Community Development Awards
Cafe Con Leche was founded in January 2014 as part of the Artist in Residence project at Most Wanted Fine Art gallery. Initially the idea was to host a series of Latin pop-up events focusing on food, dance, music and art as a way to connect the Pittsburgh Latino community, promote Latino culture in Pittsburgh and be a space for dialogue and creative problem solving.
What was initially conceived as a series of four events in the Spring of 2014, Cafe Con Leche has now hosted over 10 community Latin pop-up events all around Pittsburgh. Cafe Con Leche has partnered with The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, New Voices Pittsburgh, Most Wanted Fine Art, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Assemble Gallery, Latin American Cultural Union, and many Pittsburgh based Latin and African music and dance groups to bring quality events which educate people on Latino culture and raise the visibility of the Pittsburgh Latino community. This includes bringing the New York based, award winning play “Yo Soy Latina” by Linda Nieves-Powell. Cafe Con Leche’s next community project will be “What does it mean to be a Pittsburgh Latino?” which encourages people in six words to describe their experience of being Latino in Pittsburgh. The goal is to outline a shared Pittsburgh Latino experience in order to further solidify the Pittsburgh Latino identity and carve a place for ourselves in the city’s cultural and civic fabric.
Cafe Con Leche operates from the belief that in order for Pittsburgh to be a modern and progressive city, change must happen on a block level with much respect and attention given to culture and identity. The program’s lasting impact is addressing the cultural and racial segregation of Pittsburgh by creating spaces where diverse individuals are able to come together to celebrate, build relationships for the sake of building relationships and learn about new cultures. There has never been an initiative like Café Con Leche in Pittsburgh which addresses the multiple components of culture, identity, community, media and politics like we do in regards to Pittsburgh Latinos.
The Learn While You Earn program provides basic construction training to marginalized young men from Homewood. It begins with how to read a tape measure, teaching the names and purposes of a variety of tools, and the importance of such things as language, appropriate dress, and timeliness. Once students learn the basics, they receive the experience to hone those skills and make them job-ready. Partners include Operation Better Block (OBB), who, in addition to providing support for the students, helps to locate, purchase and eventually sell each home. Neighborhood Allies provided the necessary funding this past semester.
The program purchases a derelict house in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Students from the Trade Skill Training program are trained and led through the complete renovation of the home by Hosanna Industries’ mission workers. After repairs are complete, the house is then sold to provide funding to cover the costs of purchasing another property and the necessary materials, labor, and overhead to renovate it. Students receive a stipend for the work that they do so that they can afford to take the time for this educational opportunity.
Three young men from the program have recently established their own businesses. Hosanna Industries worked with them to develop a budget and business plan, to encourage good and fair business practices, and to give them solid advice as they step out on this new venture together.
Our program is making a difference in Homewood through the renovation of dilapidated homes, for the young adults who are finding support, learning the skills, and starting to dream of possibilities for their futures, and for the younger lives who will have more opportunities, safer childhoods, and stronger role models.
More than 64% of housing units in Polish Hill were built before 1939; 94.8% are in average or poor/derelict condition. In 2010, the median sale price of homes was only $19,900. As these properties age and are not maintained, this leads to further blight and abandonment. The Polish Hill Civic Association has tackled this issue by operating a unique matching facade grant program for the last three years known as Pivotal Streets. The program has funded 23 projects that have been awarded nearly $80,000 in grants. Although the program is typically able to fund less than half of the projects that apply, it has spurred other nearby investment and tapped into the Polish Hill Community’s DIY ethos.
The Pivotal Streets program is innovative in that it utilizes a design book prepared by Loysen + Krehuitmeier Architects specifically for Polish Hill that provides suggestions and samples of appropriate facade treatments. The community was engaged in this design book process, which grew out of a community wide master plan. The program is important to Polish Hill, as it seeks to give existing property owners a tool to improve their homes. This is particularly important in a market with rising rents and sale prices.
