planning, I attended several group meetings to help with the planning process. One particular meeting allowed for children of Homewood to design their dream playground. These designs were presented to the group and after some alterations, were voted on by the community for a final selection. This meeting also allowed for children to participate in setting up rules for the playground. These rules would be posted at the end of the building process.
When it was time for Build Day, we were all eager to begin. We came together to do warm ups and we were then split into predetermined teams. I was part of the “mulch team” and there was quite a bit of mulch. We began with a mountain of mulch early in the morning and by the end of the day my team had dispersed this throughout the entire playground. Other teams worked on painting signs, mixing the foundation cement, assembling benches, planters, and the actual playground structures.
The lunch break we were given was a time for people to come together to talk about what we were doing, and why we were doing it. I was able to talk to one woman who was pleased to see something positive happening in Homewood, especially after the violence that had occurred earlier in that same week. Many people talked about how excited they were to bring their own children to play there. Overall the atmosphere was hopeful and ambitious.
After six hours of hard work the playground was complete, but not ready to be played on. It was roped off to settle for one week and everyone was invited to attend the opening at the block party on April 20th. The block party was also a huge success. The kids were so excited to be able to finally play and explore their new playground. The tire swing became a quick favorite as they learned how to spin it and fit as many kids as possible at one time. For me, the best part was watching the community come together and seeing the smiles on every child’s face as they played in a safe space in their community. There was a sense of pride felt by all for being a part of the building process. This is the Homewood I want people to envision when they think of the neighborhood. I want them to think of all of the people who came together to create a space where children can run, play and just be kids.
Here are some member created service projects that still need some outside help: