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Neighborhood Allies

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Congratulations to the 2020 Healthy Neighborhood Awardees!

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2020 has been a tough and unprecedented year. In the face of the challenges this year has presented, many organizations and community members have stepped up to answer the needs of their community or continued their crucial work to create healthy neighborhoods across Pittsburgh. We are so very pleased to share our 2020 Healthy Neighborhood Awardees with you! Please join us in celebrating them!

This year, our Healthy Neighborhoods Celebration will look different, but we can all agree that it’s as important as ever to lift up and honor those who are working hard every day to build healthy neighborhoods. In lieu of an in-person gathering and award ceremony we will be directing all attention where it is most deserved–to the people who are on the ground, dedicated to doing this important and crucial work. Starting in mid-October, each of our 2020 awardees will be showcased in a week-long campaign on social media where their work, partners and vision will be shared through podcasts, videos, facebook live sessions and more.

We’re pleased to introduce our amazing and passionate 2020 honorees! Please plan to follow along and celebrate these amazing awardees and the work they are doing to make Pittsburgh a better place during the week-long campaigns–you can follow along and stay up to date with #2020HNAwards!

PNC Bank 2020 Impact Awardee: EAT Initiative

The 2020 Impact Award is a special honor for this year only, to showcase an organization who has made a significant impact in their community through direct COVID-19 relief efforts or working to address ongoing issues of injustice and racism against the Black community.

Founded in 2015, the EAT Initiative was birthed out of Chef Claudy Pierre’s vision to help feed and sustain food insecure communities. Since then, EAT’s primary focus has been to inject cultural competency and food education into communities in Pittsburgh and around the world.

Upon immediately learning about the shutdown, and before most larger organizations had an organized plan, Chef Claudy and his team launched into go mode and cooked and provided 15,000 meals to residents in the Northside, Hill District, East Liberty, Southside, and beyond in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This effort is still active to this day and his team is still preparing meals for hungry families. Chef has produced around 50,000 meals since March 2020 and is working with multiple community partners and elected officials to cement these efforts and transform this project into a long term solution. In addition, Chef was awarded a USDA federal grant that will allow him to donate nearly 300 boxes of fresh produce to local families on a weekly basis for the next two years. Lastly, he has launched a cooking channel to educate families on how to cook the fruits and vegetables that come in the boxes.


Bridgeway Capital Market Confidence Awardee: Cocoapreneur PGH

The Market Confidence Award is given to an organization whose work contributes to a thriving business district. They position the community to manage market forces to prevent displacement of people and local businesses and the neighborhood is a place where people want to live and invest time, resources and capital.

The mission of Cocoapreneur is to foster an environment of economic prosperity in order to ensure more sustainable neighborhoods for the historically African American communities and neighborhoods around Pittsburgh, PA. Through support to businesses via advertising, marketing and consulting, Cocoapreneur aims to normalize the idea of entrepreneurship–making becoming a business owner a more feasible and attainable goal for African Americans in the greater Pittsburgh area.

Khamil Scantling of Cocoaprenuer Pgh is a community leader who supports small, Black-owned businesses in combating the negative aspects of gentrification and in building a successful business. In addition to her day-to-day work of supporting small businesses, she also has jointly launched initiatives, like Greenwood Week Pittsburgh, which is a collaborative project between Cocoapreneur PGH, LLC and SYLA Pittsburgh, aimed at making information about running a small business accessible to minorities, women, and other systematically disadvantaged demographics who are often left out of programs that address similar needs. This week-long conference offers classes for current and aspiring entrepreneurs on mental health, finances, funding, business structure, marketing, and other essentials for small businesses, led by expert local MWBDE entrepreneurs. She’s also created an amazing Black business owners directory where anyone can go to find Black-owned businesses near them. Her impact has bettered the lives of many community members and helped to provide relief for small businesses that are staples in our communities.


Bakery Square Quality of Life Awardee: Community Empowerment Association/T. Rashad Byrdsong

The Quality of Life Award is given to an organization who is helping residents access the larger economy and quality neighborhood amenities. They do this through assistance, support and programming to build assets, accumulate wealth and connection to economic opportunities. They are also actively contributing to make their neighborhood safe while positively impacting the health and well-being of families and neighbors.

