Field Trip to the Carnegie’s Pop Up Library!

by Maggie Tully

This past Monday, the second- and third-graders in Brashear Association’s after school program at Grandview Elementary in Allentown had the opportunity to take a field trip to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s new pop-up library on Arlington Avenue, next to the Zone 3 police station. The pop-up library is part of Carnegie’s Libraries in Your Neighborhood Communities and Schools (LYNCS) program, and aims to provide resources and library services to the residents of Allentown, while also working to build relationships and learn more about the community’s specific needs. The pop-up library is a temporary library and will stay open in Allentown through February of 2014.

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In honor of Black History Month this February, our hosts for the day—Maria and Dave—planned a Black History themed story time and craft for our students. We read The Quilt by Ann Jonas, Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson, and The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud, and talked about how quilt squares served as a secret map for slaves on their journey to freedom.

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After story time, the students had a craft time where they created their own personalized quilt square, which was later strung together to create a class quilt. After the craft was over, the students had time to explore the library a little more, play with some of the games, and have a quick snack before it was time for us to head back up the hill to Grandview. As we were about to leave, Maria and Dave surprised us by letting each student take a book home with them to keep! The students were thrilled about the books and enjoyed their afternoon at the library so much that they’ve already started asking me when we’ll be going back for another field trip. It has been a wonderful experience to see kids so young getting so excited about the library and all the resources that it holds.

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To read more stories about Grandview kids and the Brashear Association, please visit their blog by clicking here.

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Defining Service at Propel Pitcairn Charter School

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by Amanda Peters and Sarah Voels

We are thrilled to be serving the Propel Pitcairn Charter School and are very excited to mentor our students to be great volunteers. We already knew they were charitable individuals having frequently been offered a portion of their animal crackers during snack time. We already knew that they were helpful having witnessed several students dive under tables in an effort to all pick up a rogue crayon. What we could not say for certain was whether or not they could define service.

“Service,”as defined by our Kindergartners is “not laughing at your friend when they are stabbed with a fork.” To be frank, most of the Kindergartners definitions of “service” included not laughing at a friend when some unfortunate thing happened to them. 

As we asked older and older students, the definitions took on a new life. They had diverse opinions on what service entailed; everything from helping someone across the street to saying “thank you.”

Once service was broadly defined, we began developing a project that our students enthusiastically took hold of. They decided that with the cold winter months crowding in on us and no way of encouraging the human race to hibernate three months of the year, that we should conduct a winter accessories drive. They made posters promoting it and even researched how the cold negatively affects the body and why we should keep it warm. Ultimately these items would be donated to a clothing bank in the Pitcairn community to be given to those in need.

The kids, competitive by nature, made the whole effort a contest. After determining that perhaps a grade-wide ice cream/pizza party while wearing jeans was out of the question, we settled on a jeans day (the students wear uniforms) for the grade that collectively donates the most. The students in the after school program collected donations from each homeroom, did the math, and colored in paper thermometers to wittily record the donated numbers. 

All in all, 308 pairs of mittens and gloves, scarves, hats, and coats were donated to those in our school community. We are thankful that our students were so giving and can safely say that service includes a bit more than not laughing at a friends injury. 

Cheap Eats on Carson Street

by Annie Merrill and Maggie Tully

Any AmeriCorps member will be quick to tell you that money is not our main motivation in signing up for a year of service. Living on the modest AmeriCorps stipend can be particularly challenging for members who aren’t used to sticking to a strict budget or don’t have much experience in managing their personal finances. Luckily for KEYS members and other AmeriCorps members serving in Pittsburgh, East Carson Street on the South Side is full of discounted and delicious lunch and dinner specials, guaranteed to fill you up and help you save a buck. Here’s just a few tried and true cheap eats on Carson Street:

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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.

NovaNET is Helping Students at Carrick High School

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Written by Christian Freeberg

Summer may seem far away to us but when you’re a high school student sitting in a class barely keeping your own head up while a teacher lectures on about the differences between prokaryote and eukaryote cells, it can seem like it might never come. For most students the school year ends just in time to jump in a pool or go to a drive-in movie, but for the students who struggled throughout the year, a different much more terrifying fate lies ahead: Summer School.

