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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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 at the Pennsylvania AmeriCorps Launch in Philadelphia

By Jenalee Schenk and Dan Slowey

It was a cold, bleary Sunday morning as KEYS members and staff prepared to embark on our journey to the 2012-13 Pennsylvania AmeriCorps Launch in Philadelphia. Despite the weather and the early departure time, spirits were at an all-time high. The delightfully complementary scents of adventure, service, and Cool Ranch Doritos were in the air, and it was apparent from the outset that our motor coach driver, Prince, was not a man to be trifled with.

Approximately two hours after we left Pittsburgh, we arrived in Philadelphia, and Prince’s status as some sort of highway necromancer was confirmed.

Once we settled in at the hotel, there was a bit of time for sightseeing or relaxing, and then we all headed to the Continental restaurant for a truly delightful dinner. Tucked into a modern, stylish banquet room, we were swarmed with a dazzling array of dishes that surely must have satisfied everyone present. A few representative quotes: “These mashed potatoes are excellent.” – Deshawn Legrand. “I really like the ravioli. Hehehe.” – Madelyn Wallace. “Give me your extra dessert or I will hurt you.” – Meredythe Kimmel.

At the conclusion of our feast, the entire lot of us was unleashed upon the rainy streets of Philadelphia for a combination of (1) karaoke, (2) social interactions, (3) karaoke, and (4) more karaoke. That city has certainly seen its fair share of extraordinary events throughout the years, but let’s just say it won’t soon be forgetting any of what it witnessed that wonderful night. {Photos redacted to ensure against future blackmail.}

Early Monday morning, we all gathered for breakfast to fuel ourselves for a service project at the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House. Tasks included cleaning and organizing, inventory of canned goods and clothing, and removing a forest of bamboo from the back yard. According to John, a Vietnam War army veteran, the home serves as temporary housing for veterans in need. At the time of our service, about seven people were living at the house, including one family. Stays usually range from two to three weeks, or until a more permanent solution is found. John told us that many of the veterans arrive at the home in need of treatment for cancer or addiction. This is the only place in Philadelphia for veterans to find this kind of housing.

After completing our work at the Veterans’ Comfort House, we loaded back onto our trusty steed and headed to the Constitution Center for the Launch. We met up with hundreds of fellow PA AmeriCorps members for a series of rousing speeches from state and national leaders, a stirring rendition of the AmeriCorps pledge, and a truly inspirational banner ceremony. Afterwards, we all enjoyed a delicious lunch, got to know each other a little bit better, and were treated to a complimentary showing of the truly inspirational “Freedom Rising.”


After an exciting trip, AmeriCorps members boarded the bus; geared up from an eventful day, the bus buzzed with energy. Debates over movies were had (Team Muppets vs. Team The Wiz), but in the end it was a bonding experience. Thanks to the AmeriCorps Launch, this bus full of KEYS members is now ready to get things done for America.

Camp Guyasuta

On August 24th our members went to Camp Guyasuta just outside of Pittsburgh. This Boy Scout camp hosts groups for team building and ropes course activities.

Our members had a full day of learning to trust one another, getting to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and helping each other out, all the while having fun on a playground of ropes, ziplines, and climbing walls.

Returning member Christian Freeberg enjoyed leaving the Department of Human Services for the day to see Camp Guyasuta for the second time. He thinks this training activity is a great way to learn about other members and said, “The group activies were always fun and sometimes really funny. It made me feel more comfortable being around so many people who were just having fun and laughing at each other.”

We always have really great feedback after returning from a day at Camp Guyasuta, and we think such a hands on approach to team building is a great way to spend a day of training! Thanks to all of the staff at Camp Guyasuta for another successful day.

Expanding Growth…

– Angela Nelson

In the past, “training” for jobs has always included about three hours of your manager standing behind you pointing out buttons—“Push that now” “Oh no, don’t push that” and “Well, you’ll learn, I guess”—and then ending with the smug satisfaction that you have learned how to work a twenty-year-old cash register. Congratulations, time to start your glamorous job as a cashier at Dollar General.

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