DR. KATHI ELLIOTT, NOT SURPRISINGLY, IS DONATING THE $10,000 CHECK TO HER NONPROFIT, GWEN’S GIRLS.
Gwen’s Girls CEO touts early success of new diversion program for Allegheny County youth
Come this Sunday, Feb. 11, pretty much everyone is going to be watching the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.
But Kathi Elliott, Ph.D., the CEO of inspirational nonprofit organization Gwen’s Girls, will have a much better vantage point of the game.
She’ll actually be at the game.
Surprised as “all get-out” was Elliott when she was presented with two free tickets to Super Bowl LVIII (58) by the Pittsburgh Steelers, just after she was named the recipient of the team’s Inspire Change Changemaker Award. The annual award is presented to someone for their work in support of social justice in the region. The presentation was made to Elliott by former Steeler Will Allen inside Acrisure Stadium, just before the Steelers’ final home game this past season against the Cincinnati Bengals, a 34-11 win, Dec. 23, 2023.
The Steelers said the Changemaker Award is reserved for those making a difference in their community across Inspire Change’s four focus areas: education, economic advancement, police-community relations, and criminal justice reform. The Steelers said Gwen’s Girls, which was founded by Elliott’s mother, Gwen, offers a “safe space where girls and young women can form relationships, build self-esteem and gain resiliency, directly making an impact under the Inspire Change education pillar,” according to the team’s release.
In Pittsburgh’s African American community, Gwen’s Girls is well-known. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Black women today can say that they were positively impacted by either Gwendolyn J. Elliott or her daughter, Kathi Elliott, their teachings, advice, empathy, and the ability to connect them with those who can help them in the short- and long-term.
Gwen Elliott, the first Black woman to become commander in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, was determined to start an agency that would give girls the programs and services they needed to stay out of the criminal justice system, many of whom were Black girls. In 2002, the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth, and Families funded the creation of Gwen’s Girls. Gwen’s Girls began direct service to the community in May 2002 under the fiduciary auspices of the Hill House Association, according to the organization’s website.
Gwen Elliott died in 2007.
“We are honored to present this award to Dr. Kathi Elliott for her groundbreaking work in providing a continuum of care and services to girls and families in our region who are facing poverty, racism, and violence,” said Blayre Holmes Davis, Director of Community Relations for the Steelers, in a release. “She continues to carry on the vision and legacy of her mother and late founder, Pittsburgh Police Commander Gwen Elliott, by pushing for gender equitable policies and practices to ensure that all girls but specifically Black girls have enriching lives through providing them with all the tools to become the best versions of themselves. She is truly a treasure to our community.”
Not surprisingly, Dr. Elliott, in an exclusive interview with the Courier about winning the award, spoke less about herself and more about her organization, Gwen’s Girls. First things first; the $10,000 donation from the NFL Foundation, which is paid directly to a non-profit organization of Dr. Elliott’s choice, was paid to Gwen’s Girls. Second, Dr. Elliott touted the early success of the “Caring Connections for YOUth” program, led by Gwen’s Girls and the Black Girls Equity Alliance. It’s a program that began in December 2022 which allows parents, school officials, police officers and judges the opportunity to call “2-1-1” instead of “9-1-1” to provide girls and boys in Allegheny County with support services they may need.
The Courier has learned exclusively that in the program’s first year of operation, 134 families were assisted by the service through Gwen’s Girls staff members, 90 percent of whom were Black families. The majority of the calls to 2-1-1 were made by those affiliated with schools, as Dr. Elliott told the Courier that Gwen’s Girls officials had meetings with Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters and the majority of the principals, assistant principals and district social workers about the new program. There are other school districts that are aware of the program, too.
Meetings were had with county judges and Pittsburgh police, as well, Dr. Elliott said. The overarching theme, Dr. Elliott said, was to “heighten the awareness of the number of young people who are referred to the juvenile justice system, and especially Black youth (disproportionately) for things that really aren’t crimes, and getting them to understand how we (the Caring Connections for YOUth program) can better serve them by referring them to community-based interventions and services.”
As an example, Dr. Elliott said parents or schools call 2-1-1 to report parent-child conflicts, or that a child isn’t attending school regularly. A member of the Gwen’s Girls staff will get in contact with the child’s parent or guardian, and begin the process of determining how best the child can be supported through a partner agency, such as the Boys and Girls Club. Dr. Elliott said Gwen’s Girls staff continues to build a relationship with the family throughout the year to make sure additional supports and services are provided, if needed.
The Caring Connections for YOUth website said calls to 2-1-1 could also be made if a boy or girl up to age 18 has been involved in disorderly conduct, fighting, and minor drug possession. The 2-1-1 line is open 24/7.
“We have a lot of supports and services on the front end,” Dr. Elliott told the Courier. “We don’t want to wait until (youth) have been arrested or being referred to the magistrate.”
Dr. Elliott added: “If we can prevent our young people from coming into the system or being exposed to the trajectory of the system, we are a lot better off; not only them as individuals, but also the community.”