The Tireless Project: Getting Muddy in Memory of 9/11

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. 1236569_950611345805_381604514_nCombining 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.1185297_950610238025_1478962154_n 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.carrie furnace

 

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A Leaders in Training Service 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.

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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.

Building a Kaboom! Playground in Homewood

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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.

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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.

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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.

KEYS Service Corps Helps Out for AmeriCorps Week

by Sierra Baril

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This year, AmeriCorps members and alums celebrated AmeriCorps Week March 9th – 17th. This annual event is an opportunity to not only thank these members and their partners but also to show the community what an important impact AmeriCorps has. The best way to get the word out there about KEYS Service Corps happens to be the way we celebrate most events – with service! There were many opportunities for members to serve a number of neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. We kicked off AmeriCorps Week with four service projects on Saturday, March 9th. Some members participated in a beautification project downtown, picking up trash and weeding. Others helped with a Habitat for Humanity project or the Garden Work Day at the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Community Garden of North Hills Community Outreach.

I chose to work with Tree Pittsburgh in Southside. Everyone showed up at around 10 am, split up into teams, and took their tools of the trade (rakes, garbage bags, gloves) to the area we were assigned. We spread out a lot of mulch and picked garbage out of the tree pits. My group stumbled across a staggering amount of garbage in a long line of shrubs by the Tenth Street Bridge, so after we took care of the tree pits, we spent about half an hour collecting that. As we were working, a man pushing a stroller stopped to ask us why we were doing this. Did we have to or want to? We explained we were choosing to, and he thanked us because he walked by this trash all the time and was glad to see it being picked up. Most people we passed looked pleased to see us working on the trees.

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In addition to the optional service projects KEYS participated in, members served at the Braddock Carnegie Library and around the Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 School the following Friday. To prepare for the installation of the National Historic Landmark plaque on April 20th at the library, I helped clean woodwork and repackaged many large boxes of books that the library was planning on donating. Other projects at that site included cleaning carpets, windows, and the pool area.

To cap off AmeriCorps Week, some AmeriCorps members wore both green and their stylish AmeriCorps gear and marched in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade on March 16th.

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South Side Beautification Projects

by Dan Slowey

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Our forces assembled at 10 AM in a nondescript parking lot in the South Side. KEYS members and staff were joined by volunteers from other AmeriCorps programs and the community at large, and the entire operation was spearheaded by the wonderfully able staff of Tree Pittsburgh.

After a rousing period of preliminary speechmaking, punctuated by the extemporaneous shoutings of a still-inebriated passerby, we split into groups of 6-8 people and headed off to our respective quadrants of the neighborhood.

Our mission was humble but essential: pick up as much litter as humanly possible, and tend and mulch all existing tree beds within our territory. The author of this report, in his great and noteworthy humility, would be mortified to describe his own personal exploits in great detail. Suffice it to say that although every member of every group was essential to the success of the project, he was the only one who removed not just one but two plastic bags from the tops of the innocent trees through the use of his patent-pending Jumping Rake Swipe Technique.

In the end, the project was truly a massive success. The health of the trees and the sightliness of the South Side community were both greatly enhanced, and there were no reported rake-related injuries. KEYS members live and breathe to get things done for America, and this was a fantastic opportunity to partner with some of our wonderful Pittsburgh neighbors and do exactly that.

A Holiday Service Project

by Kyra Forman

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As part of our year of service with KEYS, members are required to plan a service project to carry out with the youth they are serving. The thought of this project was exciting to me, but also a bit daunting. Although a year seems like a lot of time to plan just one project, we all know time flies. Plus, after completing my community asset map (a series of interviews with community leaders/members about the needs and assets of the community we serve, which for me is Homewood) I still didn’t have any definitive ideas in my mind. Then I remember the advice given by the KEYS staff “ask the kids!” Well, before I could do that, I happened to overhear the kids discussing ways to help others with their teacher, in order to write a short essay to be put in a drawing for a free bike. The kids had great ideas, and one idea especially stuck out to me: helping the elderly. So, from there, the kids, teachers and I came up with the idea to visit a senior home, where we would sing holiday songs and pass out handmade cards. The holidays are a magical time, but they can also be lonely for those that live alone or don’t have family nearby. For this reason, I really liked our plan.

