PRESLEY GILLESPIE, far left, with Denise Edwards, top left, Neighborhood Allies’ Ally of the Year, and other 2019 Healthy Neighborhood award winners. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)
by Diane I. Daniels, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Described as the epitome of a neighborhood ally, Denise Edwards says she is humbled. On Oct. 24 she was recognized by Neighborhood Allies as its Ally of the Year.
“I feel proud of my organization and am excited for what this means for the Lincoln-Lemington organization and the community. This recognition makes me feel special to be viewed as a changemaker,” she said.
The Ally of the Year award is presented to an organization or individual who acts as a genuine and active ally to the communities where they live and serve considering the unique conditions and needs of Pittsburgh communities.
Other Healthy Neighborhood Awardees inclusive of people and organizations that uplift and work hard to build healthy neighborhoods across Pittsburgh included ACH Clear Pathways; Quality of Life, Amber Sloan, Community Ownership, The Pittsburgh Garbage Olympics, Neighborhood Image, McKees Rocks CDC/Roxian Theatre, and Market Confidence. Circles Greater Pittsburgh received the Equitable Development award.
Founded and directed by Tyian Battle, ACH Clear Pathways is dedicated to providing enriching and new experiences to underserved youth and families through visual and performing arts in the Hill District.
Through her organization #Madeit, Sloan is known for her passion in helping people in her home neighborhood of Homewood. In an authentic and genuine approach, meeting people where they are and ensuring their voice is heard, she speaks to teens to equip them with knowledge, helps families get their basic needs met, and advocates for political change to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.
The Pittsburgh Garbage Olympics is beautifying neighborhoods while engaging residents and neighbors to be active players in cleaning up their communities. The annual event makes litter clean-up fun by creating a friendly competition to see which neighborhood can collect the most trash.
The recently redeveloped Roxian Theatre embraces the spirit of the McKees Rocks community while standing out with preserved and polished architectural features. The theatre now makes McKees Rocks a destination where the performing arts are a key ingredient in the process of helping generate economic activity, sparking new businesses and attracting visitors to the neighborhood.
Under the leadership of Tammy Thompson, Circles Greater Pittsburgh works to move people and families out of poverty by helping individuals expand their social capital and meet their financial goals–bringing them closer to self-sufficiency. Their unique and effective approach breaks down economic and social barriers, connecting low-income individuals with middle- or upper-class volunteers to create an additional layer of support as they work toward their goals together—holding each other accountable, walking with one another through challenges and celebrating successes.
Neighborhood Allies President Presley Gillespie classified the audience of the organization’s annual Healthy Neighborhoods Celebration and Awards Ceremony as the biggest yet. Over 200 attendees ranged from residents, to nonprofit professionals, to artists and executives. The purpose of the event was to gather as allies to share and honor examples of exemplary local work being done to create positive social impact in low-income communities.
The Healthy Neighborhoods Celebration was inspired by Neighborhood Allies’ Healthy Neighborhoods Framework, a set of principles which continuously guides their work and helps to implement their groundwork in neighborhoods and prioritize neighborhood change efforts. Focusing on both people and places, they develop tailored neighborhood-level strategies that target ways to create the change they want to see in neighborhoods and aids in creating thriving, resilient communities that are livable for all.
The fall 2019 Real Estate Co-Powerment series graduation ceremony was also a part of the ceremony. Co-created by Neighborhood Allies and Omicelo, a mission-driven real estate investment and advisory firm, the organization offers a six-week real estate course. Through in-class instruction, coaching and mentorship, their goal is to demonstrate how community members, organizations, and small business owners can participate and benefit from their own neighborhood revitalization. Omicelo Cares is a nonprofit organization that believes neighborhoods can create promise for all community members. Their mission is to grow community members’ incomes in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods through specialized real estate education and deep supports for small businesses. The group was founded by Joshua Pollard. Jason Flowers is the executive director.
Finding funding for renovations, how to renovate property, appraisals and sharing ideas and connecting with people from different backgrounds is what Jerome Bey, a participant in the Real Estate Co-Powerment program, described as an asset for his future. Currently preparing to take his real estate test, Bey said, “I appreciate the experience, the opportunity to work with Josh and Jason and now I am looking forward to working with everyone to develop in the real estate business.”
Neighborhood Allies’ mission is to support the people, organizations and partnerships committed to creating and maintaining healthy neighborhoods. Their vision is for a Pittsburgh with healthy neighborhoods that are thriving, resilient and livable for all. The view of Gillespie and representatives of Neighborhood Allies is that a healthy neighborhood is a place where it makes economic and emotional sense for people to invest their time, energy and resources where neighbors can manage day to day issues and where residents feel excited and confident about their future.
Neighborhoods of focus include the Hilltop, Homewood, Larimer, Millvale, Wilkinsburg and the Hill District. The philosophy is that since every neighborhood is unique, they have developed tailored Neighborhood Level Strategies that outline goals which will move toward achieving healthy neighborhoods in each of the six priority geographies. The neighborhood-specific strategies and action plans have been, and will continue to be, informed by conversations with partners, current neighborhood plans, research, data and their organizational capacity.
“The strategies are solid yet fluid, as conversations with community organizations, residents and experts will continue to inform them,” Gillespie said.
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