Erika Beras

General Assignment Reporter

Erika Beras was 90.5 WESA’s Behavioral Health reporter and now does General Assignment and Feature reporting. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC and other networks. She has won local and national awards for her reporting; among them a fellowship from The International Center for Journalists to travel to Poland and report on shale and energy in 2012. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh Erika was a reporter at The Miami Herald. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

 

Ways To Connect

Homeowners forced to buy expensive flood insurance through the federal government could have more buying power if a pair of proposals make it through the U.S. House and Senate.

Ron Ruman, Pennsylvania Insurance Department spokesman, said his office would like to see private insurance on a level-playing field with the federal government’s flood insurance offerings.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

At first glance, the mobile app "Triangle of Life" looks like any other video game. Fun music, animals and prizes are won as the lead character moves through the game. 

But it isn’t just about jumping and scoring points or making it to a complicated finale — although that happens, too. Instead of coins, gamers collect experiences. The goal is to give kids who have experienced trauma and are in therapy a fun tool to navigate their emotions and make healthy choices.

The Zone 3 Public Safety Council will host a fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Grandview Park in lieu of St. Basil’s annual Homecoming Festival scheduled for this weekend. 

The Carrick parish opted to cancel three days of festivities due to reported fighting between teenagers on Brownsville Road earlier in the week.

The festival is the church’s main fundraiser. Police will be present at the abbreviated celebration.

District 4 Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak called it “disappointing and concerning.” She said she’s gotten emails and calls about the cancelation all day.

East McKeesport's former public works director was convicted in a human trafficking sting on Tuesday.

Joseph Clemenic Jr., 44, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a child after an FBI probe revealed he paid an underage girl to come to his home to have sex in April, according to court documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced in November and could spend up to nine years in prison.

A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh found that people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in later childhood have weaker brain connectivity in midlife compared to those who were diagnosed at early ages.

“This effect got stronger as the participants got older,” said John Ryan, assistant professor of psychiatry at UPMC and lead author of the study published this month in Psychosomatic Medicine.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is supporting a bill to correct the “WIC gap” in which young children who receive assistance are left without nutritional assistance before entering school.

In Pennsylvania, children are eligible for the Women, Infants, and Children program until they reach age 5 – then its assumed they enter school where they may qualify for the school breakfast and lunch programs that provide them with food.

Health disparities between white and black communities persist despite years of efforts to address heart disease, diabetes, mental illness and scores of problems plaguing American minorities.

Blacks are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than whites, according to the Office of Minority Health, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. Mental illness affects people of all ethnicities, but Pittsburgh health providers say for many reasons, communities of color are less likely to seek out mental health care.

The teen brain values reward over risk. That’s been long-known. But a new study from University of Pittsburgh researchers says teen aren’t risk-takers because they’re seeking a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brains reward and pleasure centers.

According to new research, when faced with the prospect of a reward, their dopamine neurons are less activated than in adults.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Speaking at a press event in Troy Hill Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey pushed for legislation he’s supporting that would improve summer food programs for children.

The bill would improve the area eligibility test to allow communities to participate if 40 percent of the children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (rather than the 50 percent it currently is). It would also provide funding for transportation grants that could be used for food trucks and allow sites to serve a third meal (rather than two meals and a snack).

Erika Beras

The contents of a time capsule discovered at the John A. Brashear factory were shown to media at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Friday.

The capsule was made in 1884 and contained about 60 items, including newspapers, letters, photographs, glass and envelope with a lock of his daughter’s hair.

Following a March 2013 lawsuit from the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania concerning the treatment of inmates diagnosed with serious mental illness, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has made a number of changes in their services.

Among them, the DOC has established a psychology office, trained inmates to be certified peer-support specialists, employed a mental health advocate and trained all 15,000 employees of their employees in Mental Health First Aid.

All new employees will receive the training as well.

La Roche College

  City officials unveiled a new cultural exhibit in the main lobby of the City-County Building as part of its ongoing Welcoming Pittsburgh immigration initiative.

On display through July 24, "Shared Border, Shared Dreams" features panels with information about the history of immigration in Pittsburgh, the modern reform movement and the history of the Mexican American border.

Two area non-profits, Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation and RiverQuest, will merge Sept. 1, officials announced Monday.

RiverQuest Board President Jim Roddey said last year the company would need to merge to continue operating its boat Explorer and other river-based science education programs. Officials said talks began shortly after.

Pittsburgh marks World Refugee Day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in Market Square with musical performances, food and services for local refugees.

Agencies resettle about 500 refugees every year in the Pittsburgh area, an upward trend from 10 years ago. Most hail from Bhutan, Burma, Somalia and Iraq.

The city has become a hub for secondary migration for refugees initially placed in other areas who move to the Steel City for family, vibrant ethnic communities or employment opportunities. About a thousand secondary migrants have moved here every year since 2011.

Local leaders announced $1.1 million in STEM funding for paid internships benefiting low-income, at-risk youth at a meeting Downtown on Thursday.

The 3 Rivers Workforce Investment Board will manage the pilot in partnership with city and county officials through the Learn and Earn program set up earlier this year. 

