90.5 WESA Celebrates 90 Neighborhoods 90 Good Stories

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Jennifer Cario is unloading big bins of food in a small storage room adjoining the gym of Bentworth Elementary School in Bentleyville, Washington County, about an hour south of Pittsburgh.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Nick Ross stood at the corner of Ridge Avenue and West Commons, an intersection on the loop surrounding Allegheny Center. 

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

When James Simon moved into a three-story warehouse in the Uptown section of Pittsburgh in 2000, the area was much different than it is now. Simon said his street, Gist Street, was a hangout for sex workers, and the neighborhood had a dangerous reputation.

At that point, Simon was in the midst of a successful career as a sculptor and a creator of public art. He’d been living in Brazil, but was drawn back to Pittsburgh to help support his family.

It turns out that he had roots in Uptown all along.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Pam Feltes-McCurdy made her way through a small room in the basement of the Lutheran Church of our Savior in North Huntingdon, squeezing between the wall of the room and a rack of baby clothes. 

Cbaile19 / Wikimedia Commons

When Terry Doloughty was growing up in the 1970s, Polish Hill was a much different place than it is today. Sure, there were more traditionally Polish families and more small businesses -- but what he remembers most fondly were the large green spaces surrounding the little hillside neighborhood.

“I had the ability here to have a very urban life, but then to disappear into the greenery and find some peace there,” Doloughty said.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

In the basement of the Keystone Church of Hazelwood, a group of high school students practiced a hip hop dance performance, counting aloud the steps in the routine in rhythm with a backing music track.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

It’s Neighborhood Table night in Sharpsburg, and about 60 people are packed into a former Main Street shop to eat fried chicken, salad and Italian bread. Dozens of Styrofoam dessert plates are waiting on carts in the back room.

Scores of Sharpsburgers, many of them over 50, regularly show up to the free event at the Roots of Faith center for the first three Thursdays of each month. Not only are they given meals, but they’re also offered free services: some nights it’s a medical screening from UPMC St. Margaret; sometimes it’s a legal clinic from local law firms.

Janet Hellner-Burris / Sanctuary Project

On a stormy Thursday in Wilkinsburg, Janet Hellner-Burris stepped out of the rain on Wallace Avenue and into the doors of the Christian Church of Wilkinsburg, where she's served as a pastor since 1990. 

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Laura Stuart is standing in the center of a small room practically exploding with color. She’s surrounded by artwork of all shapes and sizes -- from painted windows and furniture to decorated mannequins and vibrant beaded bracelets and necklaces.

Bill Haberthur / Bethel Park Historical Society

On a Thursday night, volunteers were gathered at the old Bethel Grade School building getting their hands dirty. Some sawed wood to use for new baseboards on the first floor; others, on the second floor, pulled down old ceilings. 

A similar scene has played out three nights a week since 2016, when the Bethel Park Historical Society decided to renovate and re-purpose the building.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

With long hair and a big handlebar mustache, Tom Walker is recognizable --and everyone in Millvale seems to know him.

He’s also busy in the community. Walker is a "semi-retired" graphic designer, he’s on the board of directors for the Millvale Community Development Corporation and he’s an avid kayaker and backpacker.

Walker is also known as “The Garlic King of Millvale.”

Neville Green

On a winter day on Neville Island, Dorothy Antonelli sits at the dining room table of her home, flipping through printed pictures. 

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Steven "Stevo" Sadvary is scoring and cutting glass in his Squirrel Hill studio, his sheepdog sitting by his side.

It's a unique place -- an otherwise unused level of a parking garage where several artists have set up work spaces. Panels and shards of brightly-colored glass are packed onto shelves lining the wall, and mosaics of all kinds hang on the walls and rest on tables. It's mostly Sadvary's own work, but occasionally one of his students' pieces. 

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

When Caitlin Venczel moved to Bellevue with her family in 2014, she didn’t like going outside. At that point, the Shenango Coke Works was still in operation just down the Ohio River on Neville Island.

“There was a smell in the air," Venczel said. "When we would go outside to play, we’d bring our daughter outside and we could smell it. It made me so nervous, I’d bring her right back inside.

"I felt stuck in my house.”

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

On the last Friday in 2017, about two dozen young children are gathered at the Hatch Art Studio in Point Breeze. School is out for the holidays and 7-year old Rachel Collura is spending the day here at a day camp.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Glade Run Lake is frozen over right now, its 50-plus acres of water transformed into a broad, snowy plain set amid the rolling hills of Butler County.

