2022 Pittsburgh Projects
Center of Life
Youth and Young Adult Resource Guide
Diana Bellino, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
Jamie Hutchison, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work
Nina Markovic, PhD, MS, University of Pittsburgh, School of Dentistry
Danielle Chaykowsky, Executive Assistant, Center of Life
Sarah Crenshaw, MEd, Education Programs Manager, Center of Life
Donna Smith, MPM, Social Justice Resource Center Director, Center of Life
Center of Life (COL) is an organization founded in 2001 by the Rev. Tim Smith. The organization serves Hazelwood and its surrounding neighborhoods as they strive to be strong and to make their communities strong. COL offers a wide variety of out-of-school programs focused on things like physical fitness, music and arts, and social justice. COL takes a holistic approach to community, believing that commitment to others is most productive when you walk with those you serve in their schools and homes and with their families.
The Bridging the Gaps student interns worked closely with the teen social justice program called Ambassadors of Justice. This included co-leading social justice presentations and activities for the teens, decorating the classroom where the program is held, and creating program materials. Those materials included a program logo, a digital version of t-shirt designs created by the students, and fact sheets on social justice figures. The BTG interns’ major project focus was developing a resource guide for youth and young adults that includes all the information one might need when facing a variety of situations. This project was presented to the Ambassadors of Justice for feedback multiple times during the internship to be sure it best served the young population.
Diana Bellino: “My experience with Center of Life has been invaluable. This is such a welcoming organization, and I am grateful for the opportunities I had here. It was so heartwarming to see how passionate the teens are about social justice. I am so thankful to have been a part of the inaugural group of Ambassadors of Justice through teaching them, as well as learning from them. This experience leaves me with an even greater appreciation for all the great work community organizations do, and I could not have asked for a better site to intern at.”
Jamie Hutchison: “Throughout this internship the staff at Center of Life have been very welcoming and accepting. It has been amazing to see how much they want to help each other, how much they care about the youth in their programs and building them up, and how far reaching and important the organization is within the community. Seeing how the teens in the Ambassadors of Justice program have come together over such a short period of time to encourage one another and help each other has been so sweet. Knowing that there is a place that is giving young people the space to express their interests around social justice issues while giving them the tools they need to learn how to use their voice gives me hope for the future.”
Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center (COTRAIC), Early Head Start
Yousuf Al-Abduladheem, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
Larisa Chapa, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
John Stewart Maier, MD, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine
Debbie Gallagher, MEd, COTRAIC
Margot Russell, MEd, COTRAIC
The Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center (COTRAIC) is a federally funded program that provides free or low-cost childcare to families at or below the poverty level with children from birth to 3 years old. The organization offers a variety of services, both in the classroom and at home, to promote the healthy development of infants and toddlers. Home-based options include home visiting, which provides weekly meetings between families and staff to provide resources and recommendations. Center-based options include COTRAIC-operated classrooms, partnered classrooms (such as Brightside and family homes) and monthly visits. COTRAIC EHS serves neighborhoods throughout the Pittsburgh area and has recently expanded into Philadelphia.
The Bridging the Gaps student interns’ project was a Teacher’s Onboarding Manual. After expanding their scale of operation, the management team at COTRAIC realized there had been a lack of consensus on the orientation process, responsibilities, and expectations for several positions, notably classroom teachers. For that reason, it was decided that an onboarding manual was needed to introduce newly hired teachers to their positions. The newly created teacher’s onboarding manual includes five sections: Introduction, Organizational Policies, Classroom Policies and Procedures, Health Education, and Resources. Throughout the summer, interns shadowed different roles within Early Head Start to learn about their contributions and to enrich the interns’ understanding of the program. Interns participated in management meetings, home visits, classroom involvement, socialization events, and other activities.
Yousuf Al-Abduladheem: “The experiences I have had at COTRAIC have been invaluable. Having recently moved to Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to engage with the different communities in the greater Pittsburgh area and their history. I have learned about the hardships and disadvantages that people from these communities face and the numerous ways we can help. I am grateful for being able to feel more connected to this city.”
Larisa Chapa: “I learned so much from shadowing and working with the various COTRAIC employees, but the common inspiration across all positions was the selfless dedication they have to their work. Being able to directly speak with parents and learning the positive impact being a part of the EHS was humbling, and being able to work with my partner across disciplines was great. I aim to use what I’ve learned with BTG in my future endeavors.”
Testimonial Video and Wellness Corner
Grady Cooper, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work
Nivitha Periyapatna, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
Sharon Connor, PharmD, University of Pittsburgh, School of Pharmacy
Allison Haley, LCSW, Program Supervisor
Peoples Oakland was originally founded in 1974 in response to deinstitutionalization mandates requiring mass discharges from inpatient mental health facilities. Today it remains a beacon of hope for many and continues its work as a nonprofit social rehabilitation center. Located in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, the organization serves adults with serious persistent mental illness and relies on the recovery model to guide and support members through their mental health journeys.
