Heritage Community Initiatives and Braddock Youth Project


A Six-Week Curriculum on Best Qualities of a Mentor 


Student Interns: 

Leo Julian, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing

Lindsay Pelcher, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health


Academic Preceptor:  

John Maier, MD, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine 


Community Preceptors:  

Jessica Gumbert, Programs Manager, Braddock Youth Project

Laura Kelley, Director, Heritage Community Initiatives


Community Sites: 

Heritage Community Initiatives is a community-based nonprofit organization in Braddock that provides education, transportation and nutrition programs. Its education programs, Heritage Out of School Time (HOST) and 4 Kids Early Learning Center, provide out-of-school care that engages children in in age-appropriate enrichment activities to promote successful learning and guide them to make healthy choices. Braddock Youth Project is a work-skills excelled program that provides area youth with the means to create and sustain community projects. Its programs include a gardening team, a mentoring team and a media team. The mentoring team partners with Heritage’s HOST to help in classrooms, form bonds with the kids and act as mentors.


www.heritageservices.org and www.braddockyouthproject.org 



The Bridging the Gaps interns helped Braddock Youth Project expand the capabilities and knowledge base of the mentoring team to help further enrich the children they work with at Heritage’s HOST program. The interns created and presented a six-week curriculum based on an article by Marylin Price-Mitchell, PhD, titled Mentoring Youth Matters: Six Qualities That Make You a Good Mentor for Teens. Their goal was to equip the mentoring team with a robust framework to better guide other youth and nurture peer relationships. Their hope is that the HOST program children will in turn carry the benefits of the program into the greater East Pittsburgh community.


Intern  Statements: 

Leo Julian: “My experience with Heritage Community Initiatives and the Braddock Youth Project (BYP) was a wonderful exploration into the Braddock community and the youth that live there. Over the course of two months, I was able to learn a great deal about the work done by these two organizations and create professional relationships with members from both groups. I was also very happy to be able to provide a fun and educational environment for the teens of the BYP mentoring team. Ultimately, I believe that this summer experience has provided me with a better understanding of holistic healthcare and will make me a better nurse in the clinical setting.”


Lindsay Pelcher: “My goal for the summer was to learn more about and work with an at-risk population. By working with the Braddock Youth Project’s mentoring team, I was able to develop trauma-informed care skills, interpersonal skills and a better understanding of an at-risk population. Ultimately, I learned that harnessing the youth’s ideas, while different from mine, can lead to better understanding and individual growth. The mentoring team has taught me so much, but specifically that every individual is unique in their own way and has so much to offer. I am so grateful for this opportunity and hope the BYP mentoring team has learned as much as I have learned from them.”


Casa San Jose


Los Recursos Más Útiles: Resource Packets for the Latinx Community


Student Interns:

Teresa Andersen, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing

Raven Hilfiker, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work


Academic Preceptor: 

Mary L. Ohmer, PhD, MSW, MPIA, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work


Community Preceptor:

Diana Escobar-Rivera, Youth Service Director, Casa San Jose 

Community Site:

Casa San Jose is a Latinx community resource and welcome center, located in Beechview, Pittsburgh. It offers a variety of services for Pittsburgh’s  immigrant population, including assistance with DACA renewal, legal and medical clinics, youth programs to promote civic engagement and assist with schoolwork, and immigration services. Advocacy is also an important pillar of the organization. Casa San Jose advocates for immigrants’ rights and a culture of acceptance and adaptation in Pittsburgh.





The Bridging the Gaps student interns created a survey in Spanish to gauge the needs of the community. The survey, which was  administered in person, provided the option to answer orally or in writing. Survey results were analyzed to determine the most useful information and resources to include in a packet for new immigrants, called Nueva Llegada and a pamphlet on children’s social, emotional and physical health, called Los Niños en Casa. The interns created the Nueva Llegada packet to accommodate all literacy levels and included a strong visual component. When they created the Los Niños en Casa pamphlet, the interns also developed a resource hub on the organization’s website, compiling Spanish-language educational resources on the social, emotional and physical development of children.


Personal Statements

Teresa Andersen: “Working with Casa San Jose this summer has been such an amazing opportunity and I have been able to learn so much about immigration and the variety of struggles faced by the immigrant population in Pittsburgh. I looked forward to working with Campamento Sonrisa every day and getting to know the kids who are part of the Casa San Jose community. I was so inspired by the work of everyone at Casa San Jose, and I will carry their mission of advocacy and acceptance with me in my future as a nurse.”