But summer school is no longer the only option. With advances in technology and the integrating of computer technology into schools, students can now take online classes to help them recover lost credits needed for graduation. One of those programs is called NovaNET. NovaNET is an online credit recovery program. While serving at the Hilltop Computer Center I have had a chance to see just how great and effective this program is. Our site has partnered with The Neighborhood Learning Alliance to provide Carrick High School students with not only access to NovaNET but also on-site tutoring.

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Pittsburgh AmeriCorps Panel Discussion

By Rebecca DePoe

Whenever I hear the words “panel discussion,” or “networking,” or “meet in the second floor ballroom”, the introvert within me starts to cringe. See, spending the morning making small talk with hundreds of strangers is as uncomfortable for an introvert as it is for an extrovert to spend Saturday night at home, alone, with a book. But I’m learning through my service with KEYS that change is an oftentimes uncomfortable process. And even though the AmeriCorps Panel Discussion made the introvert in me uncomfortable, I learned a lot from collaborating with men and women so dedicated to enacting positive change in our region.

The morning began with members signing Holiday Cards for veterans. It was a timely service project in light of Veteran’s Day being two days away. The cards will benefit veterans at the Veteran’s Hospitals of Pittsburgh. Members also used that time to share stories about their service experiences with each other.

Once everyone arrived and settled in, the Staff Panel began. Staff from the Peace Corps, Public Allies Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Health Corporation, Change of Heart Franciscan, Hands on Tech, Compass AmeriCorps, Serve Pittsburgh, Vista AmeriCorps, Jumpstart, and Keys attended. They answered moderator and student posed questions about their recruitment cycles, their journeys towards becoming full time staff workers, what service projects they are working on, and why they work for non-profits.

Their answers to why they work for non-profits really inspired me. In what other profession do you directly impact the people you serve, use your talents and skills in creative ways, and give back to your community? Before this panel, I never thought about turning my service into a career. I always envisioned non-profit work as a way to bridge the gap between my undergraduate studies, and the scary black hole of what I want to be when I grow up. Now I’m beginning to consider the possibility of non-profit work as a career.

Once the Staff Panel concluded, a Member Panel began. Panel participants served with Keys, Jumpstart, Vista AmeriCorps, Compass AmeriCorps, Public Allies Pittsburgh, the Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps National. Members discussed their favorite thing about AmeriCorps, what services AmeriCorps members can take advantage of, how their service term fits into their larger life goals, and how they balance their service and personal lives.

Personal Highlight of the highlight of the Member Panel? The Un-Official 2012-2013 AmeriCorps Cheap Seats Guide that the panel members shared with us.

The Un-Official 2012-2012 AmeriCorps Cheap Seats Guide

  • Bottom Dollar
  • Hemingway’s Half Price Menu
  • Volunteer Opportunities that include food (hours + food = happiness)
  • Play the AmeriCorps Card (discounted gym memberships, classes, etc)
  • Happy Hour Drink Specials (Sharp Edge)
  • $5 Monday Night Movies (SouthSide Cinema)
  • Cheap Produce in the Strip District (near 17th Street)
  • Hang onto your Student ID
  • Groupon
  • DIY Crafts (make excellent Christmas Presents)
  • Ebay
  • Goodwill

Our AmeriCorps Panel Discussion Day concluded with small group discussions broken down by region. Since I serve in Homestead, I met up with members from the Braddock, Braddock Hills, Homestead, and Munhall areas. In my group we shared highlights from our service, and brainstormed ways we could collaborate with each other for our service projects. I enjoyed learning what other members are doing at their sites. Even though our sites ranged from pre-schools, to elementary and high schools, to libraries and community centers, we share similar struggles and triumphs.

The small group discussions ended fifteen minutes early, and we exited that second floor ballroom the same way our kids do every Friday afternoon: thankful for the weekend, and eager to take on the world.

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.