Award #31: The Global Switchboard

15 Jun

As The Global Switchboard’s short video will point out, “In Pittsburgh, globally focused individuals and organizations are often too isolated; they lack a platform for collaboration, so we’re building one. The Global Switchboard will be a shared working space for members committed to international development, global education in Pittsburgh and abroad, and community empowerment.”

Brandon Blache-Cohen is the Executive Director of Amizade Global Service-Learning, a small non-profit responsible for The Global Switchboard initiative.  Since 1994, Amizade has been connecting individuals and communities through worldwide service and learning. Says Blache-Cohen:

“The Global Switchboard is honored to have Awesome Pittsburgh as a vital partner in building Pittsburgh’s home for global engagement. Thanks to Awesome Pittsburgh, the outdoor event and reflection space of the Switchboard will be better equipped to inspire a new era of global citizens.”

The physical office and event space will serve as a home for globally-engaged, social-profit organizations; currently, there are ten organizations slated to be housed at the corner of 34th and Ligonier Street in Lawrenceville. Awesome Pittsburgh’s grant provided partial funding to clean up this empty lot. The interior build-out of the project was completed on May 1, and completion of the exterior is planned for June.

The Global Switchboard’s goals in creating a co-working and event space are threefold:

  1. To increase global engagement and accessibility in the Pittsburgh area
  2. To cultivate young Pittsburgh-based global organizations
  3. To attract new resources to our city for internationally collaborative projects

Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Melanie Harrington adds,

“We are thrilled to support The Global Switchboard.  It is an exciting opportunity to bring together the region’s Pittsburghers and global communities in a shared space designed for social engagement and conversation.  The promise of this cross-cultural friendship building and learning is critical to promoting the numerous efforts underway to grow the diversity of the Pittsburgh region.”

You can follow the Switchboard’s progress and inquire about joining via Facebook and its website.

Introducing Awesome Asides: Jeb Feldman

5 Jun

Awesome Pittsburgh is only possible because of the people who make it happen – from the grantwinners and trustees to the volunteers and other patrons of awesome who keep this thing going month after month. We decided it was time to find out more about these folks in a new feature called Awesome Asides, where we find out what really makes awesome Pittsburghers tick.

Our first profile features Jeb Feldman, a trustee of Awesome Pittsburgh since its founding in 2011.

Who are you? What do you do for a living?
I’m a New Mexican desert kid who now lives in the shadow of a steel mill in Braddock PA. I live in an old schoolhouse which doubles as Braddock’s only gallery and artist studio spaces. I’ve spent the last 8 years in Braddock working to create or attract positive activities or investment. I’ve found that it’s terrifically satisfying to me to have the opportunity and space to work on creating a better hometown.

Do you have any Sunday morning rituals?
I’m almost always in Frick Park on Sunday morning with my dog. After grabbing some coffee I can wander around mostly foggy headed while the canine lopes around on the trails and in the trees. The woods are a great outdoor spot for waking up.
Jeb
What food or meal could you eat 7 days a week?
Without coffee I’m not sure that I’d even be awake to eat food. Not sure I’ve got a favorite food that completes a meal but I can snack on pistachios and carrots all day long.

What’s the last book you read/piece of music you listened to?
Music: Usually Pandora is playing whatever it wants but I’m still not over listening to Kendrick Lamar.
Book: I just finished a book called the Professor and the Madman. It’s a great book about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. I’m still amazed that English great writers in the 18th century didn’t have a dictionary to reference. I’m reading the latest Lapham’s Quarterly now. Revolution is a great theme to build a curated publication around.

Favorite time of year and why?
Spring is the best. Everything is coming out of the winter including people from their hibernations, days get longer, and it all comes with an awesome collective optimism. People all begin to start thinking about all the projects and things they want to do with long productive and happy warm days ahead.

Why are you glad you are a part of Awesome Pittsburgh?
I like the idea of being involved in micro-funding since macro-funding can be so unwieldy. Having a small group of people pitch in together to do this on a monthly basis is an ingenious way to make this happen. I like that we can affect and benefit greater Pittsburgh by providing this as a local resource for projects here. I also personally really like seeing all the projects that people in the area would like to see happen here.

