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Business as Usual: Healthy Neighborhood Awards

Business as Usual

We're excited to wrap up the week with a show detailing some of the best work happening across Pittsburgh's neighborhoods. Today, we welcome Chelsea Contino, Communications and Outreach Program Coordinator at Neighborhood Allies, along with several of its 2020 Healthy Neighborhoods Awardees to talk about some of the most positive and inspiring initiatives helping to make better neighborhoods. The Healthy Neighborhoods Awards honor people and initiatives that are helping neighborhoods across a spectrum of issues from food insecurity to building wealth to educating children and so much more. You will be amazed at some of the awesome work happening right in our own neighborhoods!


Steel Smiling:




Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to business as usual, this is Friday, I don't even know what month or day it is. But I do know that it's Friday. And I'm happy to see all of you because we are really going to have a good time. In terms of wrapping this week up. This is Audrey Russo, President and CEO of Pittsburgh Technology Council joined today is Jonathan kersting. And he is all things media and storytelling. And he's been with the tech Council for two plus decades. I love saying that Jonathan, like that last decade, so I want to give, before we start, I'd like to just tell everyone that today would have been Bob Marley's 75th birthday. And we're just going to hear a few riffs from him. Thanks to Esquire,

Esquire, you want to take off your mute,

team up.

Imagine what the world would be like today if Bob Marley was still alive. Right. So I want to give a shout out to Huntington bank, thanking them for being our sponsors and partners throughout this entire journey. And they've helped many company if you don't know them, reach out to them, because they're really diligent about trying to help small businesses and large businesses, make sure that they have what they need to build their companies. So we're on our hundred and 43rd session. It's Friday, I think it's the middle of October, and it is beautiful out. But we are still here trying to keep the community tethered and connected and informed about all things that are happening that matter to the tech ecosystem, as well as those who support it. And that's what we're going to hear about today. We've muted your microphones only to be considerate. And then on top of that, we do have a chat, and we are recording this session. So we know it's Friday and a beautiful day. A lot of people like to come back and listen to these sessions. So I'm going to jump right in and say today we're hosting Chelsey contino. And she is some of our friends at neighborhood allies. And you might remember that we partnered with them early on, I think early on in COVID, because they had the leadership and were with all to think about the digital divide. And with Aurora and Google, we've made sure that they were out there getting people that technologies and tools they needed to stay connected during the beginning of the pandemic. We're going to get a little bit of an update from Chelsea on that on program. But we're also going to have Chelsea introduce herself and give us the pitch what's the pitch about neighborhood allies and and now the healthy neighborhood awards. So very excited about that because Chelsea is going to mention that we have two guests today, Julius Boatwright of Steele, smiling and Esquire Harris of black tea brown sugar. And he's there representing two of the seven awardees. I do she'll talk about the other awardees and Jonathan kersting has already interviewed each and every one of the awardees. So stay tuned for that on our podcast and on our radio. So Chelsea, good afternoon. Happy Friday. So glad that you're here.

Yeah. Thank you for having me.

So let's, let's talk. Who are you? What about neighborhood allies? Let's talk about these awards.

Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Chelsea contino. And I am the communications and program outreach coordinator at neighborhood allies and neighborhood allies where you know, just as a refresher, in case, you guys, it's been a while since we've been on but we're a community development intermediary. And essentially, our mission is to support the people organizations who are working to create healthy neighborhoods. We do everything from real estate to small resonant grants, to play space project with favorite organizations to our digital inclusion work, which is what you guys helped us lift up really early on with our beyond the laptops, initiative and getting laptops to students and families who needed them during shutdown. So a little update on that That's still going really well, we kind of addressed the hardware issue, we tried to address the connectivity issue where we connected a families that were left without internet, with Comcast essentials and paid for 1000 of those. And now we're kind of moving on to the education aspect of that. And so we've just recently launched level up 412, which is we're partnering with a lot of different organizations to help bring you guys bring people courses, in any everything from coding to cybersecurity, to just the basics of you know, social media, or just, you know, running a device. So we're kind of really trying to attack those three pillars. So that's kind of an update about our digital inclusion work. So stay tuned for that. We'll we'll keep updating people. Um, and then yeah, yeah, absolutely. And so the health neighborhood celebration, which is what we're here to talk about today, is really our trademark annual event. And its main purpose is to honor and celebrate those people who are building healthy neighborhoods. So you know, anyone making a positive impact, and we hold public nominations every year. And then we choose awardees, we have six awards. One of them is our ally of the Year Award, which we always do. And then the other five awards tie back to our healthy neighborhoods framework. And that's kind of our guiding framework that we use to do all of our work. And healthy neighborhoods framework basically says that healthy neighborhoods have market confidence. They have a good quality of life for residents. They have a celebrated neighborhood image. They have true community ownership, and they have equitable development. And so that's our guiding framework. And each word has a specific award recipient. So this year, we also added a seventh award, which is our 2020 Impact Award. And that was specifically to lift up and honor personal organization, working to provide COVID relief directly or fight systemic racism.