Raven Hilfiker: “I was impressed by the extent of the services that Casa San Jose offers to the community and blown away by the passion and dedication that their staff and volunteers have for their mission. For me, this experience informed me about how Pittsburgh’s resources need to be expanded to ensure that they are accessible to all community members. My plan is to work in mental health services in the future, and in trying to identify Spanish-language resources for the Latino community during my work with Casa San Jose, I realized that this is an area for potential growth. In the future, I plan to advocate for the expansion of translation services offered at behavioral health locations to ensure the accessibility of needed resources.”



Center of Life: Hazelwood 


Developing a Mental Health and Wellness Guide for Center of Life


Student Interns:  

Olivia Flood, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work

Amber Olander, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health


Academic Preceptor:  

Thuy Bui, MD, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine


Community Preceptor: 

Joy Cannon, Director of Programming, Center of Life


Community Site: 

Center of Life was founded in 2002 by Tim Smith to give the children of Hazelwood a much-needed place to spend time after school. The mission of Center of Life is “to provide children and their families with life skills, education, training and resources necessary to be strong and make their communities strong.” Center of Life provides a wide variety of programs for youth in grades K through 12 that include family engagement opportunities, community outreach, after-school homework assistance, tutoring, and dance and jazz lessons.





After meeting with staff members at Center of Life, the Bridging the Gaps student interns determined that due to the uncertainty and stress of our current times, there was an increased need for mental health support. First, the interns collaborated with staff to create a mental health checklist for use during virtual check-in calls with students. The interns then developed a mental health and wellness guide for Hazelwood children and their families, which included activities and resources pertaining to exercise, art and self-care. 


Intern Statements: 

Olivia Flood: “This experience grew my understanding of the physical and mental challenges associated with living in under-resourced areas. The opportunity to collaborate with community members as well as health and social service professionals through Bridging the Gaps has better prepared me for my future as a social worker. I am extremely grateful for being given the opportunity to collaborate with Center of Life. It opened my eyes to the passion and resiliency of the Hazelwood community as well as the community organizations that are working to serve their residents every day on multiple levels.” 


Amber Olander: “Through this opportunity I learned about many of the challenges the residents of Hazelwood face on a daily basis and the lack of resources available within their own community. It was amazing to watch how the Center of Life staff worked quickly to identify the needs of the community and then adapted to meet those needs. When Federal or State assistance might take weeks or days, it is often the community organizations that step in to fulfill the immediate and most essential needs of families.”



Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center (COTRAIC) 


Community Needs Assessment: Impacts of COVID-19 and Racial Injustice Protests


Student Interns:  

Ciera Payne, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work 

Frank Swann, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health


Academic Preceptor:  

Patricia Documet, MD, DrPH, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health


Community Preceptor:  

Debbie Gallagher, Director of Early Head Start and Family Center Services, COTRAIC 


Community Site: 

COTRAIC was founded in Pittsburgh in 1969 by several Native American families in order to access newly released training and education funds for Native Americans and to recapture their cultural roots. After achieving nonprofit status in 1972, the organization added beneficial services including employment, training and elder programs for Native Americans. In 1986 COTRAIC introduced Head Start. Early Head Start was added in 2000. Both programs provide quality childcare services to low-income families, independent of their cultural or racial identity. COTRAIC partners with a number of childcare facilities throughout Southwestern PA and in Philadelphia and has a team of its own employees and dedicated COTRAIC classrooms. It also gives families the option of receiving home visits during which children complete developmental activities, receive health screenings and may socialize with other families in the community. 





The COVID-19 pandemic, along with national protests against racial injustice and police brutality, led to staff concerns about the effects of current events on employee and family health. In response, the Bridging the Gaps student interns created a community needs assessment report that presented the impacts of these events on the ability of employees to deliver services and the ability of families to access childcare services. To accomplish this, the interns surveyed employees and families to collect basic demographic information as well as information about topics such as family food security, access to transportation and neighborhood safety/violence. The employee survey featured an open-ended, essay-style questionnaire, giving respondents the liberty to discuss recent national events as they chose. The family survey featured an alternate protocol that allowed interviewers to speak with families over phone or by video to discuss how events have affected childcare needs. The results offer COTRAIC additional information about perceived strengths and gaps in care for families enrolled in EHS services and also provide insight into potential avenues of support for employees.


