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Betty Cruz Joins World Affairs Council Of Pittsburgh

Change Agency
Betty Cruz joined the World Affairs Council Jan. 21 as president and CEO. In her first 100 days, Cruz was tasked with assembling a transition team and conducting a listening tour.


On today's program: Community advocate Betty Cruz joins the World Affairs Council; lessons from an Ohio cracker could inform how environmentalists see the Beaver County cracker; PA’s educator of the year is a North Hills history teacher; a local nonprofit collects donations to fight the coronavirus; and the Holocaust Center celebrates the local Jewish immigrant experience. 

Big plans for Pittsburgh’s World Affairs Council
(00:00 — 12:40)

The Pittsburgh chapter of the World Affairs Council has an 89-year history of bringing global voices to a local stage, but those events haven’t always been as inclusive as they could be. New president and CEO Betty Cruz says that’s about to change.

 “When the opportunity was brought to me I said, ‘Well it sounds great. Now if I go in there, I want to shake things up.’”

The council has long been known for its speaker series and student exchange programs, but Cruz tells The Confluence’s Megan Harris that many people don’t see themselves in the programming, and many more don’t know about the council at all. Success would mean broadening access for kids that historically haven’t had the resources for international travel, she says, and bringing in speakers that appeal to a more diverse cross-section of Pittsburgh.

“That means youth, people of different races and faiths and economic backgrounds,” she says. Cruz says it starts with exposure and inclusion, and means eventually becoming “a leader, a convener, a bridge across those groups... to have these important conversations—and move those conversations to action.”

Her tenure began in January with a 100-day listening tour. Cruz says anyone can contact her with ideas.  

“There’s a lot of work to do,” she says. “This is an opportunity to bring people in.”

Clean water group to monitor Ohio ethane cracker
(13:40 — 17:40)

The nonprofit Freshwater Accountability Project plans to spend a $40,000 grant on water and air testing in Belmont County, Ohio, near the site of a proposed petrochemical plant. The PTTGC ethane cracker is expected to produce up to 1.5 million metric tons of plastic pellets annually, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has already issued air and water permits for the facility.

But as The Allegheny Front reports, some environmentalists argue those permits won't do enough to protect air and drinking water. The PTTGC plant is similar in design and function to the Shell ethane cracker in Beaver County.

Credit Commonwealth Media Services
Commonwealth Media Services
Joseph Welch poses with his family and Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera after being named the 2020 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey on December 9, 2019.

 Get to know PA’s 2019 Teacher Of The Year
(17:40 — 22:14) 

North Hills Middle School history teacher Joe Welch was named Pennsylvania’s teacher of the year in December. The honor recognizes outstanding educators nominated by students, peers and community members. 

He tells 90.5 WESA’s Sarah Schneider that he thinks vulnerability makes him a great educator. 

“I let my guard down all the time. I tell stories about my personal background. I think being willing to just be myself everyday… I think students see that I’m a real person.”

180K surgical masks are on their way to China
(22:14 — 31:26)

As the coronavirus rages on in China, the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Brother's Brother Foundation is sending medical supplies abroad to help Chinese officials deal with the devastating illness.

President Ozzy Samad and Sarah Boal, assistant vice president for disaster response and strategic initiatives, talk about what it took to mobilize help from the other side of the world, as well as what's still needed for the next shipment abroad. Both are planning a trip to China in the coming months.

Credit Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh / Facebook
The exhibit "For You Were Strangers" opened Sunday at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh in Greenfield.

Exhibit celebrates the Jewish immigrant experience
(31:26 — 38:17)

The mass migration of Jewish immigrants to Pittsburgh began in the 1880s—well before the atrocities of World War II, but it turns out, a lot of locals don’t know that history.

Lauren Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, says it came up from time to time, often with people the center interacted with regularly. 

“We do training with cadets with the (Pittsburgh) Police Academy. I remember there was one just a few days before the shooting at Tree of Life, and one cadet asked me if all the Jews came here after the Holocaust. I just thought, ‘Wow. There are so many stories here people don't know about. We’ve got to share them.’” 

A new exhibit at the center in Greenfield celebrates that local origin story and explores how both threats of persecution and the promise of opportunity spurred several waves of migrants from Eastern Europe and Russia starting more than 120 years ago. Many, Bairnsfather says, first landed in the city’s Hill District.

“That was true of Jews… people who came from Italy and other countries in Europe, and even the migration of African Americans from the South after the Civil War. It was a very diverse community,” she says. “Migrants of more means lived in other parts of the city, but most of (the draw) was economic, and also it became known—as these aid organizations formed, which is part of our exhibit—that (the Hill) was a place where people could be integrated into society. Immigrants from other countries could learn English there, could find jobs there.”

The Holocaust Center is free to visit. The exhibit “For You Were Strangers” will be up through at least May, Bairnsfather says.

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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