NCJW Pittsburgh’s commitment to children took a bold trajectory in the mid-70’s. After years of serving children through programs in the public school system, the organization became a community leader in providing alternative programs for at risk teens. NCJW partnered with Community Human Services Corporation of South Oakland in 1973 to establish LIFESTYLES. This program paired at risk teens with NCJW volunteers for enrichment opportunities including college tours, concert and theatre field trips, and dinner dates. Our own Deb T, manager of Thriftique for the past 40 years, was introduced to NCJW as a participant in the program.
In 1975, NCJW Pittsburgh launched FRIENDS INDEED to provide support to female teens leaving Waynesburg Youth Development Center. The Friends Indeed Residential apartment was established in 1979, providing a supervised residential home for young girls in supported independent living. In 1981, NCJW added the Volunteer Probation Project, a one-on-one support program for male and female teens on probation. And in 1987, the Friends Indeed Community Service Project provided adjudicated teens opportunities to fulfill their court ordered community service. The Mentoring Project became part of the Whale’s Tale and then the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, and the Friends Indeed program moved to New Castle Youth Development Center in 1984.
CHILDREN’S PLAY ROOMS IN THE COURTS
Thirty-eight years ago, NCJW visionaries, with the assistance of the Family Division of Allegheny County, established the first all-volunteer CHILDREN’S PLAYROOM IN THE COURT. This space on the 6th floor of the City County Building was a warm, bright, and safe haven for children whose families were involved in court matters. NCJW now operates 4 rooms: 2 in the Family Division and 1 each in the Criminal and Municipal Courthouses. A professional and volunteer staff now serves 5000 children a year through the Children’s Playrooms, providing lunch, snacks, therapy dog visits, and a book for every child.
THE BACK 2 SCHOOL STORE
NCJW Pittsburgh continues to support school-aged children through the annual Back 2 School Store. Elementary school students from pre-qualified families have the opportunity to shop for brand new clothing, shoes, outerwear, and school supplies at no cost. While the children select their items with a volunteer personal shopper in the B2SS, parents visit our Resource Room to connect with local organizations and agencies for assistance with health care, parenting, financial literacy, career development, and other social services. In 2015, our inaugural year, we served approximately 200 children. Nearly 500 students shopped at the Back 2 School Store in 2016, and we reached another 600 students in 2017. Our goal for 2018 is to continue to expand our reach among underprivileged children in the Pittsburgh area.
Special thanks to board member and past president Hilary Spatz for preparing these articles on NCJW Pittsburgh’s history as part of our ongoing celebration of our 125th anniversary.