Can you name a project (whether it be an applicant or grant winner) that you found to be most awesome?
Without specifying a project, I’ve always appreciated the projects that are a little more renegade and are intended to make Pittsburgh cooler through quirky or pleasing interventions or amenities that may not even be overtly attributable to someone.We’ve got a lot of room in Pittsburgh to do cool things if people are interested in using this space.

Award #30: Bandi Schaum Art in the Garden

21 May

artingardensside

For the last three years, the City of Pittsburgh has offered South Side residents public space and water at individual garden plots at Bandi Schaum Field. There are nearly 90 plots, all of them filled, which qualifies this particular garden as one of the largest community gardens in Western Pennsylvania.

The garden was planned with the notion to leave open space for future projects and community fun.  One of the spontaneous and positive outcomes of this venture was that children became excited about exploring the garden. The Bandi Schaum gardeners applied for an Awesome Pittsburgh grant because they wanted to create an experiential art space for these children and their families. Their project, “Art in the Garden,” was driven by a desire for those families to experience what they’re learning about planting, growing, and harvesting through art.

Steering committee member and gardener Carla Garfield says,

“Community gardeners grow much more than vegetables and flowers. In partnership with the city, we make positive environmental, economic, and aesthetic impacts on daily lives. We visualize a true community arts environment for families, within the realm of our treasured garden. We’re so excited about the opportunity we’ve been given, thanks to Awesome Pittsburgh, to make our vision a reality!”

Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Iris Whitworth shares her enthusiasm for this urban project:

“Art in the Garden is an awesome project that grew out of an already vibrant space for community food growing. I visited Bandi Shaum last summer during a bike tour. After climbing the steep slopes, the tired bikers were welcomed into a tree-top oasis! What struck me the most was the gardeners’ passion for sharing food with everyone. Art in the Garden is an awesome and creative way to engage youth in food growing and to provide educational tools via an impressive community space.”

The garden’s steering committee will set up art boxes, art tables and seating, art equipment and supplies, and weather-resistant musical instruments.  The committee not only wants to provide children access to materials (paints, paper, chalk, beads, wire, chimes), but also to offer exhibit space.  Additionally, this grant will enable the committee to invite and hire artists who will teach artistic and musical techniques to children and families, and to oversee larger, collaborative projects. Building and implementation of new projects begins soon.

To follow the project’s progress, watch the garden’s blog and Twitter account, or feel free to contact bandischaum [at] gmail.com to get involved!

Award #29: Farm Truck Foods

22 Apr

FarmTruckFoodsGroupAwesome Pittsburgh recently awarded $1,000 to Farm Truck Foods for its team’s solution to Pittsburgh’s food desert dilemma.

As defined by the USDA, a food desert is any “urban-neighborhood and/or rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” Seven food deserts are attributed to Pittsburgh, and the three co-founders of Farm Truck Foods want to see that number reach zero. Each of the co-founders possess health and food-related backgrounds: Michelle Lagree is a registered dietitian, Meredith Neel earned her Public Health degree, and Landon DePaulo earned a Food Studies degree and has experience with food trucks and local farming. The trio aims to offer a mobile food market targeting low-income communities via the buying and selling of local, nutritionally dense, farm fresh foods.

Farm Truck Foods’ overarching goal is to help bridge the gap between farmers and community members throughout Greater Pittsburgh, with the hope of empowering people to live happy, healthy lives. Its trucks will deliver fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, eggs, and canned goods to low-income community members at affordable prices. Farm Truck Foods is also committed to forming relationships with communities in order to meet the needs of their residents and will accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps).

Says Ms. Lagree, “Our educational approach will be varied. We will provide nutritional information, teach activities to children, distribute healthy recipes, and demonstrate how the truck operates, covering topics such as preparation, clean-up, and exactly how our products are sold. Farm Truck Foods will make planned stops at places like community centers, YMCAs, and residential complexes.”