So today, we have two of the awardees but can you mention the other five?

Yeah, absolutely. Um, so this week, we started our with our 2020 impact awardee, which is Chef claudi Pierre and the initiative. Our market confidence awardee is Coco printer Pittsburgh. Our break huh? Come Yeah, yeah, can scantling huh? Our community ownership already? Our Kevin Alton and Martel hedge. They're members of the belltower community in the hilltop.

Life. 40 is the community empowerment Association located in Homewood and our equitable development awardee is the hill district Federal Credit Union. And if you guys have specific questions about those awardees, I can talk about them too. That's great. So thank you. So how did COVID affect the awards this year? And what are you doing to ensure that there's a lot of visibility for these seven awardees? I know that part of the plan, and I just want to give a shout out to Jonathan kersting. I mentioned earlier that he's had interviews with each one of these awardees. So the first podcast I think, has been released with Chef clouding. And a new podcast actually drops every Wednesday. So we're excited about that. What other things are you doing?

Yeah, so this is an annual event. This is our fourth year doing it. Typically, we have a big celebration at the Carnegie Museum of Art, we gather community members of the awardees and really just have a really awesome award ceremony. But COVID, you know, obviously made it so that we couldn't hold an event like that safely. And so we threw around the idea of having a virtual event that we can tune into, but really just came back to, we wanted to distill it down to the most important part of these awards, which is the awardees and all the focus should be on them. And so we decided to have a full digital media campaign or each awardee gets their own highlight week. And so we just kicked off this past week with Chef Claudia's eat initiative. And the podcasts are a huge part of that. And I can't think Jonathan in the tech council enough, and we met. Um, in addition, we're doing things like articles, special articles, outlining the awardees work. We're doing social media videos, we might do some Instagram takeovers, just a whole host of everything we can do on social media. And then we're also the biggest thing is on Fridays on our social media platforms. We'll be releasing their awardee highlight videos, and so we have videographers that go out and film these awardees doing what they do to really To lift up and show how great they are and the impact they're making. And so that will be released every Friday on our social media platforms typically at noon, but today, I did push back the release until 1230. So that after this not

so great, thank you so much. So can I now bring Esquire Harris to get the Sunshine here? So let's you have an awesome story. Jonathan told me a little bit about it. You opened up a media center in keys rocks, tell us what inspired you. How are you doing?

Well, primary to give the community a voice. My driving forces that make sure people that are able to have questions that need resources, can have a way to get those resources. And that's our primary goal. A lot of connecting with the youth here in mckees, rocks area provide them opportunity to express themselves outside of hatred outside of anger, outside of the normal ways that they've been taught to express themselves. giving them away in the way to express a positivity has been, has been one of the biggest driving forces for me, okay, we actually had some kids coming here last week. And I was talking to the girl and she was saying how hard her life has been. And the guy was saying how he's he's tired of fighting, he only fights because they asked him to fight. And I was like, What if you walked away? What happened? He was like, I don't know. I never thought about that. Like, yeah, what, uh, neither one of y'all wanna fight one on both y'all walk away. He like I just, I don't have anything else to do with all this energy, like I don't ever want to grow having to do and I let them come to our studio, and I let them take pictures of each other. And I let them and I showed him how to edit it. And I showed him how to do it. And they made like an incredible picture. And you can see how much that meant to them, you can see how much to create something that they had no idea that great, I might just tell them what they can do, I'm having to provide an opportunity and showing them what they can do. And because I can show them what they can do it just you can just see their their their creativity begin. They're like, well, what else can I do? Like? Can I Can I do anything else besides selling drugs? And do something else besides playing football? Can I do something else besides fighting, you know, and it's, and that's it, this is this, that's that's the presence that I want to provide. That's the love that I want to spread. And that's that's the constant journey of healing, that I want the community to be in.