The Bridging the Gaps student interns worked to create a testimonial video that captured the collaborative spirit of the organization and represented all the members and staff. The video was created to use on the website and at the organization’s events to encourage new member registration and new donors. With member input, the student interns also worked to create a wellness corner, gathering resources on smoking cessation programs, primary care, dental care, STI screening, and mental health. The interns aimed to increase access to healthcare and make wellness resources simpler to use.
Grady Cooper: “I think all people are capable of recovery and making the best choices for themselves and, therefore, should be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. It’s unfortunate, but the mental health field often does not do the best job respecting the self-determinism and dignity of individuals. At Peoples Oakland, however, it was clear to me that staff respects the rights of members to make decisions for themselves, while also helping people to recognize their potential and identify their best options. It also was abundantly clear to me that Peoples Oakland could not run the way it has been without the input and direction of its members. On the micro level, it is empowering for members to have such a say in their own treatment and their recovery. On the mezzo and macro level, the amount of power members have to direct their services, activities, and organizational happenings promotes the dignity of people and destigmatizes mental illness”
Nivitha Periyapatna: “I learned a lot about community health, mental health, and what it takes to run an organization like Peoples Oakland. There are so many people on the staff that work to ensure the organization runs smoothly and so many members working to promote a positive environment. As a student with a background in biology, my classes have always focused on the medical model for the treatment of mental illness and focused on brain chemistry. It was good to see the social aspect of mental health recovery in action, and I saw what a difference it made to the members to be a part of a community with so much support for their recovery.”
Reimagine Reentry Community Resource Guides
Andrew Martuscelli, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
Arvin Sequeira, University of Pittsburgh, School of Pharmacy
Thuy D. Bui, MD, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine
Julia Donnelly, MPH, Reentry Data and Project Manager, Reimagine Reentry
Jim Paolicelli, Reentry Coach, Reimagine Reentry
Reimagine Reentry uses a strength-based approach to provide trauma-informed holistic care to citizens returning to the community from the corrections system. They work with clients for three years to prevent recidivism by finding equitable solutions to the barriers posed by reentry. They provide wrap-around services including housing assistance, workforce development, and, most important, by providing a one-to-one coaching service to help clients develop various professional, social, and mental skills needed for success.
Citizens reentering society after incarceration face a lot of structural and social barriers to full community reintegration. Allegheny County is rich in resources, but it is hard to know where to look, especially without a social network or support system. By creating resource guides that are informed by the specific needs of the population (gathered through visits and client interviews), Reimagine Reentry is better able to serve the reentry population and educate them about available support. By providing resources that are identified as important for clients and vetting the ability of those resources to aid people with criminal backgrounds, the team can bridge a disconnect that occurs between those individuals and necessary services. Resource guides also aid in forming a network of organizations that can all work together to better their communities.
Andrew Martuscelli: “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the Reimagine Reentry organization. This experience opened my eyes to many of the hardships and structural barriers that individuals are forced to face following their reentry into the community. My time working with Reimagine Reentry gave me the opportunity to speak with many returning citizens and hear of all the ways in which they are making a difference in their communities. It was so heartwarming to work with a team of professionals who genuinely care about this issue and do everything in their power to make this transition as seamless as possible. As a student in the School of Public Health, I intend to take everything I have learned throughout this experience with me as I continue my education as well as in my future career.”
Arvin Sequeira: “Working with Reimagine Reentry has been an unbelievable experience. I had the opportunity to work with such a rich and open community who have a lot to offer, but who also have been incredibly marginalized. It was incredibly fulfilling to work with these people, not only through the lens of a health science student, but also as a fellow human being. I learned firsthand an incredible wealth of knowledge about underserved populations and the structural/societal barriers that they face as well as the ways in which I can work to break them down. I aspire to carry the lessons that I learned from our clients, mentors, and the other interns with me into my future career work, and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.”
Resource Guide: An Introduction to Family-Friendly Fun in Allegheny County
Michaela Avino, University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health
Nicole McCaffrey, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and School of Public Health
Betty Braxter, PhD, CNM, RN, FAAN, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing
Karen Upsher-Williams, MSW, Family Housing Manager, Sojourner MOMS
Sojourner House is a recovery-focused organization that allows children to stay with their moms while their moms receive treatment. This is a unique and much-needed model. Sojourner House offers three levels of care: residential rehabilitation treatment, transitional housing with support services for families in recovery, and permanent housing coordinated through AlleghenyLink. The Sojourner House programs provide faith-based, compassionate recovery services that encourage self-sufficiency. https://www.sojournerhousepa.org/
While at Sojourner House, the Bridging the Gaps student interns developed a guide to family-friendly, low-cost activities and places in the Pittsburgh area, particularly those local to the programs. Through their observations and conversations at Sojourner House, the students recognized that the parents living there, many of whom were unfamiliar with Pittsburgh, were eager for information about the surrounding area that would support their children’s development, their relationships with their children, and their own recovery. The students provided current residents with a paper copy of the guide, while working with administrative staff to offer an electronic version accessible to residents and the public ≥÷through the Sojourner House website. By using their community connections, the student interns were able to help the residents put these new ideas to use with a trip to the library, where residents signed up for library cards and learned about library resources. Throughout this process, the student interns also facilitated programming on health-related topics, such as finding health information online, managing stress with relaxation techniques, and oral health.
