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

Lexi Schaefers' preschoolers squeal with excitement. Their eyes are trained on an animated tiger dressed in a red hoodie and sneakers, peeking out of the TV at them.

These 3- and 4-year-olds at Shady Lane Preschool in Pittsburgh, Pa., sing along with the songs and laugh and mimic what the characters are doing onscreen.

As more awareness and excitement builds around eating and buying local, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board hopes commonwealth residents will drink local. This October, Wine and Spirits stores will be encouraging you to buy wine made and bottled in-state.

Pennsylvania wine sales account for a small percentage of all wine sales – in 2012, wine sales were $821 million – five million of that was wine produced in-state. But those are numbers that have been rising – over the last 30 years, Pennsylvania wineries have grown from a couple dozen to more than 200.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

It’s a sunny afternoon on Bell Avenue in North Braddock, and a bunch of kids have gathered around a wooden table set up in what a year ago was just another empty lot.

Now the lot is a kid-driven community garden, and on the table is a microchip called a MaKey MaKey attached to a laptop. Wires that stick out from the MaKey MaKey are clamped onto cherry tomatoes. When the kids squeeze the tomatoes, different musical notes play.

The Associated Press

Roberto Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, but you’d never know it from the hundreds of people who show up to Pirates games wearing jerseys with his name and number — 21 — printed on them. 

Now two musicals will trace the life of "The Great One" from his childhood in Puerto Rico to his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates from the mid-50’s to his untimely death at age 38.

Composer Alki Steriopoulous to spend nearly a decade writing a musical about Clemente.

It's called "21."

A day after it was announced that Gov. Tom Corbett’s alternative to Medicaid expansion, Healthy PA was approved by the federal government, health care advocates in Pennsylvania lauded the move as good overall but voiced concerns over high premiums and the logistics of establishing an entirely new system.

“We don’t believe that this is the best way to cover 600,000 Pennsylvanians,” said Kristen Dama, staff attorney at Philadelphia-based Community Legal Services.

Two years after the Green Building Alliance launched its 2030 District initiative in downtown Pittsburgh, the program is expanding its efforts into Oakland.

The 2030 District is a building-by-building effort to improve energy and water consumption and transportation emission in a geographical area. It’s a voluntary initiative focused on the existing building sector. There isn’t a checklist that each building undergoes; it's non-prescriptive. They work with individual building owners to identify what improvements to their buildings will have the maximum benefit.

Bob Mrvos jokes you could golf in the corridors of The Pittsburgh International Airport Terminal – it's just so empty.

"My wife and I were on vacation and flew into LAX and stayed there for a couple weeks and we came back through Chicago," he said. "You walk through those airports and you can barely get through the hallway there’s so many people. And when you land in Pittsburgh, it's like the airports closed."

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It’s a Thursday morning and a small group, including several child development specialists, is gathered around a table at the South Side offices of The Fred Rogers Company.

They are dissecting a script of an upcoming episode of "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood." Everything is scrutinized: Are certain phrases under copyright? Would a 4-year-old use that word on their own? How much assistance should a character with physical disabilities receive?

They’re making sure the show aligns with Fred Rogers' vision to grow children into competent and caring beings and that every scene and line is age appropriate and holds meaning.

"Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood" is an animated PBS show. It’s based on characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from the beloved "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" that ran for 33 years on public television. 

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, no workers, visitors or patients will be allowed to smoke on any Allegheny Health Network grounds.

“Anybody whose walked into any facility, health care or otherwise, who has to walk through smoke or be exposed to smoke, it's not a pleasant thing if you're not a smoker," said Allegheny Health Network spokesman Dan Laurent, "particularly in a facility that’s dedicated to preserving health and promoting health.”

Smoking is already not allowed inside Allegheny Health Network facilities.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Poison ivy, bug bites, allergies — just hearing those words can make you want to scratch. But even though we all itch, and we all scratch, we don’t know very much about what is happening in our brains when we do so.

New work by researchers, including one in Pittsburgh, is attempting to figure it out.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

It’s early on a sunny summer morning and Damien Martinez Coro is leading a group of young ballerinas through a rigorous dance routine at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh. 

As he moves through the studio, he keeps time by snapping his fingers while yelling commands and adjusting the girls’ forms.

The dance school in Bethel Park is a far reach from his hometown of Matanzas, Cuba.

For a small group of local teenagers, part of their summer has been spent learning to think critically about global issues. For the past two weeks the students have been learning Mandarin Chinese and Arabic, hearing speakers who work in the international community and learning from one another in the 2014 Summer Seminar of Global Issues.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a recent afternoon, Kelly Liartis is at Magee Women’s Hospital for a check-up. She’s talking to her doctor Hyagriv Simhan about her soon-to-be-born baby — and her frequent summer asthma flare-ups.

He's telling her that despite her fears, its actually OK to use her inhaler ... it's been used in pregnancy, as he says with a laugh, for a "bajillion years."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last week $60 million dollars in funding for navigators to help people sign up for health insurance during the second round of open-enrollment period in the marketplace.

The health insurance marketplace is a key component of the Affordable Care Act.

This next open enrollment period begins November 15.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala says a Pittsburgh police officer who shot and killed a man in Wilkinsburg in April was justified in opening fire.

Officials say Adrian Williams, 29, who was killed in the shooting, had led police on an early-morning high-speed chase that started in Homewood and ended in Wilkinsburg, when he crashed the car he was driving and then ran through yards with a handgun.

