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How A Brookline Church Youth Ministry Group Grew To Care For City’s Forgotten Teens

Noah Brode
90.5 WESA
Caitlin McNulty stands outside the entrance of the Brookline Teen Outreach Center, the youth-focused nonprofit she co-founded in 2015.

In 2015, Caitlin McNulty had been running a youth ministry program out of a Brookline church for a few years when she began to realize that the teenagers in the neighborhood -- the city’s second-largest, and third most-populous -- needed more.

In addition to the youth ministry’s regular programming, McNulty had been helping students with their homework and bringing in a counselor to work through some teens’ personal issues. Through her outreach, it became clear to her that young people in Brookline deserved better.

"I knew this needed to happen, and I felt in a unique position to make it happen," McNulty said.

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

And in 2015, she and a friend founded the Brookline Teen Outreach Center.

"We're not just an after-school program; we're not just tutoring; we're not just an opportunity for community service," McNulty said. "We offer all those things, and counseling."

After a year of sharing space with a local American Legion chapter under a lease-to-own deal, in 2016 McNulty’s nonprofit got the building along Brookline Boulevard all to itself. Since then, McNulty says the teen center has been powered solely by a large corps of volunteers from the city’s South Hills neighborhoods.

"We all have other jobs, but it's really important to us," she said. "Most of our staff are former educators or counselors, or currently still, and then we have a pool of about 50 volunteers who give their time."

McNulty, who now works as a freelance editor, said the center is open four days each week, with each volunteer offering their expertise to help run a wide range of programs.

"So, we have cooking classes. We have podcasting workshops, writing workshops, STEM programming -- art, all the time," she said. "We always have video games and board game, because it's just fun to play sometimes."

An energetic mother of two, McNulty doesn’t have an office at the teen center. She says that’s by design: she spends most of her time there walking through the rooms and hallways, checking in on the teenagers, who begin to arrive after school lets out on weekdays.

McNulty said Brookline -- which she considers a “forgotten neighborhood” -- was in desperate need of services for teens.

"They're the second-largest, and most people don't know that they're even here -- you know, you cross the river, you go through the tunnel, and it's the suburbs -- but it's not. It's very much a city neighborhood and all the problems that come with that, and there are not a lot of resources," McNulty said. "We are the only youth nonprofit in the southern city of Pittsburgh neighborhoods -- Carrick, Beechview, Brookline."

She said the teen center has become a community gathering point.

“I did not realize the impact we would have on the community and the need we would be filling in the community,” McNulty said.

She said the response from teens has been so enthusiastic that the Brookline Teen Outreach Center is planning to open a satellite location in Beechview next year.