Above: Leon Ford (left), co-founder of The Hear Foundation, and Sergeant Tiffany Kline-Costa (right), Pittsburgh Police Bureau of Community Engagement Office, at an event in May announcing microgrant recipients for the second round of funding from The Hear Foundation. (Photo courtesy of The Hear Foundation.)
Twice a month during the school year, Sergeant Tiffany Kline-Costa and Officer Jonathan Bradford interact with 600 students throughout six Pittsburgh Public Schools with Youth Connections, a project of the Pittsburgh Police Community Engagement Office.
Youth Connections grants officers the opportunity to talk with 9th grade Civics students, share information about how to safely interact with police, and build relationships with each class.
Kline-Costa said they intercept a lot of questions from students about their experiences as police officers, a common first question being, “Do you like donuts?”
“That is always asked,” Kline-Costa said with a laugh. “Once they loosen up a little bit and get to know us, they’re really interested in police work and what we do.”
In May, Youth Connections was one of 15 local nonprofits that received a community microgrant from The Hear Foundation, the first and only nonprofit in Pittsburgh dedicated exclusively to collaborating with community leaders, Pittsburgh Police, residents and the City to create a safe, thriving community for all.
Bradford said the funding will be used to provide food and supplies for the program to help create a positive space for relationship building.
“We try to change the dynamic of police in the community and break that barrier while teaching them how to interact with law enforcement and to not be fearful of the police,” Bradford said.
The Hear Foundation was co-founded by Leon Ford and former Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. In 2012, Ford was shot by a Pittsburgh police officer five times and paralyzed during a traffic stop after being mistaken for someone else. The experience led him to become an advocate for social justice, police reform and reconciliation between police and community. When he and Schubert met in 2020, their conversations around creating safe, thriving communities led them to establish the nonprofit.
“We’re a new organization and hadn’t run an open grantmaking round before, but it’s a core part of our mission,” said Kamal Nigam, executive director of The Hear Foundation. “We formed a partnership with New Sun Rising to facilitate our grant process because of their expertise in this area and knowing how to interact with grassroots leaders.”
The awarded grants will support work being done in Pittsburgh neighborhoods to foster strong, positive relationships between Pittsburgh Police and local residents; create safe communities; and bring opportunities for healing and support to those impacted by trauma and violence.
Youth Connections and Prevent Another Crime Today (P.A.C.T.), which also accepted a community microgrant, are receiving fiscal sponsorship through New Sun Rising. Valerie Dixon, founder of P.A.C.T., said the experience so far has been positive and she’s thankful for the connection.
“It’s truly a plus and I like [New Sun Rising] approach,” Dixon said. “I feel very confident of their support moving forward.”
Dixon created P.A.C.T. after her son, Robert Dixon, was murdered in 2001. Separate from the police investigation, she began her own community outreach to find information on the person who killed her son and through that she connected with other mothers who were experiencing the same turmoil. To raise awareness, she created a website, secured billboard space, and received funding to reward anyone who could provide information to her or other families about who killed their loved ones.
The initiative has grown into a support system for people who have lost family and friends to violence. The community microgrant from The Hear Foundation will support P.A.C.T. ‘s Family Action Network (F.A.N.), which works to honor, support, educate, and guide families impacted by homicides. Families who wish to share their stories and experiences with youth programs, schools, community centers, and more can receive training to provide audiences with a clear picture of what trauma looks like and how crime affects individuals, families, and communities.
“They are humbled to know that there is an outlet and a platform for them to speak [about their trauma] and learn what to say,” Dixon said. “They’re able to connect with families going through the same things, and there is camaraderie in knowing that they aren’t alone on this journey. They know it may not solve the case, but it gets them involved and pulled out of the darkness.”
If you would like to learn more about The Hear Foundation and how to support their mission, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Sun Rising’s partnership with The Hear Foundation is the latest example of their Community Grantmaking Support Service, where NSR’s agile approach is designed to meet the unique needs of donors and foundations who want to offer more responsive and flexible grants, but do not presently have the infrastructure to administer themselves. Past Community Grantmaking Support Service programs have included Arts Equity Reimagined: Collective Action, One Northside Mini-grants & Rapid Response Funds, COVID Crisis Mitigation Response, and the Transformative Teaching Artist Awards.