Personal Statement:   

Ciera Payne: “My experience at COTRAIC and with Bridging the Gaps has been humbling and eye opening. I was able to get a realistic view of what it takes to provide quality care to families while maintaining the safety and morale of staff during a pandemic. I have been able to see what resilience looks like and how an organization can come together to support, learn, and improve services and organizational culture.” 


Frank Swann: “I’ve learned a great deal about the coordination of EHS services and how difficult it has been to administer services during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve also had the chance to speak with families who have expressed a multitude of concerns, but who have also demonstrated extreme resilience and found ways to laugh in spite of the challenges they face. While classrooms and didactic sessions have illustrated the overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done to address health inequities in the US, it is working on the ground that has made my work as a public health professional more personal and confirmed my commitment to achieve more, one step at a time, for families just like these.”



Sojourner House


Community Resource Guide


Student Interns:  

Darien Boerger, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing

Alexandria Gariepy, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work


Academic Preceptor: 

Sharon Connor, PhD, School of Pharmacy


Community Preceptor:  

Meghan Briggs, MA, Director of Programs, Sojourner House 


The Community Site: 

Sojourner House provides compassionate, faith-based residential recovery services to mothers and children in the Pittsburgh area. 





The Bridging the Gaps student interns created a community resource guide to help bridge the gap between service delivery and care coordination to ensure quality of care and that patient needs were being met holistically. To promote autonomy and assist in informed share/care decisions, the interns designed the community resource guide with a variety of different supportive service options, including childcare, housing, legal services, transportation and food/misc. The students interviewed a variety of agencies to make sure they were suitable options and created a list with direct contacts from each agency. In addition, the interns created a list of different NA/AA virtual meetings that the women can attend during the pandemic.


Intern Statements:  

Darien Boerger: “I am both honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the BTG Internship this summer. I owe a huge thank you to Thistle, Brandi and Mike for handling the switch to remote learning with grace and ferocity. I am leaving this internship with a better understanding of the health disparities my community faces, with special attention to the vulnerable populations and the feasibility of accessing healthcare. Every week I felt encouraged and challenged by my BTG peers and partner and am leaving this internship with a surplus of new information and a desire to make a difference in my community. Thanks to our preceptor at Sojourner House, Meghan, I feel that we learned more from the women than we could have ever given them. When one woman asked why a nursing student was interning at a center for addicts, I was originally caught off guard by her blatant curiosity. Upon reflection, I now know that BTG and Sojourner House has offered me a perspective on healthcare that cannot be taught in schooling. Sojourner House captures the essence of holistic care and I have learned and seen empathy and compassion in its most raw form and aim to carry this with me wherever I should go.”


Alexandria Gariepy: “I am truly humbled and thankful for my experience this summer with Bridging the Gaps, and the opportunities I was gifted with as an intern at the Sojourner House. I am beyond thankful for Thistle, Brandi and Mike for  believing in me and for picking me to be a part of a program that not only consistently gives back to the community, but also gave me a space to be surrounded (even virtually) by a group of some of the most impressive and brilliant minds I have ever met, every Wednesday. As a social worker, this experience has helped contribute to my personal and professional development by giving me a deeper understanding of the affects a SUD has on an individual's biological, physiological and psychological well-being while in recovery. I have  learned a great deal of the effects that substances have on the brain, methadone management and the importance of understanding addiction as the symptom. This clarity and empathy I know will help guide me in my future practice. I will forever be grateful for this experience and for all the lessons I have learned throughout this entire process.”


Youth Enrichment Services (YES)


Skills Spotlight


Student Interns: 

Amanda Lee, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing 

Walker Michaels, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine 

Christina Toval, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health


Academic Preceptor:  

Todd Bear, PhD, MPH, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health


Community Preceptor:  

Denise Jones, MEd, Program Director, Youth Enrichment Services


Community Site:  

Youth Enrichment Services (YES) was founded in 1994 based on a pilot program in West Virginia called Project Yes. The organization creates educational experiences for underserved and minority children and teens in the Pittsburgh area, using mentorship and programming to empower and enrich their lives. It offers numerous programs such as career exploration, job readiness, college readiness and diversion programs for juvenile offenders.





