Grow Sto-Rox envisions a safe, healthy and prosperous Sto-Rox community where every resident has the tools, resources, and opportunities to succeed and move from poverty to prosperity. They collaborate with the community, other organizations, and stakeholders to improve the lives of Sto-Rox residents across all social determinants of health.
“We are a collective of organizations who are committed to help Sto-Rox residents build better lives. We believe that poverty can be eradicated, and opportunity gaps can be filled to create an interconnected Sto-Rox community where people can live full lives. We can all experience health, education and economic prosperity. That’s why we use a community-based, trauma informed, strength-based approach and measure outcomes to monitor the health and needs of the community.”
- Listen to the community
- Provide access to resources
- Advocate with the community
- Collaborate with the community
- Fund opportunities and programs
STRATEGIC FOCUS AREAS
- Identify community needs, serving as an incubator and accelerator for programming led by partners
- Connect community to resources & opportunities
- Monitor community indicators and collaborate across organizations
The Sto-Rox community is composed of the racially-diverse, Pittsburgh rust belt communities of Stowe Township and McKees Rocks Borough in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In 2014, an Allegheny County Department of Human Services study ranked Sto-Rox as a “Distressed Community”– the highest designation of rural and suburban poverty based on the number of single-mother households, unemployed males, housing vacancy and transportation scarcity. The Sto-Rox School District (SRSD), serving approximately 1,500 students 100% of whom qualify for free-and-reduced price lunch, has historically been one of the lowest performing school districts in Pennsylvania, known for significant gaps in digital access and struggles with charter school competition.
Despite these challenges the Sto-Rox community has many resources: over 10 Early Childhood Educational facilities, 5 Out-of-School (OST) providers, an active Community Development Corporation (MRCDC), revitalizing business and manufacturing bases, and a strong anchor human services organization (FOR) which runs a Community Resource Center and a powerhouse community arts center.
In 2014, when faced with budget and capacity constraints, SRSD called on local organizations to support critical youth and family programming. In response, the McKees Rocks CDC (MRCDC), Focus on Renewal (FOR) and over 15 other local organizations convened to form the “Sto-Rox Youth Partnership,” (SRYP) aimed at improving outcomes for youth and families. The SRSD and community partnered with Communities In Schools Pittsburgh – Allegheny County (CISPAC) to help guide the vision and resources. In 2017, the MRCDC, FOR, SRSD and CISPAC strengthened the efforts of the SRYP by forming an executive level steering committee and identifying key focus areas to support the work happening on the ground.
Concurrently, the McKees Rocks CDC (MRCDC) and Focus on Renewal (FOR) partnered with New Sun Rising (NSR) in 2016 to lead the development of a revisioning and activation plan while more deeply engaging the Sto-Rox community. The plan emphasized the voices and empowerment of stakeholders throughout the process, with special attention to underrepresented citizens. Building upon this research and feedback on the community’s development priorities, NSR, MRCDC, and FOR facilitated the Ignite Sto-Rox startup workshop in 2017 to identify local social entrepreneurs and provided ongoing intensive development support to 10 organizations through the Launch Sto-Rox incubator in 2018.
Building upon this period of increased collaboration throughout the community, New Sun Rising (NSR) began to meet with stakeholders to identify opportunities for transformational collective impact. Existing workforce and economic development assets were numerous but disconnected, including: Youth Workforce programs, Adult Workforce programs, plans to establish an “Opportunity Campus”, developing a light manufacturing and coworking space, and most importantly a commitment to prioritize community outreach and engagement to vulnerable residents in all decisions.
In August 2019, the Grow Sto-Rox founding partners first met as a collaborative and committed to increase their efficacy by fully embracing the tenants of collective impact planning as it works to improve the quality of life of Sto-Rox residents through trauma informed, strength-based programs that improve the equitable economic future of the community. The founding partners acknowledged that this work is not possible without building trust, engaging the community, eliminating locally defined disparities, developing a culture of continuous improvement, and leveraging existing assets.
In acknowledgement of this shared vision and commitment, the Grow Sto-Rox collaborative was accepted into the inaugural year of The Forbes Funds C3 (Catalyst Community Cohort) program in late 2019. The C3 program provides funding and mentorship that will serve to advance the collaborative’s planning and capacity building efforts as they move towards implementation. GSR offered professional training to community members and providers, then incubated the Affinity Circles program with a goal to break the cycle of generational poverty. During this 8-week cohort, residents learn to address trauma and social-emotional needs by prioritizing individual health & wellbeing and financial literacy, better preparing over 70 people (as of June 2023) to take advantage of opportunities to pursue a thriving wage.
Another barrier to eliminating poverty is the prevalence of violent crime in Sto-Rox. Statistics from the FBI show that our communities have the worst per capita violent crime rate in Pennsylvania. In response, community partners led by Focus on Renewal are collaborating on three evidence-based models in the development of a Community Violence Reduction Plan. When the Hay’s Manor public housing development was identified as a potential HUD Choice Neighborhoods Initiative project, community partners mobilized to engage and support residents in their goal of affordable, safe, and healthy living spaces.
TRAUMA INFORMED, STRENGTHS-BASED
The founding partners of the Grow Sto-Rox collaborative believed that the community’s goals can only be achieved by implementing solutions which are Trauma informed and Strengths-based. Initial activities include training and community engagement on developing these two competencies – as well as systemic racism education.
Trauma informed is realizing that every individual’s experience results in varying levels of trauma that plays a big role in how they respond to everyday interactions. People develop masks to hide the fact that they are traumatized. In community, these masks manifest in real ways, such as mental health with addiction, indifference in hyper masculinity, and false confidence hiding fear in educators. Trauma-informed approaches allow you to take your own mask off and engage with the real person. Being vulnerable and recognizing that trauma is manifesting in another human being provides people with a different experience, avoiding the reinforcement of their current mental model. Providers must be aware of our own triggers, levels of chronic stress, and ability to avoid escalation by reframing conversations. Dealing with trauma has been relatively absent in our community and is critical for people to move into strengths-based approaches and ultimately, equitable economic growth.
Strengths-based means genuinely getting to know the people that you are working with and valuing that their knowledge and experience can be used to help them reach their goals. Providers, leaders, and peers must develop the ability to truly meet people where they are at – sometimes that can mean admiring people for just showing up. People who are caught in generational poverty are made to feel less important than others. In order to break this cycle we must understand what success looks like to each individual, help them to see their strengths, and build upon them. People who feel powerless need to be given options and have the opportunity to share how they feel. By facilitating a greater understanding and practice of strengths-based approaches throughout the broader community, Grow Sto-Rox will help to lift the power of individuals in poverty to participate in their own growth. Not by leading, but by following their lead.