Michaela Avino: “I am immensely grateful to have learned from the residents and staff at Sojourner House just how complex it can be to achieve security and stability after experiencing homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, and often single parenting all at once. I have a much better understanding of the social services and resources available in Allegheny County and how to navigate those systems. This was a much-needed addition to the book learning that I am so enmeshed in during the school year, which couldn’t possibly match the real, lived experiences of the people I intend to serve once I graduate.”
Nicole McCaffrey: “I've learned so much from the staff and residents at Sojourner MOMS about the intricacies of housing programs for low-income families. It's uniquely difficult to navigate these systems as a single parent who is newly sober, and the support offered by Sojourner House, with its treatment and housing programs, is significant and needed in so many places. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had through Bridging the Gaps to learn from residents' experiences and help welcome these parents into the Pittsburgh community.”
Voices against violence
Happy Times at VAV: A Self-Care Adventure
Saad Akhtar, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
Jiyeon Lee, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing
Jamie Zelazny, PHD, MPH, RN, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing
Maureen Anderson, Voices Against Violence
Richard Carrington, Voices Against Violence
Voices Against Violence (VAV) is an anti-violence and youth empowerment organization operating out of Beltzhoover for more than 25 years. Its goal is to reduce interpersonal conflict strategically and proactively among youth through activities focused on prevention and diversion.
As part of working at VAV’s summer camp, the Bridging the Gaps student interns created a three-part project focused on teaching self-care and wellness topics to VAV staff and participants to help them better cope with trauma from ongoing issues in their communities. The first part was a self-care presentation for staff, given during their training week, with an accompanying self-care practice guide. The second part was the creation of age-appropriate activities for the young campers, revolving around different aspects of self-care each week. Topics ranged from nutrition to physical, oral, and mental health. For the last part of the project, the interns created a children's storybook highlighting the self-care activities the youth were involved in during the summer. The book was designed to help provide a reminder of positive memories for the campers.
Saad Akhtar: “Working at VAV this summer challenged my inner perception of myself and what I thought I was capable of. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the dedicated staff of VAV who care so much about the lives of the wonderful children we have the privilege of working with. Participating in BTG this summer has given me a better understanding of the importance of early intervention as well as given me a firsthand look at the social determinants of health in action.”
Jiyeon Lee: “My time at VAV this summer has been a very meaningful and memorable learning experience for me in many ways. Not only was I able to practice putting myself into these children’s shoes, but I also recognized the importance of taking care of myself to become a better mentor for them. I am so grateful to have been able to work with the supportive and caring staff members at VAV who all share the same passion for supporting the children, their families, and the broader Pittsburgh community as a whole.”
Youth Enrichment services (YES)
Alexis Henderson, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
Tianhao Ma, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing
Martha A Terry, MA, PhD, School of Public Health
Jasmine Davis, BS, Manager of Academic and Mentoring Programming
Youth Enrichment Services (YES) is a nonprofit organization in East Liberty that specializes in mentorship, enrichment, and the education of economically and socially at-risk youth, aged 13 to 18, in the Pittsburgh area. YES prides itself on empowering students to be their own best resource, providing them with the tools they will need to be successful and confident leaders in their schools, homes, and communities.
In their first week at YES, participants completed Summer Work for Success. The Bridging the Gaps student interns helped the Summer Scholars (incoming high school freshmen) develop an application package — assisting them in drafting résumés, cover letters, and business cards — and trained them for successful job interviews. The interns also created their own apprenticeships in which they each developed a 12-lesson curriculum about personal wellness and nutrition. Each intern was responsible for a group of eight students at YES’s first Violence Prevention Summit where teens voiced their feelings about violence in Pittsburgh’s communities. Last, the BTG interns led groups of students through community participatory action research, where they helped the YES students identify assets and problems within four Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
Alexis Henderson: “My experience at YES has shown me how complex we are as individuals as well as how making assumptions can interfere with empathy. In my initial interactions, I found myself making assumptions not informed by any knowledge of the students’ lives outside of YES. Learning more about the students and their experiences has made me more empathetic because it showed me how an individual’s environment, upbringing, and experiences shape who they are and what they struggle with. This deeper sense of empathy will be a valuable tool in the future, especially when interacting with the underserved communities I hope to treat one day as physician.”
Tianhao Ma: “Interning at Youth Enrichment Services has provided me with the opportunities to learn more about how to engage with youth. It made me realize the importance of mentorship and the significance that it has on youth. As a nursing student who wants to eliminate health disparities, this experience allowed me to dig deep into the communities and see some of the challenges that people face. During the process of building new relationships with the students, I have also strengthened my empathy, adaptability, collaboration, and communication skills.”