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.
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.
As a KEYS member, I enjoy the opportunities we have to work with organizations around the Pittsburgh area. A few weekends ago, I had the chance to volunteer near my hometown at the Project Prom Shop located in Century III Mall. This volunteer opportunity was a very fun and rewarding experience. I not only got to help young ladies find their perfect dress, but also was able to meet other AmeriCorps members and members of my local community.
Some students are unable to attend their high school prom due to the expenses. This is the need that Project Prom recognized when it was first launched in 2003 by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. Since 2003, it has given eligible high school students the opportunity to choose free prom attire from a selection of donated items. Project Prom also recently started renting tuxedos to young men who are attending their prom. Items that are donated include gowns, shoes, jewelry, purses, and other accessories. These items are all donated from local organizations and the general public.
The Project Prom Shop is located in Century III Mall in West Mifflin. The shop contains dressing rooms and volunteers act as personal stylists for the young ladies who are looking to find their perfect dress. As a volunteer, I helped several girls find their dress as well as accessories to wear the night of their prom.
Prom is a very exciting time when you are in high school, so I wanted to make sure that every girl was happy with their prom look. I had fun acting as a dress consultant for the girls that came into the shop. Most girls knew exactly what they wanted and I enjoyed trying to find the dress that fit the vision they had in their heads. One girl in particular had a difficult time finding a dress. She came into the shop right before closing time and could not seem to find one that she loved. After trying on dozens of dresses she found herself loving one that she originally did not want to try on. It was an exciting moment when she decided to choose that as her prom dress. Her family as well as every other family I worked with was extremely thankful which made my experience all the more rewarding.
by Sierra Baril
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.
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.
by Dan Slowey
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.