The $1,000 grant will help retrofit the team’s food truck to make it capable of storing and transporting necessary food stuffs. Additionally, the co-founders want to make the truck wheelchair accessible and install an awning for customers’ comfort when it rains.

Food Truck Farms’ supply chain and community stop sites have already been chosen, and Michelle, Meredith, and Landon are currently attending town meetings so that community members have the opportunity to meet them and to hear their commitment before bringing business to the streets. The team plans on having the truck fully operational by June 2014.

You can follow the new program at its Facebook page and web site. (Thanks also to WESA for covering the story!)

You can meet some of our recent winners, the Awesome Pittsburgh trustees, and other awesome people at our spring awards party on April 28, 6:30-8:30pm at Benjamin’s on the North Side. Check out the event’s Facebook page for more info.

Update 4-30-14: Check out Farm Truck Foods’ new Kickstarter campaign to raise $40,000 by June 4: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2136487442/farm-truck-foods-pittsburghs-mobile-grocer

Award #28: Urban RC in Homewood

12 Apr

UrbanRC-Marty1

Keith Reimink owns and operates DALIBORKAfilms, a small Pittsburgh-based film production company. His most recent documentary idea is the story of Homewood resident Marty McDaniels whose hobby is building and racing remote control cars (RC racing),. Marty’s project earned a recent Awesome Pittsburgh $1,000 grant.

For the past several summers, Marty has been creating a “bashing” track -a backyard, homemade racing track built from found materials – on an abandoned lot near his home. Marty hopes to repudiate Homewood’s reputation for violence by turning his hobby into a racetrack where kids and adults can race in a place free from fear and intolerance.

Mr. McDaniels spends every spare dollar he earns on car parts, limestone dirt for the track, and tools to make repairs on his growing collection of cars. Marty will collaborate with DALIBORKAfilms to showcase his unique hobby. Together, Keith and Marty will visit existing RC tracks in the greater Western PA area, talk to promoting organizations, and research various RC cars, all while building  their own track in Homewood. The film will be shot and produced entirely in Pittsburgh, utilizing post production facilities in the city as well.

Marty believes that:

“The vision is big, but we have to start small. By creating a fun, positive, racing environment that is accessible to everyone, we can raise awareness for the sport of RC racing and the positive effects it can have on urban youth and adults. Many people want to race but there simply isn’t a place within the city limits.  My goal is community awareness and involvement by creating a Pittsburgh RC track that everyone can be proud of.”

The grant money will be used to clean up the lot, add some professional touches–such as installing professional track tubing and buying professional grade dirt to give the track a smooth surface–and investing in landscaping tools. Mr. Remink’s additional plans include collaboration with like-minded Pittsburgh organizations in an attempt to draw awareness to as many positive aspects of Pittsburgh as possible.

You can follow the progress of the film and/or find out how you can help with Marty’s project by contacting Keith through his website or Facebook page.

 

Award #27: An Orchard for Isaac

31 Jan

hopehavenpig

Behind every awesome idea stands an awesome pig.  Or so veterinary surgeon Karen Phillips would argue.

Her work at both the Western PA Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League opened her eyes to the growing number of unwanted farm animals. Inspired by Isaac, a stray pig found on the Pittsburgh city streets in mid-winter, Dr. Phillips founded the Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary in 2013. Hope Haven’s mission is to rescue neglected pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry who have been surrendered at animal shelters, confiscated by local humane agents, or saved from factory farms. It took Karen over three years to find a property in Franklin Park with enough pasture land for a farm whose proximity was close enough to the city to entice visitors.  She spent an additional year clearing the property (an old junkyard), acquiring proper zoning, installing the barn and fencing, and filling out the paperwork to become an official non-profit organization.

Karen applied for an Awesome Pittsburgh grant, requesting funds specifically for an orchard in Isaac’s memory. Unfortunately, Isaac only lived on the sanctuary for two months before he died from a neurological disorder. He was a wonderful ambassador for the farm, and a new fruit orchard will honor him and ensure that he continues to inspire and educate all who visit.

