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

An event on Wednesday night at Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard will have assistors on hand to help veterans sign up for health insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act.

The event is co-hosted by Get Covered America.

If veterans earn less than 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level — which is $16,243 for a single person or $33,465 for a family of four — they may be eligible to enroll in Health Choices, Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, as well as keep their VA benefits.

Pennsylvania will be receiving nearly 700,000 in grant money to be distributed among small businesses for the purpose of expanding their offerings in markets abroad. The announcement was made today by Small Business Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet on a conference call with reporters.

Contreras-Sweet said the program's goals are three-fold.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It's the last week of the Learn and Earn program, and Anthony Zabiegalski, a producer at Simcoach Games, is prepping his 26 interns to test out a video game they helped build. Over the last six weeks, the interns have worked alongside developers and designers.

Flickr user John Marino

On Thursday evening, a required, routine emergency drill will be occurring at Pittsburgh International Airport. Officials want people to know so they are not alarmed, adding that the drill will not interfere with air traffic and will zero effect on travelers.

About 150 people including law enforcement from nearby municipalities and airport officials will participate in the four hour mock incident. The drill will start at 5 p.m.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

City officials and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy unveiled restoration plans Monday for the Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park.

The months-long restoration to the 85-year-old memorial will include a new storm water management system.

“The plan for controlling the water and sending it to the right places is a real important part of this,” said Meg Cheever, conservancy president.

Erika Beras/90.5 WESA

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Riverlife are partnering to conduct a 12-18 month study that they hope will eventually lead them to restoring the degraded banks along the Ohio River. 

The $258,000 study plans to look at ways to create a more diverse habitat that works with the existing infrastructure along the river. It will also create a natural landscape buffer to manage stormwater runoff.

On Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews was in Pittsburgh to lead an initiative that will help start-up and early stage businesses conduct business abroad.

“With 96 percent of the world’s customers and 80 percent of the world’s GDP outside of the borders of the United States, there are tremendous opportunities for U.S. businesses around the world, and we want to help companies early in their life cycle and early in their growth to start thinking globally rather than waiting until they’re further along and more developed,” said Andrews.

A Homewood church is sponsoring a community day celebration on Sunday in hopes of building stronger ties in a neighborhood that is plagued by violence.

This will be the festival’s 10th year, and it is sponsored by Homewood Baptist Temple at 7421 Race Street.  

The festival is free and will include free food and drinks, games and a school supply giveaway. Uniformed police officers will be there helping volunteers.

Representatives from a variety of advocacy organizations celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act with a news conference Thursday on Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

While they celebrated, they spoke of efforts in recent years to rescind voters' rights, such as the defeated voter ID law and changes they want to see that would allow Pennsylvanians more voting flexibility.

In the 1800’s, the building in the 2400 block of Smallman Street was the Duquesne Cigar Factory. As recently as this week, it was an industrial vacuum cleaner company. And soon, it will be home to 38 more condominiums.

Its neighbors? Other condominium buildings, a whiskey distillery and soon, according to published reports, an Apple Inc. office.

Real estate agent Kathy Wallace lauded Pittsburgh's rich, architectural history. As the Steel City's identity evolved, many buildings were left underutilized and sometimes abandoned as their uses changed over time, she said.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is consolidating squads this September in an effort to better address violent crime, Chief Cameron McLay announced Tuesday.

Homicide and robbery squads will combine to form one Violent Crime Unit responsible for investigating homicides, aggravated assaults, robberies and shootings. Commanders at each of the five zone stations also created a universal protocol to respond to community violence. Previously, each had their own best practices.

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.