Part of this program’s importance is that it has not been a one-time project. Now in its third year, the lasting improvements to the properties support not only the homeowners, but neighbors and visitors can’t help but notice these changes house-by-house making Polish Hill a better neighborhood.
The Pivotal Streets Program is a great example of how small, strategic investments into communities can make a big impact.
The first-ever Vacant Home Tour, a project developed by students at Carnegie Mellon University in partnership with the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC) and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF), took place in Wilkinsburg on Saturday, May 9. The event was a self-guided neighborhood walking tour that was free and open to the public.
The tour, which highlighted five historic vacant homes, aimed to creatively reframe the issue of blight as an opportunity for rehabilitation in the Borough of Wilkinsburg. Community members selected the homes and served as tour guides by greeting participants at each stop and relaying each property’s history and their personal involvement in the community. All tour goers received a tour kit, complete with a tour map as well as photos, historical facts, and information on acquiring vacant properties.
During the tour, the WCDC, PHLF, and partners hosted two resource workshops for tour goers interested in acquiring and rehabilitating a vacant property. The workshop will featured speakers who specialize in acquiring, financing, and/or rehabilitating vacant homes and buildings. Workshop attendees learned about the processes, available tools, risks and challenges, and rewards involved in acquiring vacant property.
Neighborhood Leader Award in Memory of Bob O’Connor
Each year, PCRG recognizes an individual who exemplifies late Mayor Bob O’Connor’s dedication to neighborhood improvement. A Neighborhood Leader creates a positive impact on his or her community; displays leadership, enthusiasm, and dependability; acts as a role model for others; builds consensus to accomplish goals; and serves on boards and committees.
Ms. Betty Lane is a well-known figure around Pittsburgh for her over 40 years of work as a community advocate and organizer in the Larimer and East Liberty neighborhoods. She holds a Masters’ Degree in Social Work and has a passion for the arts and writing. Her interest in African drumming was inspired by her work teaching African history to young men. She says that “sometimes when I’m drumming I can just leave. My hands will be playing but I’m somewhere else. I just love it.”
In addition to being a founding and current board member of the Larimer Consensus Group, Ms. Betty has taken on the leadership of the Larimer Redd-Up Action Team the past two years. Involving neighbors, student volunteers, and partners, she launched the 52 Lots Project which aims to engage community members in cleaning up and returning to productive and sustainable use lots and blocks throughout Larimer. Ms. Betty is often seen cleaning up brush and trash and clearing sidewalks in the rain, snow, and hot summer sun. She has been resilient in bringing Larimer back to life, one block at a time.
Ms. Betty is the ultimate neighborhood leader in that she takes on tasks and projects that are clearly needed whether or not others see that need as a priority or responsibility. Simultaneously, she has shown the persistence and patience to work with everyone in the world around her to bring about equitable solutions; never asking for recognition or reward.
The proof in the pudding of Ms. Betty’s commitment to community improvement and social change is all that has happened in the Larimer community, one of the most blighted and abandoned in Pittsburgh, in the past five years: the forging of a ground-breaking “Larimer Vision to Action” community plan for equitable and sustainable physical and human development. The plan and LGC’s wide range of partners, allies and champions resulted in the 2014 $30 million HUD Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Grant award. The funding promises to transform Larimer to an economically, racially, and culturally diverse green neighborhood.
When asked how she would like to be remembered, both her social science background and her passion for the arts were evident: she hopes to be remembered for her work helping people in the community and working for a beautiful and vital Larimer. She hopes to leave the legacy of her writing because, as she says, “[my writing] is the stuff that they don’t see me out there for so when they read my book, they can read about the things that they don’t know about me.” The book is “Seven Days to Ascend” which chronicles her spiritual journey and search for truth. Ms. Betty’s most recent step in her life journey was her 2014 trip to Mexico where she will fulfill what she has called “an elder’s dream” to study the ancient Olmec civilization.