Spring Hill Elementary School on Damas Street is bustling during afternoon dismissal. Through the chaos of kids getting ready to leave for the day, Stephen Weiss navigates the building up to the second floor to find a group of children waiting for him.
The kids are involved in the Comic Book Shop, an afterschool reading program for kindergarten to 5th graders that is lead by the Northside nonprofit His Place Community Center where Weiss is employed and is the project lead for the program.
The idea came about last year when Weiss and his wife Melanie Sandoval, who also works at His Place, noticed some second grade boys who were struggling with their reading skills during the the existing afterschool program.
“It seemed to stem from disengagement from what they were reading [in class],” Weiss said.
Recalling when he was that age, Weiss remembered he was a big fan of comic books like Sonic the Hedgehog and decided to incorporate that into his nonprofits afterschool reading program in Spring Hill. To fund the first year of the Comic Book Shop, Sandoval said they applied for a One Northside Mini-Grant through New Sun Rising to “provide high-interest, developmentally appropriate graphic novels and comic books” for the kids.
“Having graphic novels [in the program] makes it engaging for a lot of students, which is the most important aspect of learning,” Weiss said.
Sandoval recalled one student in the program being very distracted during the afterschool program, and it was difficult to get him to read. After working with him one-on-one and reading graphic novels together, Sandoval said he is now reading books above his grade level.
“When you look down and see something growing up through the concrete, something breaking through a system that isn’t working… in education you don’t always feel hopeful, but when you see kids engaged in their reading and enthusiastic about it, especially those who are struggling, you think ‘Okay, there is some hope here,’” Weiss said.
Over 30 projects have also received the $1,000 mini-grant; many that have been awarded funding focus on education, employment, place, and health and safety.
The final application 2018 deadline for the One Northside Mini-Grants is Thursday, Nov. 29. Printed applications are accepted at the Allegheny and Woods Run Carnegie Libraries during normal business hours and by postal mail addressed to New Sun Rising, attn. One Northside Mini-Grant, P.O. Box 58005, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15209.
You may also submit your application here or send as attachments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact New Sun Rising staff with inquiries or other questions by phone (412) 407-9007 or email email@example.com.
New Sun Rising’s One Northside Mini-Grant Program is made possible through support by The Buhl Foundation.
Author and Photo Credit: Alyse Horn-Pyatt