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Activist Hopes To Brighten Up A Struggling Corner Of Brighton Heights

Noah Brode
90.5 WESA
Brighton Heights activist Kelly Day holds her two-year-old daughter, Marigold, in front of the Woods Run branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

When Kelly Day moved to Brighton Heights about 10 years ago, she began to notice something -- a large income disparity between neighborhood residents. 

"If you look at the different Census tracts, our Census tract, the majority of incomes are between $14- and $19,000 a year, and then, if you go one block over, the average income goes to $60-  to $90,000 a year," Day said.

90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories is a weekly series celebrating people who make the place they live a better place to live.

Day's community surrounds the 5-acre site of the former St. John's Hospital. She said it's mostly single mothers raising families. Day surmises that the closing of the hospital in the '90s contributed to the current situation of abandoned homes and gun violence in the surrounding streets.

A former vice president of the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation, Day said she recently decided that her section of Brighton Heights wasn't getting the attention it needed. So, she formed Connected 4 Community, a new nonprofit group launched with support from the Sprout Fund, the Buhl Foundation and New Sun Rising.

"The heart of the problem, we felt, is that the community has to be stronger, and we need to build our village and get to know each other," Day said. "If the majority of households are single moms, we want those single moms to know each other so they can look out for each other's kids. That's our vision."

Day said one of the group's biggest concerns is the potential redevelopment of the former hospital site. While the idea of a new housing project has been bandied about for years, Day said her community would rather have the parcel become a neighborhood green space.

"We were asking for public amenities to be put in the green space, so Connected 4 Community kind of came out of that conversation," Day said.

The fledgling nonprofit has already planted more than two dozen trees along the streets, built a rain garden and installed a memorial bench in honor of a local victim of gun violence. Day said C4C has some other plans to "brighten up" its section of Brighton Heights.

"We want to humanize where we live -- you know, get trash cans like normal neighborhoods, and have places to sit, and have a bus shelter," Day said. "A lot of the people who live in our community have to ride the bus, and it's unfortunate that they just have to stand in the rain."

Because Connected 4 Community is brand new, the first step will be to get neighbors on board. To that end, Day and a neighbor have planned a meet-and-greet barbecue for this fall to start making connections with nearby residents.

Day, who's perhaps best known as the DJ for kids' dance parties at the Children's Museum and other local venues, said she hopes her example can inspire others across the city to get involved at the sub-neighborhood level.

"I would challenge people to look at the Census tracts within their community, and take a look at what are the demographics of your community, and really look at it, and say, 'Who here needs help?' and help those people first," Day said.