Community Empowerment Association (CEA) was founded in 1993 in order to establish an organized, structural approach to address the specific needs of at-risk youth and families in distressed, marginalized communities. Their mission is to restore, reclaim and transform distressed communities through strategic planning, collaboration, advocacy, education, and training.

Mr. Byrdsong of Community Empowerment Association, Inc. is the lead principle on a collaborative project with Pitt Public Health entitled, “Live Longer, Empowering Pittsburgh Communities”. The project is geared towards identifying health issues in low income communities that are the causes of premature deaths to the citizens living in those low income communities, thereafter providing viable solutions to help those same citizens understand and make changes to their lifestyle to prolong their lives. During the height of the project, COVID-19 hit the country, putting the project on hold. That didn’t stop Mr. Byrdsong! He jumped in right away and started a bi-weekly emergency food distribution program entitled “Food First Program”. He gathered all his donors and volunteers and began handing out and delivering food and supplies to our community’s most vulnerable citizens (senior citizens and the disabled) while practicing social distancing. While Mr. Byrdsong was responding to the crisis, the work he was doing was not new; He was simply helping to feed the community that he has served in many ways for over 25 years. From youth-focused after-school programs, to providing families with basic necessities, to workforce development, CEA serves as a welcoming and trusted space for Homewood residents and a resource center for all of Allegheny county. Mr. Byrdsong is an inspiration to so many–proving that you can’t and shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and do the right thing, even in the face of huge uncertainty.


TrailBlaze Creative Neighborhood Image Awardee: BlackTeaBrownSuga Network

The Neighborhood Image Award is given to an organization whose work is contributing to making their community appealing and desirable to all. Their work celebrates neighborhood pride and attracts new people and investment while retaining new and long-term residents.

Based in McKees Rocks, BlackTeaBrownSuga is a force in giving a voice to the people through access to space, media, and technology for Black creatives. The BlackTeaBrownSuga Network (BTBSN) is empowering members of the community to challenge and correct injustices, whether they be social or judicial, community wide or personal.Overall, they seek to give members of the community the resources, knowledge, and confidence to be pro-active, change-makers.

Launching in McKees Rocks just over a year ago, The BlackTeaBrownSuga Network serves as an accessible and affordable creative hub for local youth as well as adults. Located on Broadway Avenue in McKees Rocks, BTBSN converted an old law office to a beautiful media facility equipped with all of the equipment and software needed to create podcasts, music, videos and more. Having a background in psychology, founder Eszquire Harris has a vision for this space to not only provide a place for people to express themselves and tell their own story, but also to provide a platform for recognizing global issues, bringing awareness to how they affect the community, and providing solutions. BTBSN strengthens the community through community service, workshops, and weekly live shows which initiate the conversations needed to share, educate and develop solutions as a community. They have also made a significant impact on the Pittsburgh and McKees Rocks communities by providing a safe place both physically and virtually for creatives to be able to continue their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. These creatives were able to continue or start new projects that directly impact low-income communities while continuing to address and give voice to the local Black community regarding everything from maternal health disparities to social justice and prison reform.


Community Ownership Awardees: Kevin Alton (The Way Organization) & Martel Hedge (Daddy’s Hands)

The Community Ownership Award is given to those who actively support residents, small business owners, community organizations and institutions–serving as active participants and key decision-makers in neighborhood revitalization projects. They support local residents and leaders harness the capacity and community power to create positive change and shape the future of their neighborhood.

As active, contributing members of Neighborhood Allies’ Grassroots Grantmaking Committee (GGC), Martel Hedge and Kevin Alton have gone above and beyond in their roles, volunteering 4+ hours every week throughout April-June to interview residents seeking a Love My Neighbor! Grant in addition to spearheading their own initiative to hand out meals to children and senior citizens in their South Hilltop communities during COVID-19. Oftentimes, Martel and Kevin were both just returning home from their day of feeding the community only to log on and interview an aspiring Love My Neighbor! Grantee. They truly create community by supporting and connecting with neighbors and helping to co-power residents to become active players in making their neighborhood better in all that they do.

In addition, Kevin and Martel both run their own successful youth-focused organizations in the Hilltop. Kevin Alton’s organization, The Way Organization, creates positive change and shapes the future of youth within the Hilltop. Kevin is a mentor for young boys in the community while raising his own children. He coaches football and engages youth who may otherwise have been caught up in prevalent gang violence, and encourages them to instead expend their energy in excelling in the sport. Martel Hedge’s organization, Daddy’s Hands, also focuses on creating positive experiences for youth . Martel encourages dads to take a more active role as a parent and provides a space for relationships to build so that children can find a mentor in their father. Both men are clear leaders and are actively helping to improve conditions for the youth in the Hilltop.