The plan is to situate the orchard next to a pond.  A variety of fruit bearing trees will be planted, i.e. apple (a pig favorite), pear, and peach.  The orchard will provide nutritious fruit for all the sanctuary’s deserving animals and will help control feed costs.  In addition, the trees will act as protective cover to over 30 ducks and geese who frequent the pond.  The fruit trees’ substantial branches will shield them from predators such as hawks and owls. A natural walking path through the trees will be part of the visitor experience, expanding the sanctuary’s tours out of the barn and onto the land.

Says Awesome Trustee Leah Helou,

“This project really spoke to me because there is such a strong need for places offering sanctuary to farm animals who are turned over to shelters.  Karen’s idea to plant an orchard that will help feed more than 80 animals, give them shelter from predators, and beautify their haven is fantastic.  This is such simple and pure project, and yet it meets several needs and provides critical sustainability to Hope Haven Farm.”

The grant will enable the purchase of large, mature fruit trees from a reputable local nursery, and will pay for planting and maintenance equipment and organic insect sprays and fertilizers.  In order to ensure a proper installation of the orchard, Karen plans to collaborate with the knowledgeable staffs at both Grow Pittsburgh and The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

Karen shared her unbridled enthusiasm with all the trustees after she found out she had received the grant:

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity to strengthen our non-profit sanctuary, nourish our deserving animals, and educate and enlighten a Pittsburgh audience. We are very appreciative for the opportunity to bring this project to fruition, and we are honored to be the first animal-oriented project funded by Awesome Pittsburgh.”

Hope Haven Farm invites you to track its progress, volunteer, and even donate through its website and Facebook page

Award #26: Kiss for Peace!

14 Jan

Kiss for PeaceLast month’s Awesome Pittsburgh grant was awarded to Nima Dehghani and Behzad Tabibian, for their winsome Kiss for Peace! Project. It seemed particularly well-timed for the holidays; the project promotes peace, love and hope—ideas which are especially inspirational between the end of an old year and the start of a new one.

Nima is an artist, director and playwright who is currently enrolled in the MFA program at CMU. Behzad Tabibian is a Master of Information Science student at the University of Pittsburgh. Their goal? To reduce misunderstanding and bring people in Iran and the United States closer together.

The project asks both Iranian and American citizens to post photos of themselves blowing kisses. On November 4, the anniversary of the 1979 embassy takeover in Tehran, Nima and Behzad used their web site and Facebook page to motivate readers to blow a kiss and post the photo. “Come on – 34 years of hostility is enough. Let’s move on,” the site declares. To show their willingness to overcome a history of hostile relations, participants added personal messages of friendship. The site enthusiastically received more than 300 pictures in two days from Iranians and Americans, including sentiments such as:

  • “Let’s start a new era with a kiss”
  • “Iranian people love American people”
  • “After 30 years of distrust now it’s time to shake hands”

The mutual affection which was visually revealed made a huge impact; the story was picked up by several international news agencies including the BBC. In fact, more than 168,000 people have visited its site since the launch.

 “Promoting peace and mutual understanding between the people of Iran and the U.S. is both smart and downright awesome. Kiss for Peace! is a successful online project and this public performance invites Pittsburghers to participate in a timely political dialogue,” says former Awesome Pittsburgh Trustee Ayanah Moor.

This public performance component is part of a broader project called Netformance, in which political issues are taken out of their conventional context and infused with a fresh perspective dependent entirely on user participation.

Explains Dehghani, “In light of Pittsburgh’s long history in embracing creative art works, we would like to project images on a city building, to invite observers and pedestrians of Pittsburgh to participate in real time and post their photos (their kisses!) on the website which then will be projected back on the building. With enough public participation, the campaign could receive wide media coverage and to help create a more positive political atmosphere for the two countries to resolve their differences and move towards a warming of relations.”

Netformance places audience at the heart of an art work and looks to use innovative technology in an effort to have people’s opinions heard. The founders are looking for an appropriate building location for the project; they are currently considering Bakery Square, Market Square, Station Square, the cultural district or downtown as potential spaces. You can follow their current project, “Letters from Iran,” at http://letters.netformance.org/janejohn?lan=en

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