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

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. 

The Allegheny County Board of Health met for a pre-scheduled meeting on Wednesday, a day after Allegheny County Council voted down a proposed food facility grading system.

The system would have posted letter grades outside of restaurants. Council voted against it 12-1. County Councilman John Palmiere, who represents District 6, was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting. He was the only person on Council who voted in favor of the grading system.

On Tuesday, the city of Pittsburgh and the Port Authority of Allegheny County held the first of two public meetings to gather input on the proposed Forbes-Fifth Corridor.

About a hundred people attended the meeting to listen and share thoughts on the potential transportation infrastructure in the 5th/Forbes Corridor which links Downtown to Oakland, running through Uptown and part of the Hill District.

Geography, history, civics.

At Manchester Academic Charter School in Pittsburgh, Dennis Henderson teaches all of these, and a few things more.

"You don't want to sound ghetto when you talk to people," says eighth-grader Malajah Smith, quoting Henderson. "Because people would think, 'Oh, you're one of those black, ghetto kids.' "

"He tells us how to stand up straight and how you shake people's hands," adds student Sharae Blair.

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department held a public hearing in Harrisburg Monday on a request Highmark made to transfer $175 million dollars in the form of a grant to Allegheny Health Network.

Highmark requested the grant in March for capital investments.

It's been two years since the Pennsylvania Insurance Department approved the creation of the Allegheny Health Network, bringing together what was the West Penn Allegheny Health Network and Highmark and forming the region’s second biggest health care provider.

Speaking to reporters outside a Braddock union hall Friday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said he opposes so-called "fast-track" legislation which, in a few weeks, is up for a vote in Congress. 

The Trade Promotion Authority Legislation, or "fast-track," legislation would allow President Obama to submit trade agreements to Congress for up or down votes without amendments. Those opposed say its undemocratic. Those in favor say other countries won’t make good offers in trade talks if they know Congress could change things.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has received $252,950 in grants from the Walmart Foundation.

With this grant they’ll buy a large refrigerated truck to distribute food to partner agencies in the surrounding rural counties. At present when they deliver food they use two trucks. Now they’ll use one. They will also use this money for summer food program outreach and school breakfast programs.

Lisa Scales, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, said providing children with these school breakfasts is a priority.

Members of the Allegheny County HIV/AIDS Commission delivered an annual update to Pittsburgh City Council members Tuesday afternoon.

They recapped efforts they have made in the last year, spoke of partnerships and spoke of their plans for this coming year.

Commission member Betty Hill, who is also director of the Persad Center, said the awareness level of routine HIV testing is low, and the commission wants to change that.

AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

With a casualty count climbing into the thousands following this weekend’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, some in the Pittsburgh community are looking for ways to provide the country relief.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, the free 10-day music and arts festival that occurs in downtown Pittsburgh every June, will take place June 5-14 this year with the theme "Unseen-Unheard."

Headliners include singers such as Neko Case, Benjamin Booker and Rhiannon Giddens. There are dozens of other musicians performing at the stage set up at Point State Park, as well as visual arts projects. There will also be an artists’ fair and food for sale.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Godfrey B. Tangwa, founder and chairperson of the Cameroon Bioethics Initiative, spoke to a group of a few dozen people at Duquesne University on Thursday.

An ethicist, Tangwa spoke about the challenges of adopting Western medical research in non-Western areas. He started off by discussing how Western culture is different than non-Western cultures.

A new report from environmental advocacy group PennFuture says that in Pennsylvania alone, $3.25 billion went to subsidize the fossil fuels industry in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The report breaks down that that comes to $794 per taxpayer.  

Much of that subsists of tax subsidies to energy industries, such as shale gas development and legacy costs of oil, gas and coal.

The Cultural Trust announced their line-up for the EQT Children’s Theater Festival.

Pamela Komar, manager of Children’s Theater Programming at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, said they select the participating theatrical groups critically.

“We look at the ages of children in Pittsburgh, we look at their current interests and we try to balance and bring in art forms that will be of interest to all kinds of people from all different backgrounds and all different abilities in Pittsburgh,” she said.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced Thursday that her office has found an additional $1.44 million in unpaid car rental taxes and penalties.

This is in addition to the $743,107 that her office found in January during a routine audit. Hertz paid the amount promptly plus penalties and interest, and Wagner expects them to do the same this time.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Lynn Lightfoot’s kids have an easy commute to class.

It's down a flight of stairs and onto couches in a room crammed with everything from books to DVD’s to board games. Her teenagers, Aleeshyah and Noah, aren’t just her children — they’re her students. They are two of about 21,000 children who are homeschooled in Pennsylvania.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for the city of Pittsburgh met on Wednesday afternoon for its regular quarterly meeting. Among the topics discussed were efforts by City Controller Michael Lamb to move paper invoices to an electronic format.

Lamb said this project would save the city $115,000 annually. Of the $25,000 they originally had for this project, he said they had spent $18,000 on the E-Docs system, had $7,000 remaining and requested an additional $16,000. The ICA agreed to grant them this money.

According to a recent poll conducted the Pennsylvania Medical Society, there have been changes in the experiences people have had accessing health care.

“It seems that most patients are able to access health care within a reasonable period of time,” said Karen Rizzo, a practicing physician and President of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.  “It seems that their out-of-pocket expense is increasing for about 37 percent of the patients surveyed.”

Of the 700 people polled, 53 percent said their out of pocket expenses were about the same, and 8 percent saw a reduction in cost.

Pages