Esquire, you got a great story as to how you found the space, you got to tell us that because I think

Yeah, how

did you find it? Oh, I was doing I was actually dropping somebody off. And I seen it. And I was like, ah, I should, I should probably just go, I should probably just go check it out. And, um, I ended up talking to the, the whole network in general just started off as just like a podcast, like we're just doing podcasts once a week. And just our, we had to stop doing the shows because of COVID. But we used to do three or four weekly shows. And we just we just started spreading so much that we needed a place to begin to do that. And then also just the resources that we have to be able to provide for the community. I just wanted a safe place for that. And we just just kind of just I mean, this guy just really kind of it's just been guided by this whole process has been nothing but God my degrees in psychology. And I thought I wanted to have my own practice and be counseling people on a at a desk. I had no idea that I would that, you know, my purpose for the psychology degree will be more on this level. But the whole thing has been guided by this. This whole journey has been God. Everything is being done. I I I got.

Well, let me ask you something. What is in the media center? So what kinds of resources do you have? You mentioned one example of two kids taking pictures, but what are what are what else is in there?

So we have the room I'm in now we do like podcasts. And so we have like a bunch of podcast mics and you can see it Yeah, we have. We have this room for audio. My office is why I'm able to let them come in and we just have one on one counseling sessions. I'm talking about things going on we also have a another section is for producing, mixing and editing. We also have a blue screen and the green screen room where they can play VR but they can also take pictures and do videos and then afterwards go edit it and take the net graphics and stuff to it. We have an outside area that I've created that gives us this like a nice little patio deck area with a fire pit so they can go back there and have some time for themselves. They need to recollect that each piece is closed off. And still it also is just for people to be able to have their privacy and be able to create or be able to just be themselves for a while.

So how did the kids just drop in? Um, well,

I wasn't a lot. I was connected with a lot of the schools before you know Kurt Cobain hit on the homeless children Education Fund. There were a lot with a lot of I did a lot of partnerships with them. And Westinghouse school. I have a lot of kids that I've worked with Cuz I did a few media workshops over there for them. But yeah, just kids in the community outside all the time. And fret, especially when they get out of school, make sure they're not fighting, making sure they're just getting love just talking to them, hey, how's your day going? That's what I had as a kid. When I left my house, my neighbor Miss Plummer made sure I was okay. When I got locked out in house playing plumber, let me come in, make sure I did my homework gave me some food. And my mama came home, I went home. And these kids don't have that they don't have parents to go along to let alone the neighbor and loving. And so being outside just telling them Hello, hey, I care about you. Like this one kid. He's like seven years old. And every time I tell him, I care about him, you look away, because he can't he can't look me in the eye and receive that. And he said, because he doesn't believe he said nobody loves. I was like, You mattered to me. I was like, I want to love you. I want to grow because I don't know him to love me. Tell him I love him. He can't receive that. Because he knows I don't know him to love him. But I tell him, I want to love you. I want to receive you. When I see him. I speak to him when he's hungry. I give him food. And it matters. It matters to these kids, man. Nobody cares about them. They feel like no one cares. And people sometimes don't know me care, it's not even neglect. You don't know, you don't know, feel to go outside and hug bill. He bills is Bill and your young pass. But being able to be in this presence just right here what God has me, it puts me an opportunity to connect with a lot of these kids right here by the school, right here by a school. And that's not more perfect. I don't know, I wasn't looking for this. It just happened. It just happened. And I go outside. And these kids know they can talk to me. They know I'm not gonna less than a no, I'm not gonna try to mislead them. And I'm not gonna miss God. They know I don't want anything from for them to have a better day for them to do better for them to want better for themselves.

I feel better just listening to you.

Because that's pretty incredible. How do you get money? How do you get funds?

Uber and Lyft? And, and, yeah, and work and hard work? Yeah,

I do a lot of Uber and Lyft a way for people to contribute to you.

Oh, yeah.

Yeah, I mean, we always accept cash app donations. And we have a PayPal, I haven't really done much community fundraising. Because again, this has been God, every guy has provided everything he needed. There's been we do you know, we rent the studio out. So people do rent the studio and booked the studio with that money. It helps us keep things going. We have some awesome sponsors. So just people that support us, and that helps help help us out. But I haven't really, I haven't really thought much about funding. For me, I should. Yeah.

