Written by: Brian Conway
When Kate Kelley moved to Brighton Heights from Bethesda, MD 15 years ago her new neighborhood was a very different place.
At the time, the median age was somewhere in the mid-60s; today, it’s in the mid-30s, thanks to an influx of young people who, like Kelley, moved to the Brighton Heights and started a family.
“When I moved in I was not married and had no kids, so it was the perfect, cheap, close to the city place to live,” she says. “Then suddenly I’m married and I have kids and I have to start thinking of schools.”
Today, Kelley, is one of three community leaders behind Brighton Arts, a project of the Families, Youth and Children’s Committee of the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation.
“Brighton Arts is a collaboration between some artists and parents in Brighton Heights to try to provide some creative experiences for the youth in our neighborhood, because it’s largely a desert when it comes to activities for kids in our neighborhood,” says Kelley.
Some 800 area children go to schools outside of Brighton Heights, including her own, and Kelley feels strongly that there is a need for enriching after-school experiences for all local kids, regardless of where they receive their education.
“All the kids need something creative and productive to do,” she says.
Before forming Brighton Arts, Kelley, a grant writer, successfully secured $3,000 in funding from a Seattle nonprofit to pay for drums for children at Pittsburgh Morrow, the local K-8. She then secured another grant to pay for indoor playground equipment, like basketballs and volleyballs.
Another grant helped to secure a school garden, which was eventually overseen by Grow Pittsburgh. There was a community arts night at John Morrow in 2015, and in 2016, her work helped to secure a KaBoom! Playground right by the school.
Kelley is the first to say that her work is a group effort. She serves as Executive Director for Brighton Arts, alongside Program Director, Stacey Roa, and School Programs Coordinator, Donna Nyambe, who also happens to be President of Pittsburgh Morrow PTO.
Their top priority is to create a community space, somewhere that is permanent, visible (so kids know where to go), and walkable.
“There are a lot of creative experiences down in the Northside at the Mattress Factory, or the Carnegies or whatever,” she says, “but if you can’t get there on your own, if you’re 8 or 10 years old you’re not taking the bus down there by yourself.”
They thought they had found that permanent home, but after talks with mentors at Ignite Northside, realized it was too big a risk.
“[Ignite Northside Program Manager Ebony McQueen-Harris] is a coach but she’s also a business expert. She made us realize taking on that big of a building on our own would be a huge liability and not sustainable.”
One option for a permanent home may be the underused, 20,000 sq. ft. Brighton Heights Senior Community Center.
On Saturday, August 21, 120 Pitt students and other volunteers helped to clean the structure. Kelley laughs that the building is covered in vines “like the temples in Cambodia,” and that revealing the historic architecture and obscured murals, in a symbolic way, represent the reclamation of a neighborhood at large.
In the meantime, Kelley, who also owns a vintage store, Mustard & Relics, on Brighton Road, will persist. Two new Sprout Fund grants will pay for a pair of programs for middle and high school students: one focused on cooking and crafts, the other photography.
And she will continue to seek advice and mentorship from her peers and facilitators at Ignite Northside.
“For a fledgling business or organization, this is crucial,” she says. “We can’t pay for professional advice.”
For more information on the workshops and how to get involved, visit www.newsunrising.org/ignite-northside or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ignite Northside is an initiative by New Sun Rising in partnership with the Buhl Foundation and One Northside, working together to help neighborhoods gain control of their narratives and opportunity.