Thursday, March 05, 2015

News

Sticking with Them

Aliquippa Impact is not the only youth organization on Franklin Avenue. Deliverance Temple, which has existed approximately 35 years, reaches out to at-risk youth through their ministry, Roots Christian Academy.

Roots Christian Academy is an alternative school for children around the age of 12 to early adulthood. The academy seeks to plant seeds in the lives of kids and enable them to mature into productive citizens.

The partnership between Aliquippa Impact and Roots Academy began nearly 8 years ago when Pastor Paul Dordal, the senior pastor of Crestmont Alliance Church at the time, introduced Pastor Marvin Moreland of Deliverance Temple to Joel Repic and Aliquippa Impact’s ministry.

Pastor Moreland says, “We try to collaborate and network as much as possible because our ministries are both geared toward the youth in the community.”

Both Aliquippa Impact and Roots Academy have brought hope to youth in Aliquippa. Roots provides a way for children who would not have graduated school to complete their education.

Pastor Moreland says, “Our impact in the community is trying to assist the youth and help them make decisions that will further their future. “

One such decision is to continue their education beyond high school. Roots has given multiple children the opportunity to attend college or a training school.

Aliquippa Impact supports youth through their mentoring, afterschool, and summer programs. Pastor Moreland points out, “I’ve encountered a lot of children in the community that were excited about the (programs). You hear all kind of different testimonies and stories about them (AI) coming to the community and assisting kids.”

Pastor Moreland admires Aliquippa Impact’s continual presence with the youth. He says, “They stick with them. That’s one thing I’ve noticed with the mentoring program. They stick with the kids not just one year, two years, but they commit themselves to walking alongside the kids on an as-needed basis.”

He has witnessed the ongoing presence of Aliquippa Impact in the life of a boy who attends college with his son. He explains, “The one young man went to school with my son up in Edinboro. They have been a part of this young man’s life for quite some time and it is very evident that he had someone from Aliquippa Impact’s ministry to help guide him through those years of uncertainty.”

 

Ginny Caldwell

Ginny is no stranger to Aliquippa. Her grandparents were Italian immigrants who lived most of their lives in Plan 11. Her father was a school teacher in an Aliquippa school and later became principal of Jones School in Plan 11. Ginny remembers when Aliquippa was a vibrant, bustling town when the mills were going strong. “But within that vibrancy there wasn’t harmony between races and ethnicities, there was tension between the union and management. It was a vibrant community fraught with tension and strife.” Ginny has a deep connection to Aliquippa and is a great asset to Aliquippa Impact.

Ginny is a member of AI’s Board of Directors, volunteers on AI’s people and fundraising committee, and financially supports AI. Ginny brings twenty years of experience working at Geneva College, mostly in the role of Director of Alumni Relations and Planned Giving Officer in the Institutional Advancement Office. She is also an involved member of First Presbyterian Church, a Stephen Ministry Leader, on the VOAD Board (Volunteer Organizations Active during Disaster), and currently works in customer service for Panoptic Media. Ginny first learned of Aliquippa Impact through Norma Lagios, a Board member and previous co-worker, when she recommended Ginny as a Board member. Ginny has been on the Board of Aliquippa Impact for many years and since then, Ginny has watched Aliquippa Impact grow from one program to five.

“I believe in what we [AI] stand for – servicing disenfranchised youth and giving them hope through our multiple programs that we offer, programs delivered through dedicated staff and volunteers who reach into their lives and help them to address challenges they face and celebrate the accomplishments they reach. We take a holistic approach to the person – spiritual, educational, emotional, and family.” Ginny believes the foundations are in the developmental assets which are 40 building blocks of healthy development as defined by the Search Institute. “I commend the Founder (Joel Repic) and Executive Director (Steve Rossi) for their continued attention to the implementation of AI’s vision and for partnering with other like-minded community organizations. I believe the board keeps the leadership team accountable and strives for financial stability and transparency of the organization.”

Ginny values most “The foundation upon which it has been built, anchored in Christ. We have been given this place at this time in history to affect the lives that God has given to us. God isn’t just using a person, he is using multiple people to reach into the lives of these youth to have an impact on them.”

   

The Importance of a Positive Program

Larry, an independent contractor in the Oil & Gas Industry, lives in Aliquippa where he raises his two nephews, Darrell and Shawn. His oldest nephew, Shawn, has lived with him for about eight years while Darrell has lived with him for just over a year.

