The Grow Sto-Rox collaborative exists to improve the quality of life of Sto-Rox residents through programs which are trauma informed, strengths based, and create equitable economic impact.
Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh Allegheny County (CISPAC) – Bridget Clement, Executive Director
Focus on Renewal (FOR) – Cindy Haines, Executive Director, Adrienne Roberts, Dorian Glenn
McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC) – Taris Vrcek, Executive Director
Sto-Rox School District (SRSD) – Frank Dalmas, Superintendent, Samantha Levitzki, School Board
Zellous Hope Project (ZH) – Denise Zellous, Executive Director
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 (Studio Sto-Rox Career Readiness, STEAM, Project Future and Learn & Earn), Adult Workforce programs (Pre-Apprenticeship Academy, Career Placement Services, and Asset Building), plans to establish a “Learning Campus” where Sto-Rox H.S. serves as a hub for learners of all ages, a “Maker & Co-Working Facility (The Joinery) that would include establishing a light manufacturing space, and most importantly a commitment to prioritize community outreach and engagement to vulnerable residents in all decisions through programs like “Voices of the Community” and related support from The Zellous Hope Project.
In August 2019, the Grow Sto-Rox founding partners (listed above) 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 acknowledge 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.
Grow Sto-Rox creates pathways to the middle class for multi-generational residents by achieving the following goals, which are informed by local research presented in “Recommendations for an Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Agenda for Pittsburgh” from Urban Kind and based upon “The Path to an All In Pittsburgh” from Policy Link.
G1: Grow good accessible jobs that provide pathways to the middle class
G2: Increase the economic security and mobility of vulnerable families and workers
G3: Cultivate homegrown talent through a strong cradle-to-career pipeline
G4: Create a healthy, opportunity-rich neighborhood for all
The founding partners of the Grow Sto-Rox collaborative fully believe that our 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.