The Hill Community Development Corporation is holding a State of The Hill District event on Saturday.

Marimba Milliones, president of the CDC, said this event will be an opportunity for members of the community to learn about recent developments in the Hill District.

Milliones will discuss the Centre Avenue Redevelopment Plan at the event. She says it’s a plan that “honors the cultural legacy of the Hill District but contextualizes it in the future and the market that we can expect today.”

A gene therapy to reduce production of a brain protein successfully prevented Parkinson’s disease from developing in rats, according to a study by the University of Pittsburgh.

Researchers said the findings, published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could lead to new understanding of how genetic and environmental factors merge to cause the disease, which can cripple the nervous system affecting movement, speech and daily activities.

Trained rangers will begin patrolling Allegheny County and Pittsburgh city parks next week offering protection, giving directions, helping with emergencies and identifying plants, trees and mushrooms to park patrons.

Rangers in uniforms of khaki shirts and green pants will maintain a presence in all nine county parks and Schenley Park through November. And although they’ll be unarmed and non-sworn officers, they’ll be responsible for reinforcing park rules.

Mayor Bill Peduto said the program will give people a sense of security – and a sense of wonderment.

The United Way of Allegheny County raised $34,698,986 during their 2014 fundraising campaign, a two percent increase over what they raised the previous year. Their fiscal year ends June 30.

Much of this year's cash went to the United Way’s helpline, PA 211, which answered more than 72,000 calls from people needing help with food, shelter and clothing. Call volume has increased three times since the line was established four years ago.

Pregnant women who live close to fracking sites are more likely to have babies with lower birth weights, according to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Researchers used public records to cross-reference the proximity of gas wells to health information for 15,451 newborns in Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties born between 2007 and 2010.

The city of Pittsburgh announced on Tuesday that all residents 15 and younger will be allowed to swim for free at Citiparks aquatic facilities, and those ages 6-15 will have access to free swimming lessons.

“We encourage parents to sign their kids up, to engage, to learn how to swim, because it's not just delivering kids to pools that guarantees a good time, it's providing a safe experience, a welcoming experience and the opportunity to develop skills that lead to lifelong fitness and health,” said Jim Griffin, director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Erika Beras

Following a naturalization ceremony in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers on Monday morning, Mayor Bill Peduto and his staff introduced Welcoming Pittsburgh, an initiative to make life easier for the city’s immigrants.

“This is not only a question of doing what is right," he said. "It's also a critical part of the growth of a new Pittsburgh, the next economy and a part of seeing the full potential of every neighborhood to see revitalization.”

Students at Hazelwood’s Propel Charter School have freshly painted walls thanks to a new project that PPG Industries is undertaking.

The initiative is called "Colorful Communities" and will consist of PPG employees in 14 cities where they work doing community outreach. That outreach will consist primarily of painting facilities.

Fifteen people were charged with conspiracy, counterfeiting foreign passports, mail fraud and wire fraud in Pittsburgh on Thursday. 

All charged are Chinese nationals.

There were people who, for money, were taking tests for other people. Some of the test-takers resided in Pittsburgh. Because of their status as Chinese citizens, they had to pass an English language proficiency exam and have a passport. The passports were fake, said David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The Borough of Sewickley Heights has an additional 58 acres of common green space.

The undeveloped land, which is surrounded by Sewickley Heights Park had been privately owned but used as communal green space for years.

“For many years people thought that this property was part of our borough park when it fact it wasn’t, it was private property,” said Sewickley Heights Mayor John C. Oliver.

Minority students are being unfairly targeted for out-of-school suspensions, according to some parents, teachers and concerned citizens expected to rally before Pittsburgh Public Schools ' 6 p.m. board meeting at their Oakland office on Tuesday.

Black children represented 54 percent of Pittsburgh's 26,041 students last year but received 77 percent of the district's 9,382 suspensions, according to data compiled by advocacy group Great Public Schools Pittsburgh. Students with disabilities accounted for 17 percent of enrollment but received 27 percent of out-of-school suspensions. 

Exposure to fine particulate air pollution is associated with increased risk of childhood autism, according to a study carried out by University of Pittsburgh researchers and published in the Journal of Environmental Research.

Researchers did a population-based, case-control study of families with children with and without autism spectrum disorders in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

These aren’t your typical theater-goers. They call out during the play. They try to join into the performance.

And some are sucking on pacifiers.

This is entertainment for the very young — baby theater.

Another new building is up in East Liberty, joining recent developments such as Bakery Square, the Transit Center and several hotels. This one is East Liberty Place South on Penn Avenue, across from a similar-looking building that owner the Community Builders also built.

The building is a mixed-use development that cost about $15 million to construct. It includes 52 one- and two-bedroom apartments that range between $500-$1200 to rent. Most of the apartments are already rented, according to Jim Eby, senior project manager for the Community Builders. The organization has developed other sites in the East Liberty area.

To Pittsburghers concerned about the latest uptick in data breaches, health care giant UPMC has a singular message: the information they collect is safe.

UPMC keeps electronic data on every patient that comes through the system — more than seven million patient files. 

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