You should. And there has to be ways that there's definitely by your story. There are ways that people are going to want to help financially, materially, you know, virtually whatever it may be, absolutely, people are going to want to help. So I appreciate that. Yeah. And to receive that is really important. And that's part of why we do this right now. And that's part of why Jonathan is pretty active about making sure that the community is connected, because you are part of our community, even though we're heads down working in tech, and working in innovation and looking future for tomorrow. We can't miss all these stories, right. That's how we got connected to neighborhood allies. True. So if there are ways that we can be helpful, because that's, that's what we do. So your story is really inspiring. And to win this award, you have to feel really good.

Oh, I told him and it felt to me, I was actually having a hard day when I got the email. So I was like, That's what I'm saying. It's one of those things that God always provides something that's reminder like, hey, you're on the right path. It was a moment when I was I was weak. And I was I was down. And I was like, Ah, oh, people do care. This is awesome. This was amazing. And it was this is my grandma was telling me She's like, I'm such a visionary. And I'm always looking forward. And I'm always thinking about things that I have to do next and what's coming up next, that sometimes I have to learn to embrace what's happening right now. And that's what you know, this award was a was able to do is give me a chance to slow down and be like, and see the things that I'm doing. And not just what I'm doing but the life back. Like even my grandma. I can my grandmother talk was like, I thank you grandma like Wow, thank you, thank you. I didn't know I was having this impact on this 80 plus year old lady, to make her feel this way. And I was I was always focused on how much she meant to me. And even Ayanna from the birthing head, just hearing her talk about how my life impacts there is it's like, it's like, wow, I I had no idea and the kids in their Ward is hearing people I'm learning to embrace like you said acceptance learning to accept people being like, thank you for your an impact in my life. Thank you. So I'm learning to embrace those moments.

It takes time. It's hard to do, particularly someone like who's totally focused. So let's don't go away. We're gonna go to our next guest Don't go away because we have got a lot of ideas but I want to go over to Julius Julius boat righties of steel smiling. And mental health is often ignored and stigmatized. And you heard a little bit about that from Esquire. What is steel? What is steel doing steel smiling, doing? And let's come to the forefront and what's going on during COVID, etc. Let's jump in.

Yes, so we have

Hello, hello. So we have a black Mental Health Workforce Development Program. And we just graduated our inaugural cohort out in the hilltop. So the bells Hoover Carrick Knoxville area. So it's a one year program where a cohort of black adults go through. And the purpose of it is to get them to become community mental health advocates. So to be able to support their own mental health needs, and also to be able to support the mental health and wellness needs of their neighbors. So while they go through that program, they get weekly work for stipends, emergency financial support, they get connected to mental health therapists, we make social service referrals, and they have a group of peers that they go through the program who can provide peer support to them as well. So we've been doing all of our engagements, virtually, our our attendance is still as good as it can be folks are still engaged and getting resources and getting connected. So it's just been phenomenal. And I have to give a shout out to neighborhood allies specifically, they're our fiscal sponsor. So over the past year, they have helped us exponentially when you think about infrastructure, right? You think about board governance, you think about financial management, operations activity. So they're helping us take our programmatic impact and our organizational impact to the next

two years. What is your background? How did you get to where you are right now?

Yeah, I'm a licensed social worker, went to Pitt Pitts grad school of social work. And I have my own mental health challenges, I think that every single person has has mental health, right? We don't all have mental illness, but 100% of us have mental health. So when I was younger, I dealt with my own mental health challenges. I one of my best friends from undergrad at Pitt died by suicide. So that was something that was really, really compelling for me. And Esquire mentioned, how his how his faith and how God played a part in kind of getting him to where he is, I just kept getting these reminders of saying, Hey, here's where you're supposed to be at, personally and professionally. So I was just constantly being called to the work of mental health, specifically within the black community.

And so do the two of you know each other, Julius and Esquire do know each other?

Well, we know each other, just from doing community work, but we haven't really met. But it sounds like we may enjoy doing some

work. This is real, isn't it? When you go through stuff, and you start to see God manifests in those same ways, and you realize its purpose in what you've been through. It's a different stripe, man. It's a different stripe, man. I want to say I'm sorry that your friend committed suicide, but I commend you for using that as motivation. But I love hearing stuff like that, bro. as well. Thank you.