Oddly, though, tree branches are reaching up through the frigid water and breaking the icy surface like gnarled, blackened fingers.

The trees are holdouts from when the man-made fishing lake was completely drained. In 2011, the state’s Fish and Boat Commission decided Glade Run Lake’s 56-year-old spillway was too badly deteriorated to be reliable. Fearing a flood downstream, the agency drained the lake that summer.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

As Gary Cirrincione walks along the Penn Avenue business corridor on the border Garfield and Bloomfield, he gestures towards the buildings on either side of the street. 

"You've got a mix of commercial and residential spaces, all jumbled together here," said Cirrincione. "Urban areas need that sort of mix and dynamic. There's a diversity here."

When Cirrincione first moved to Hays Street in the East End, his home was in Garfield. Now, the same house is part of East Liberty due to a boundary change, but he doesn’t pay much attention to those technicalities anyway.

About 16 miles downstream from the headwaters of the Ohio River lies the borough of Ambridge. It was founded in 1905, when the religious group the "Harmony Society" sold about 2 square miles of land to the American Bridge Company -- that’s where the name Ambridge comes from.

The borough’s population boomed in the early 20th Century along with the rise of the steel industry, but declined steadily as mills began to close. More than 20,000 people lived in Ambridge in 1930, but now, the Census Bureau estimates the population to be fewer than 7,000.

52 Things You May Have Learned From WESA In 2017

Dec 15, 2017
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

We reported hundreds of stories over the past year—here are the most surprising, world-changing, bizarre, interesting, tragic and important pieces from our reporters.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

When Dave Breingan walks into the gym at Arsenal Middle School during an after school program, about a dozen kids immediately run up to him and say, "hi!"

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Amy Kline moved to Carrick eight years ago, and soon after, she became acquainted with Phillips Park. Kline sent her daughter to the park’s after-school recreation center, where kids play games, work on arts and crafts and play basketball.

But Kline noticed that some parts of the park were habitually underused. She said the long, sloping green space and the 18-hole disc golf course usually sits empty, and the park’s in need of new lighting and paving.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

On a sidewalk in the South Side, Aubrey Plesh is serving a hot, home-cooked meal off a folding table. It's covered with loaded mashed potatoes, chicken and gravy, and chicken marsala.

More than a dozen people have showed up on this chilly Sunday night for the outdoor meal. They're often referred to in a way that Plesh rejects.

"Homelessness, or homeless, is a very confining term," said Plesh.

She prefers to use a different term.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

In the late 1990s, Kristee Cammack was taking classes at Slippery Rock University. For one course, she had to write a paper on what she’d like to change in society. She decided to visit a homeless shelter.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

As University of Pittsburgh junior Brooke McEvoy walks through the Pitt Pantry, she points out some of its selection: cereal, soup, fresh produce. The pantry is located in the basement of the Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Oakland and McEvoy is the president of its student executive board.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Steve Root moved to Pittsburgh’s South Side in 2006, and right away, he knew he wanted to get involved in the community and make connections.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

On a brisk afternoon, Brittany Reno is walking through Sharpsburg’s business district on Main Street, giving a tour.

“We’ve got a thrift store right here, St. Vincent de Paul, which takes care of a lot of our people," says Reno. "We also have a lot of family owned businesses here."

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

In 2015, Caitlin McNulty had been running a youth ministry program out of a Brookline church for a few years when she began to realize that the teenagers in the neighborhood -- the city’s second-largest, and third most-populous -- needed more.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

On a mild Tuesday evening in October, a 12-and-under soccer team from Elliott breaks from the huddle before a match. Tonight, they’re playing on a grass field at Beechview’s Alton Park.

Coach Alex Foulds paces on the sideline as the game progresses, constantly communicating instructions to players on the field. "Clear it out!" he shouts to his team. "Help him out!"

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

In the early 2000s, a pair of new college graduates lived in Highland Park, just across the street from a crumbling old church. It hadn't been used recently, and the arts grads dreamed of buying the property and turning it into a community asset where artists and the arts could flourish.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

*UPDATED: Oct. 2, 2017 at 4:46 p.m.

In the basement of the Mosaic Community Church on the North Side, a small crowd mingles before a joint meeting of the Perry Hilltop and Fineview Citizens councils.

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