At the end of every school day, students are transported to The Pittsburgh Project in the Perry Hilltop section of the city’s North Side, where they take part in educational programs. Executive Director Wayne Younger says the Project partners with local schools to offer enrichment activities and academic help as well as investing in their social well-being.
“And help them also to grow into creatives who can discover what their passions are and have a vision for their futures,” Younger says.
The overarching goal is to familiarize young people with various trades, helping them forge the life skills needed—both in and outside of work—to become well-rounded citizens.
Over its 34 years of existence, The Pittsburgh Project has engaged students from kindergarten through their senior year in high school. They encourage education and team building—both after school and throughout the summer—offering space to mold the minds of young people.
“[One of those is] our ‘Dream Lab,’ which is a creative space where [students] have the opportunity to explore making whatever they like,” Younger explains. “So, we have some kids who are seriously into fashion. We have sewing machines where they get a chance to learn how to make clothes. Some kids are into computers. So, the thing we were hoping to do is to inspire our kids to be creators and not just consumers.”
Younger says both volunteers and paid teachers are on-hand daily.
“Whose jobs, really, are to engage them and keep them in learning mode even after school is done,” he says. “And that is done—not though straight academics—it’s done through engaging their creative processes.”
Joanna Deming with the Perry Hilltop Citizens Council says The Pittsburgh Project has become a big part of the fabric of the community. She points to, for example, how the Project created and spearhead Ballfield Farm.
“It’s a neighborhood garden where you can get organic produce and learn how to garden alongside your neighbors,” she says. “It’s a really neat neighborhood asset.”
The interaction of students and community member is what Deming says will help the North Side become more close-kit and sustainable for future generations.
“If we really want to develop our community in a way that our neighbors benefit it's important that the youth are engaged in every aspect of that development,"she says.
Gabriel Akman, a Project staff member, says part of the goal of engaging students is to lead by example, especially if activities take place off-premises.
"For example, middle school does a trips during the summer with our summer camp and so if we go to clean up a garden or if we go to pick up cigarette butts downtown, I'm there with them and I'm doing it and I'm showing them,” Akman explains. “I'm saying, 'I'm doing this too, I'm in the weeds, too, with you.'"
Younger said it's important to make sure all students, especially those from urban communities, have the same opportunities to grow as those from more affluent areas. To him, that is part of what The Pittsburgh Project is all about.
“We have been helping kids understand that that they are leaders,” Younger says. “And so being a leader means that they can actually have control over their environment.”