The Coro Next Leaders Northside graduated in July 2013 but have continued to develop partnerships with the community. Recently, the group completed the first phase of a multi-faceted effort in the Northview Heights community.

Each Next Leader brings a different skill set and interest that is grounded in a desire to serve the Northside community. The Next Leaders Northside have embraced this diversity as its strength. Members as a whole are interested in assessing the needs of Northside residents, providing connections to existing resources, and supporting programs for youth and families, with a focus on mentorship, early childhood learning, and arts programming. The efforts underway in Northview Heights strategically address this continuum of interests.

Northview Heights is a small district of about 1200 residents that is located on the northern outskirts of the city. An Urban League operated facility called the Northview Heights Family Support Center is located there and provides family services and youth programming to the residents of Northview Heights, Allegheny Commons, and Fineview. Renita Freeman, the Center’s director is a lifetime Northview Heights resident, and has worked with the center for most of her professional career. When asked why she continues to work in Northview Heights, Ms Freeman proclaims, “Somebody has to make sure these kids grow up and have a future.”

Ms Freeman’s incredible passion has inspired the Next Leaders to support her efforts and make catalytic contributions to the Center and the community that it serves. In August, 2013 the Next Leaders made their first of several planned efforts for improving conditions at the Family Support Center and inviting the community in to learn about its services.

In phase one of the initiative, the group coordinated the removal of a dangerous awning at the exterior of the building. Throughout the process of determining specific actions, Next Leaders discussed the needs of the building with staff and sought out input regarding the community’s impression of the space. What they found was that the building generally looked like it was closed from the outside. Overgrown land, and the tattered awning left the facility in a state of visual disrepair. By investing money from a small grant from Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development into the removal of the awning, and preparing the building’s exterior for painting, the Next Leaders were able to bring considerable resources to the table from other community partners.

The Sam’s Club organization was very generous with both volunteer time and financial contributions to the project. Fifteen employees worked at the Center over the course of four days alongside Next Leaders participants to clean up the landscaping, plant flowers, and paint the buildings exterior. Sherwin Williams donated paint and supplies for the project as well. Following the completion of this “Redd Up” project, the group put together a community cookout and back-to-school party.

The party was aimed at engaging community members with the Center, and exposing them to the Next Leader’s participants. With the in-kind support of Sam’s Club, and the energy of nearly 30 volunteers from the Coro Next Leaders program and the current Coro Fellows in Public Affairs program, the group was able to feed nearly 400 residents, and distribute 250 back packs filled with supplies for the school year to come. Additionally, Hallelujiah Anyhow! Barbershop donated 48 haircuts.

Back to school party at Northview Heights Family Support CenterMany attendees commented on the fact that they had no idea that the Family Center even existed. Ms Freeman noted that this was the most people that had ever been at the Center in its 30+ year history. The group was also able to collect close to 50 needs assessment surveys, the results of which show a lack of positive male role-models in the community, a need for education and support with children, and a desire to improve well-being.

The next phase of the Next Leader’s efforts will continue at the Northview Heights Family Support Center. They intend to contribute to renovations in the buildings gathering hall in financial cooperation with the Urban League’s management.

With further support from Sherwin Williams, members of the group are empowered to begin the installation of a mural on the buildings exterior. Finally, several members of the group are beginning to plan programming efforts aimed at mentorship, support for childhood learning, aquaponics food production, and arts experiences. The possibilities offered by a focused and collaborative group are truly working to contribute to positive change in Northview Heights.

See Diana Nelson Jones’ coverage of the Next Leaders in the Sept 3 issue of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and in her March 2013 blog post.

See also Kelsey Shea’s coverage of the Northside Next Leaders in the August 15 Issue of the Northside Chronicle.