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UPMC Children's Turns Patients Into Little Broadcasters


On today's program: Wilkinsburg gets funding for new strategies to curb gun violence; some PA public schools are struggling to meet the needs of immigrant students; child life specialists in Lawrenceville give sick patients a new creative outlet; and an international boat club wants to get Pittsburghers on the water. 


Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett stands outside the WESA studios on Pittsburgh's South Side.

Wilkinsburg collaborates with county police on gun violence prevention
(00:00 — 8:47)

At a safety forum Tuesday, Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett asked her community to consider gun violence a public health epidemic. 

“The onus is not on just one agency or one authority to solve these problems,” she tells The Confluence.

Garrett previously criticized the county police bureau on Facebook, saying the district attorney’s office had bungled the homicide case against Cheron Shelton, who was recently acquitted for the five shooting deaths at a March 2016 backyard barbecue. Garrett says she stands by those words, but that she and Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough have since resolved to work together to address the borough’s high rates of crime and gun violence.

Representatives from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office were not present at the forum

Local public schools are struggling to meet students’ needs
(10:03 — 17:42) 

Low-wage immigrant labor undergirds the local economy in Chambersburg, but a dependence on cheap labor puts stress on other institutions—especially public schools, which face an underfunded mandate to get kids up to speed.

As a part of Keystone Crossroads’ Embedded 2020 series, Laura Benshoff profiles a 15-year-old, chronically-truant boy from Guatemala who sits at the intersection of immigration and education.

How giving patients the mic helps kids heal
(17:44 — 32:20)

A new television and radio studio at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is giving patients their big break.

Riley Hammond, the child life specialist coordinator at the hospital’s Dream Big Studio, says it’s a matter of giving kids an opportunity to make their own decisions in an environment where so often choice is taken away from them. While inside, kids can opt to host their own program, operate a camera or record themselves or others in short shows that broadcast in patient rooms on the hospital’s closed-circuit channel. 

Hammond tells The Confluence’s Kiley Koscinski that it's one of the facility's "medical-free zones," where there’s no talk of diagnoses or procedures and kids are encouraged to explore and play the way they would outside of a hospital. 

“In our play areas, the studio, our music and art therapy spaces, we give that choice and control back to kids, which ultimately helps them heal,” she says.

Vinnie Savini, a patient at UPMC Children’s receiving treatment for complications related to an intestinal transplant, says his first reaction to the new studio mimicked Macaulay Culkin’s famous scream in the 1990 film Home Alone, “but in a good way.” 

Hammond, whose role requires coordinating with each patient’s medical team, says Savini’s grandmother loved how time playing with cameras, lights, audio controls and props has affected her grandson's mood.

Credit Courtesy of Freedom Boat Club Pittsburgh
Freedom Boat Club Pittsburgh has five boats open for reservations through the upcoming season. Owner and general manager Michael Hills says they may invest in more if demand grows.

  Living the boat life, without the hassle of owning a boat
(32:23 — 38:29)

A new local franchise through the Members Boat Access Club is offering an alternative way to access the water in Pittsburgh.

Members can reserve pleasure boats through their Freedom Boat Club Pittsburgh app locally and in more than 200 locales nationwide, in Vancouver and in France. Franchise owner and general manager Michael Hills says once members get trained, they have unlimited use of the company’s fleet.

Hills says he knows the one-time $6,000 startup fee and subsequent monthly $350 dues can seem pricey, but it's a lot cheaper and less onerous than owning and maintaining a watercraft on your own. He says the local club is currently offering a discount on membership this spring

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque 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 is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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