So the two of you should definitely be working on some stuff together because it's all about it's all about these kinds of relationships that create an expansion. So that's really amazing. So Julius, if people want to know more about the organization, what's the website

so it's still as instil city as t e l smiling. I some IO IMG PGH dot o RG so you can learn more about what we're doing. We recently we recently raised over $100,000, our our, for our black Mental Health Fund. So with everything that's been happening with, with the the economic crisis with the racial and justices with the pandemic, people were looking for an organization that was supporting the needs of the mental health needs of black people specifically, we weren't even actively fundraising people, individuals and organizations just started donating. They recognize the need. So if folks want to make a donation, I would recommend first and foremost you can you can Connect with neighborhood allies and send a donation directly to them on our behalf. that that would be the most efficient way to make a contribution.

So question for both of you, and even for Chelsea, if you want to jump in. So how can we get more people that, you know, doing this positive work in these communities? And how, you know, just putting the spotlight on these projects, like these, you know, hopefully inspire others to do the same. But also, I'm feeling the passion to try to just help these two. So I'm trying to, you know, understand, so what about from Julius and from Esquire? What do you think? Or if Chelsea you want to jump in? How can we get more people? How can we create this engagement?

Yeah, I'll jump in. I mean, just watching Julius and esquerra, who have actually met in person talk. It's like, yeah, we should be working together. I think.

Absolutely. Mission is

a, you know, just another example from our 2020 impact awardee, Chef Claudie and the eat initiative, one reason that they did something amazing, they've given out over 50,000 meals since March two Pittsburghers. And, you know, like he always says you can't do this work in a silo. So, you know, he says, we need to work with other organizations and other people. And I think that's one way we can get more people involved and more people doing this good work making a positive impact, because the influence that other people have on each other, I think will will help it. And I also think, like you said, putting a spotlight on these stories will help because people will be like, oh, look what they're doing. Like I can plug like, I can help them. I can donate or I can volunteer. And I think, you know, like Julia said with his black Mental Health Fund, it was literally just people finding that link to donate. They're like, I need to do something that help because stuff is so

messed up right now. And in

that there's that motivation. So when people know there's an issue, we know there's someone working towards it, towards a solution for it. They're more motivated to plug in and help anyway they can. It's

contagious. Its contagious. I think about sometimes people only people can only do what they're exposed to doing. And if all you surround, you're surrounded by negativity, and if all you see is negativity, that's what you're going to do. That's how you're going to be, you know, prone to do. But if you begin to see positivity, you'll begin to be like her, there are other options. There's somebody that does not want to fight. There's someone that does not want to live in their mental health issues. They're someone that needs resources, they just haven't had that exposure. So absolutely things like this, like you guys, it's like, you're bringing people like us together. So we can continue to spread the word Where can we can't do it on our own. It takes a village and everybody's fighting together, man, what a hell of a fight.

Right. And it takes and that's what we look at. That's why Jonathan was so stoked about doing these stories, because he feels like it was opening up, open up his own mind, as well as sharing that to the entire community. So I'm listening right now. And I'm gonna pick up the phone and call Jonathan in a moment, because I have a couple of ideas. Yep. One without ideas, and I like to put stuff into motion. But I am very inspired by all this. I hope our listeners are as well. I know that those those podcasts are dropping each week. And stay connected. If you want to know more about that reach out to Jonathan kersting. And he can definitely help you and help you stay connected. I'm sure he's got a zillion ideas. But we are here to just try to find your flight airplane. That's really why we're here. And we're doing this. So my hat's to Julius, for the work that you're doing and the candor that you just had and describing your own issues. We all have our own issues. And I think you're right. The more we talk about that, the more transparent we are. We know that we're in this together, no one is that different. It's just different people have different access. And doors aren't necessarily open for everyone the same way. So we're trying to kick those doors down in our own little way in the tech community. Jonathan does that each and every day. And that everyone at the tech council really cares about this stuff. So we appreciate a chance Chelsea you opening up the doors for us, because it's a two way street. And so we really appreciate the opportunity for the awards. Thank you to Esquire Harris, thank you to do it's both right and put the links out there. We're going to continue to shine the light. Thank you for Jonathan kersting for for caring about this and telling these stories. We've only just begun. So on that note, I want to thank everyone for being with us today. It is Friday. I do know that some date in October, I'm not exactly sure the date. But I would like everyone to stay safe. Take care of your mental health. We all have our own issues. And we're not alone. And if you don't draw inspiration from the two gentlemen that were with us today, I don't know how to help you because no better stories than what we heard today. So this is Audrey Rousseff signing off. I'm going to try to go underground for two days and be back at it on Monday. Stay safe. Thank you, Jonathan, for your work. And we'll see you on Monday.

Thank you, everyone.

Thank you.

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