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After deciding on what to do for the project, I then had to think about which senior home to visit. After contacting a few places, I decided upon Vincentian de Marillac nursing home located in Stanton Heights. I was a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to locate anywhere to visit directly in Homewood, but Stanton Heights is about three miles away, so it is still in the “East End.” Vincentian de Marillac said that they could handle about fifteen to twenty kids which at first worried me because there are seventy-five children in all in the second grade. However, the teachers and I decided that it would be best for just the “positive” students (students who exemplify the ROAR standards –respect, on task, appropriate and responsible) to go. This worked out well because there were exactly sixteen of them. Yet, I still wanted to include the rest of the children, so decided that they could make the cards that we would deliver to the fifty plus residents. Now the fun part began! Singing! For two weeks the children and I practiced our holiday songs during the last period of the day. The kids were always eager and excited for this time (I’m sure it had nothing to do with getting out of class). Each day they’d ask “Are you getting us today Ms. Kyra?” During our periods together we also discussed why people live in senior homes and what to expect. Finally on December 18, the day before the trip, we made holiday cards and were ready to go!

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I can’t say that I wasn’t nervous the night before about how the trip would go. Many questions ran through my mind such as “Would the kids be nervous? How would they react? Would they be well behaved? Would they remember the songs? Would the residents enjoy it?”etc., etc…However, all my fears were put to rest the next day, because the trip went fabulously! We arrived at Vincentian de Marillac around 1 o’clock and sang for about an hour. We traveled through the halls stopping in rooms singing “Rudolph”, “Jingle Bells”, and “Walking In a Winter Wonderland” The whole place was filled with the sounds of children singing, one of the most uplifting things you’ll ever hear in my opinion. Although some of the residents couldn’t hear or speak well, their joy was evident by the tapping of their feet and the smiles on their faces. Two residents were even moved to tears when they were handed their handmade cards. Overall, it was an awesome experience for everyone involved and the kids even got cookies to take back to school! On the way back, one of the students looked at me and said “I want to do that again.” It was great to share the joy of service with the kids and I hope I can do another service project with them throughout the year!

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KEYS at The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

by Kristy DeCola

Viewing the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, for the first time, the building was not at all what I expected.  I never pictured such a large facility and just from the outside I began to get a very good idea of the magnitude of what the GPCFB does.  Inside, we were greeted by Megan Bailey, who gave us some more background on the GPCFB and its mission.  Megan informed us that looks are not deceiving and the GPCFB facility is 94,000 square feet and has been at this L.E.E.D. certified building since 1998.

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Megan also told us that in this facility 40 to 60 daily volunteers help to package and distribute 2.2 million pounds of food per month.  This food is distributed to partner organizations, such as shelters, food pantries and smaller food banks, in an eleven county service region in Pennsylvania.  The GPCFB also serves counties in West Virginia and Ohio, as well.  I found this to be a very interesting piece of information to learn.  In the past, when I have heard about the GPCFB I assumed it served the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County only.  I never thought that they also distribute food to food banks like the one in my county of Washington.  It takes many people, volunteers and donors, to make such a mission possible.

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Once Megan finished giving us some background on the GPCFB, she told KEYS members what we would be doing for a service that day.  We would be working on the repack floor taking shipments of frozen meat and poultry that were not ready for distribution and repackaging them into boxes of meat or poultry, each weighting twenty pounds.

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Frozen meat is heavy.  Packaging it to create twenty pound boxes is nothing short of an aerobic activity, especially when one does it for almost three hours.  Placing the packages into the boxes so they all fit nicely began to take on an artistic quality, not to mention the friendly competitions over who was packaging the most boxes. I do not know about anyone else but I was quite exhausted after my experience and good on my workout for the next few days at least.