Zappala said at least 12 other officers were at the scene and had been involved in the chase. Officer Christopher Kertis shot Williams six times.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection held public comment for their proposed new regulations at coal-fired power plants that is supposed to limit smog-causing pollution.

Those present at a rally at DEP’s offices in Pittsburgh before the public comment said the proposed regulations are lax toward coal-fired power plants and will worsen smog problems in a region already known for poor air quality.

Erin McClelland will be the Democrat running for the 12th Pennsylvania Congressional seat against Republican Keith Rothfus this fall.

In 2011, the 12th district was redrawn – McClelland, who is currently a health care administrator, says that made campaigning particularly hard early on.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says the federal government can play a role in prosecuting child abusers.

Casey is introducing a bill, the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act, that says all adults responsible for children should be required to report cases of child abuse and neglect.

“It would require all states to pass and enforce a law requiring adults with a professional responsibility to children to report instances of known or suspected child abuse,” Casey said.

The proposal comes in the wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a recent Thursday night, a group of barefoot people are moving through a yoga practice at Bend Yoga’s studio in downtown Pittsburgh.

It’s a yoga class for people with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder — or both. Among them is Chris Ohleger, who said yoga has benefited him in ways no other treatments or therapies have.

Allegheny County’s District Attorney Stephen Zappala and police officers from the area announced countywide efforts to help families with members with cognitive brain issues such as Autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ten police departments in Allegheny County — Aspinwall, Bethel Park, McKeesport, Millvale, Moon, Monroeville, Northern Regional, Munhall, Elizabeth and the city of Pittsburgh — will be training police officers to use a radio transmitter reader that, when activated, can track bracelets issued to those with special needs.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

The only thing Kai Arroyo eats is butterscotch pudding. He only drinks milk from a bottle. When he speaks, you get the sort of language that you expect from a kindergartener – not a seventh grader. And he can’t go to the bathroom on his own. 

"He’s still wearing pull-ups at 13," said his mother Astrid Arroyo. "I know! He’s actually a little more vocal about letting us know when he needs to go to the bathroom, but he’s still not fully there, so he’s still dependent on us to remind him and take him to the restroom."

Leaders of statewide groups that represent school boards, school business officials and educational coalitions released a survey they commissioned among selected voters in Pennsylvania.

The majority of the voters surveyed said public schools affect the economy and that school funding should be increased.

When asked, 84 percent of voters in Pennsylvania said they believe public schools have a very strong effect on economic development. Advocates say this is evidence the state needs a fairer funding formula.

A plethora of legislation was proposed in the aftermath of the Sandusky Penn State sex abuse case. One of the most comprehensive bills is expected to pass this week.

Senate Bill 21 will broaden the scope of mandated reporters when it comes to child abuse – and hold them more accountable.

Mandated reporters are those who have contact with children, anyone from a public library employee to clergy to a medical examiner. These reporters would be required to alert law enforcement when they suspect a child is being abused.

Last week, the trauma center at UPMC Presbyterian began a medical trial using critically injured gunshot and knife wound patients. It’s similar to suspended animation, but surgeons are calling it Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation.

The patients will not quite be alive, but they also won't quite be dead.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Medical care is costly, and for many people that cost is prohibitive. More and more often, people like Melissa Jones find themselves turning to crowdfunding to pay for those extras health insurance won't cover.

Walking down Fifth Avenue in Oakland, Jones' 10-year-old daughter Montana Delciello describes it as a full-on sensory experience. The sidewalks swell with people as bikes, cars, buses and ambulances weave in and out of lanes on the massive street.

Dr. Richard Mollica, the director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma at Massachusetts General Hospital, has spent the last three decades working with refugees. This week, he was in Pittsburgh for a conference and sat down to speak about refugees and trauma with 90.5 WESA’s Erika Beras. This is part of the interview.

On how the work he has done has changed since the early '80s:

On Monday afternoon, a chartered bus wound its way through the steep, narrow roads of the South Hills on its way to Baldwin High School.

On board were employees of HIAS, an agency that works with the State Department in bringing refugees to the United States. HIAS works with Jewish Family and Children’s Services, one of four resettlement agencies in the Pittsburgh area.

Pittsburgh has become a hub for refugees. This week HIAS is holding its national conference here, and among the activities are visits to where refugees live, work — and go to school.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says a U.S. Department of Justice report criticizing the system for numerous reasons, including the prison’s excessive use of solitary confinement for inmates with mental illness or intellectual disabilities, is no longer valid.

“The report was accurate for the time frame but not reflective of our department today,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.

Three thousand gallons of the chemical that spilled into the Elk River and contaminated tap water for 300,000 people in nine West Virginia counties has been moved to Armstrong County.

The January West Virginia contamination continues to have lingering effects on the water supply.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) says ensuring a leak like the one that occurred in West Virginia doesn’t happen here is a matter of holding private industry accountable and government regulation, starting from the top with Homeland Security.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

As a child in war-torn Somalia, Aweys Mwaliya saw friends and family killed in massacres. Fleeing the country,  his family spent weeks walking to Kenya. The trip was so grueling, that along the way, his youngest sister died. The family couldn’t give her a proper burial.

"The feeling I have about those terrible things are very, very bad, and I’m still wondering why things like that happen, why people do things to other people," Mwaliya, now 30 and living in Pittsburgh said. 

In Kenya, his family spent a decade living in refugee camps.

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