Darrell and Shawn have both been a part of Aliquippa Impact’s programs. Shawn was involved in Aliquippa Impact’s summer program in Linmar during fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. Darrell participated in AI’s day camp and when he was old enough he received a paper at school inviting him to join Aliquippa Impact’s cohort program. After Larry called Jamyra Harrell (Asset Coordinator at the time), to gather some additional information, Darrell became a part of her cohort. Darrell, currently a fourth grader at Aliquippa Elementary School, says his favorite part of being in Jamyra’s cohort group is, “having fun with friends and learning more things I’ve never learned before.” His favorite lesson that Jamyra has taught him is to be respectful to others.

Larry says, “In an area like Aliquippa it is very hard to find constructive, organized activities where kids can stay focused and stay on the right path. That’s one of the reasons I got the older kid involved and then when the youngest had the opportunity to be involved, since I knew what kind of program it was, I didn’t have any hesitation.”

Larry believes that the programs Aliquippa Impact offers really benefit children who come from difficult situations. He says, “There’s a lot of kids in this town that don’t have strong, positive parental influences. The kids do have a tendency I think to get in trouble as they get older, more likely to do drugs, more likely to be involved in crime, and things like that. Any program that teaches kids discipline, that teaches kids faith, that teaches kids basically right from wrong I think would be a positive especially in an area where so many kids fall through the cracks.”

   

Rethinking What Business Can Do

Dr. Daniel Rossi-Keen, owner of EQuip Books, has not always been a business owner. He began the search for his vocation at Grove City College where he studied to become a music teacher. Eventually he was introduced to philosophy and theology and became excited about pursuing these fields of study. He decided to attend seminary and while there Daniel says, “I continued to follow ideas and really wrestle with this question about how they relate to culture and how society should look in light of the gospel. I kept chasing ideas, reading, thinking, and writing.”

He followed his academic pursuit to Ohio University where he obtained a graduate degree in philosophy and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Culture. He says, “In my mind I was going to be a professor for the rest of my life.” He did serve as a professor for a time. He taught at Stetson University in Florida where he lived with his wife, Pamela, and their three children. Both Daniel and Pamela enjoyed teaching, but something did not seem quite right. They began to feel as if God were calling them back to Pennsylvania. Daniel explains, “We loved being in higher education and teaching and reading and publishing and that sort of stuff, but we were increasingly troubled by the fact that we really weren’t part of a vibrant community, a vibrant faith community in particular. So for a long time God had been laying on our hearts that we wanted to come home for a better part of a decade. So finally through a lot of different decisions and preparation we ended up deciding to resign from my university position and move back to Aliquippa.”

Moving to Aliquippa made sense to the Rossi-Keen family. The city was home to Pamela who had grown up in Raccoon Township and spent the latter part of her childhood and early adulthood attending Crestmont Alliance Church. Also Pamela’s brother, Steve Rossi, is the Executive Director of Aliquippa Impact. Daniel says, “We have a close relationship with Steve, a close relationship with Joel, and for a handful of years we would get together and dream, talk, and pray. We couldn’t really shake the idea that we wanted to be back here and be part of was happening in Aliquippa.”

So in 2011, the family moved back to Aliquippa to be a part of the community. Daniel brought with him a vision for a new business on Franklin Avenue.  In 2008, shortly after taking a teaching position at Stetson University, he began selling books from his graduate school days. He recalls, “Within a couple weeks I had made a few hundred bucks and that at the time was quite a bit of money for me. I was looking for something to learn about and read about so I started studying the book industry-online retail-and I just kept experimenting with it. Over time I got pretty heavily into understanding how this kind of stuff worked.” Before he knew it his business expanded so much that he could no longer operate out of his home.

Daniel says, “This was all a side thing at the time. What I didn’t realize was it was really preparation for moving back home. I have a lot of training and education on paper, but it is not the kind of thing that is terribly employable outside of the university setting so in some ways the book business started as a creative necessity- a way to make some money and make a living. I eventually started to realize I could use this as a way to provide for our family back in Aliquippa.”