McAuley Ministries Equitable Development Awardee: Hill District Federal Credit Union/Richard Witherspoon

The Equitable Development Award is given to those who prioritize equity, ensuring that everyone participates in and benefits from the region’s economic transformation — especially low-income residents, communities of color, immigrants and others at risk of being left behind. They intentionally focus on eliminating racial inequities and barriers and support investments that yield healthy, safe and opportunity-rich neighborhoods that reflect that community’s culture.

Since 1970, the Hill District Federal Credit Union has served those living in the Hill and beyond by providing financial services. When you join the Hill District Federal Credit Union, you become part of a member-owned organization built on the philosophy of people with a common bond, helping each other.

For the past 50 years, the Hill District Federal Credit Union (HDFCU) has been assisting those who live, work and worship in the Hill District to build credit and savings through innovative products and services, helping them to overcome financial barriers and meet life goals such as buying a house and going to college. Not just a financial institution, HDFCU is the only African American owned and operated financial institution in the tri-state area and provides access to credit-builder loans and emergency loans for nonprofit workers impacted by COVID-19. With the scourge of COVID-19, the massive unemployment levels, and the revelation of inequality in the African American community, HDFCU has remained a steadfast partner, stepping up their role and genuine partnership with Hill District residents to “find a way to make it out of no way”. In the months of June and July, they opened 210 new accounts including 25 new Fund My Future accounts, their total assets have increased by more than 2 million dollars over the same period last year and they have been able to institute new services to help address their members’ economic downturn. Even more importantly, as a trusted advisor and friend, Richard Witherspoon provides community and care to several generations of Hill District residents.


Ally of the Year Awardee: Julius Boatwright/Steel Smiling

The Ally of the Year Award is given to an individual or organization that embodies what it means to be a “neighborhood ally” by genuinely partnering and collaborating with Neighborhood Allies to help advance our mission of supporting the people, organizations and partnerships committed to creating and maintaining healthy neighborhoods.

Steel Smiling is an exemplar grantee and partner to Neighborhood Allies. Julius and his team have spent well over a year in the Hilltop creating space for Black neighbors to process, share and make sense of their pasts, truths, and lived experiences. The Beams to Bridges program promotes advocacy and awareness around mental health, and builds on-ramps for local Black people to seek culturally and racially competent services, that may otherwise be unbeknownst or inaccessible. This centering and prioritization of the individual needs of Black community members is a stark divergence from the traditional mental health system’s standard practice, which does little to acknowledge the various ways that race permeates delivery and/or perceptions of service. Julius’ approach, led by Black people and for Black people, advances a person-centered model, and truly seeks to understand each individual cohort participant in the full context of their lived experience and environment. The Beams to Bridges program also empowers a new cadre of resident-leaders, who are referred to as “Mental Health Champions.” Mental Health Champions are past cohort participants interested in sharing the information and resources they have acquired with their immediates spheres of influence, including their friends, family and neighbors. After the incredible success of the Beams to Bridges program in the 2019-2020 year, Steel Smiling will be scaling the initiative to four new neighborhoods, all of which are in Neighborhood Allies’ shared priority areas: Wilkinsburg, Larimer/Lincoln, Homewood and the Hill District.

Additionally, Neighborhood Allies and Steel Smiling collaborate extremely well on a host of other endeavors. Aside from serving as Steel Smiling’s fiscal sponsor, Neighborhood Allies has explored (and secured!) joint fundraising efforts together. We have explored and continue to consider pathways for aligned programming. We continue to share strategy, resources and ideas. In all aspects of nonprofit work – programming, organizational, strategic alignment, etc – Julius is always thinking of ways to share the light, that light he carries within, with others around him. Time and time again, Julius proves himself to be one of Neighborhood Allies and the larger Pittsburgh region’s most invaluable partners. We’re honored to align our efforts with such a phenomenal organization, mission and leader!

Please join us in congratulating all of the 2020 Healthy Neighborhood Awardees! Thank you to all of our generous 2020 sponsors!

#2020HNAwards

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