The Bridging the Gaps student interns designed and implemented Skills Spotlight for YES, a four-week, eight-session course designed to equip Summer Magic students with important life skills to promote healthy living and success in professional settings. The goal of each hour-long session was to maximize student engagement while working within the confines imposed by COVID-19. Lessons focused on key factors such as time management, stress reduction and exercise, how those factors impact the students, and skills they could use in their everyday lives. The project was designed to be collaborative and iterative, with feedback collected from YES staff and students after each session that resulted in organizational changes to improve engagement. Ultimately, the sessions were delivered in small groups of three to five students and one facilitator and focused on peer-to-peer discussion and reflection. The interns provided YES with access to the presentations for each session as well as detailed lesson plans with instructions on discussion topics, exercise execution and sources for additional information. 

Intern Statements:   

Amanda Lee: “Nursing school has always been in a clinical setting with different rotations and working with doctors. I wanted to have a different perspective of working within the community of Pittsburgh and BTG allowed me to do that. Through YES, I learned about the importance of communication from a teacher's perspective, whether it's about educating essential life skills or relating to a specific age or race. I am thankful for this opportunity to adapt my skills and knowledge to this virtual platform and will forever carry this experience with me as a registered nurse.”


Walker Michaels: “Working with YES has been a remarkable experience for me, and I can tell I have grown both professionally and as an educator this summer. Regardless of setting, be it in a clinic or in the community, education is a critical component of healthcare, and I relish the opportunity to practice and develop these skills. The students at YES are exceptional, and each day I leave feeling refreshed and accomplished. The joy I’ve felt working with these young adults helps me remember why I love working in health, which is an important break from didactic work. I am extremely glad we were able to continue BTG despite COVID-19 and will cherish the lessons I’ve learned.”


Christina Toval: “My passion has always been underserved populations which is why I applied to Bridging the Gaps. I especially love working with children and adolescents. Despite my previous experience with youth, this is my first time building curriculum and spending extensive time taking on a teaching role. This has stretched me to further work on my communication skills with people of different educational levels. This has also further solidified what population I want to work with in the future. I really enjoyed my time with the youth and hope I can do more with YES in the future.” 



Youth Opportunities Development: Clairton


From Clairton to Anywhere — Creating a Resource to Facilitate Career Exploration 


Student Interns:  

Julia Donnelly, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health 

Samuel Greiss, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing 


Academic Preceptor:  

Martha Ann Terry, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health


Community Preceptor: 

Brandon Ziats, Director of Programming, Youth Opportunities Development 


Community Site:     

Youth Opportunities Development (YOD) was founded by Brandon Ziats and formalized in 2014. Brandon previously worked with One Vision One Life, an organization striving to prevent retaliatory violence. He founded YOD with the goal of preventing violence before it starts by aiding the social and academic development of the boys it serves. Although all the participants have been African American, the program is open to any boy between the ages of 10 and 15. During the school year, YOD acts as an after-school program where boys are given dinner, time to complete homework, and time to socialize and play games. During the summer, the programming is more like summer camp. The boys participate in many outdoor enrichment activities, such as biking, kayaking and fishing. Time is dedicated to subjects like history and math lessons, but the summer focus is on embracing the outdoors. 





During the first two weeks, the Bridging the Gaps student interns worked to create video content that complemented YOD’s focus on teaching the boys about the great outdoors. For the rest of the internship, the BTG interns focused on creating their final project, a career guide. They developed a self-guided booklet that directs users to a career path that best fits their skills and interests, and then provides information on various jobs ranging from a plumber to a museum curator. The project also included eight vignettes of successful black men to reinforce the overarching ide, which was to show the boys at YOD how to look inward to find the right direction toward a successful, fulfilling career.  


Intern Statements:   

Julia Donnelly: “I could not be more grateful for this experience. Despite working remotely, we were able to find creative ways to meet and interact with the community in a meaningful way. This was my first time working with a community directly since starting my MPH, and in just two months, we were able to accomplish more than I thought possible. Brandon went above and beyond to make sure we knew we had his unconditional support, and he trusted us every step of the way. In our interactions with the boys, you could tell that YOD gave them confidence through their inquisitive questions, profound comments, and willingness to explore. Brandon and the YOD staff serve as role models every day for the boys and community, but also became role models for [me] on how to effectively and passionately serve a community.”


Samuel Greiss: “I thoroughly enjoyed getting to learn from the boys at YOD and their fearless leader, Brandon. This summer has shown me the impact that one person can have on a community, and it has empowered me to push for positive change in spaces I operate in. Working remotely has strengthened my communication and time management skills and given me experience working through adversity. While it was certainly not the summer we all envisioned, I am very thankful for the experience and the toolbox BTG has given me to go forward into my career.”