Daniel realized that not only could the business provide income for his family, it could also serve as a form of mission work in the city. He explains, “If you read business literature you’ll hear about social enterprise or social entrepreneurship- the idea of for-profit business operating with a more traditional non-profit kind of mission. So you’re creating within your organization this ability to sustain yourself financially, to employ people, to build up the process of profit in a way that has purpose beyond just making profit. So we started thinking of Aliquippa as a place that could really benefit from that kind of vision of what business could do. “

As the vision for the book store began to develop, Daniel looked for possible locations for his business. He looked at Franklin Avenue, which as he points out, is very symbolic to the city of Aliquippa. Historically it was the center of commerce, growth, and development. Also, being the main road through the town, it is the most visible and traveled piece of Aliquippa for people unfamiliar with the city. Daniel explains, “We wanted to be sure to plant a business in a place that was visible. We planted it on Franklin Avenue in some ways as a kind of visible protest to the idea that Aliquippa is past its prime-that Aliquippa is not a place where a book store can thrive. We wanted to kind of shake our fist at the idea and say, ‘No, we’re going to start a business here and we’re going to do it in a creative way that allows us to benefit the community, spread ideas, and do so where a lot of people might least expect it. ‘

Eventually an opportunity for a vacant space on Franklin Avenue emerged and Daniel purchased the building.  He says, “We made a deliberate choice to renovate a space, to reclaim a lost and forgotten building on Franklin Avenue.” With much work to be done on the building, more helping hands were needed. Daniel turned to many youth in Aliquippa Impact’s programs for assistance. He recalls, “When we moved into the space we spent nearly a year and a half renovating the space before we opened it to the public. It was through that process that we were able to bring in a lot of youth from the community, particularly young men from Aliquippa Impact.” The youth helped with various aspects of renovation including painting floors and walls and light construction work.

The store’s retail space opened in the spring of 2014 and Daniel continues to involve Aliquippa’s youth in the store’s operation. He explains, “We’ve also been able to consistently pull youth in the community into our day to day operations, giving them employment, having them help sort and process inventory, and pack books. “ EQuip Books partners with Job Training for Beaver County, which has provided grant funding that has allowed Daniel to employ about a dozen youth from Aliquippa. Employment at the book store gives youth the opportunity to learn basic job training skills they can use in the future.

Although empowering Aliquippa’s youth is very important to Daniel, he wants EQuip Books to impact the entire the community. The EQuip Books employee shirts read, “Empowering local youth. Rethinking what business can do.” When considering what the shirts read, Daniel says, “That’s something we’ve put at the heart of what we’ve been up to since the beginning and increasingly we’ve been realizing that we want to expand that vision not just with youth, but beyond- this idea of not us empowering the community, but ideas and literature and the history of the human experience-all the things that books and book stores can provide for the community. We want that to be an empowering force in Aliquippa and we want to use more traditional business practices to allow that to happen.”

Because of his relationship with Steve Rossi, Joel Repic, and youth from Aliquippa Impact’s programs, Daniel is quite familiar with AI’s ministry. “What most attracted me to the mission of Aliquippa Impact was this counter-intuitive and counter-cultural commitment to the slow, patient work of building relationships and establishing yourself as a presence in the community. As I watched the organization from its infancy, there was this consistent sense that ‘we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re going to stick around as long as it takes’- not only to help people, but to share life with people. It seemed like something we couldn’t help become a part of.”

When thinking of what Aliquippa Impact has done in the community, Daniel Rossi-Keen does not think in terms of tangible results. He believes oftentimes the term ‘tangible results’ comes with an expectation that a ministry must physically build something , something that people can see, if it is to be impactful. While obvious, tangible results are good, it is not the only good. Daniel explains, “I think that one of the things Aliquippa Impact in a very valiant way fought against is the idea that tangible hope needs always be seen as something that is obvious. I tend to think that some of the most lasting and beneficial outcomes of the work of Aliquippa Impact have actually been way less tangible than a lot of people might appreciate. I think Aliquippa Impact has begun to reframe the way people think about what’s possible in a place like Aliquippa. I think AI has allowed both native Aliquippa folks and people from the broader community to begin to re-envision how Aliquippa can look, what it can become. I think they’ve started this conversation that gets people to realize that Aliquippa is just a place like any other place with people just like other people and that’s something that is often not assumed in our broader community. “

Daniel has also seen AI’s programs affect the mindset of the youth in the community. He says, “Fostering tangible hope- I see that in young kids who are starting to think about themselves differently, starting to think about their futures differently, start to view the world not as something that is rigid and fixed and has to be a certain way, but they start to see a world of possibility. They start to see themselves as creative, thoughtful contributors to Aliquippa and to the broader community. “

Daniel comments, “I think all God’s people were created to be hopeful, creative, members of rich communities-and I don’t mean rich financially, I mean deep in relationships, opportunities, and experiences. I see the work Aliquippa Impact has done as reigniting a vision for that possibility in the community. And that to me maybe isn’t tangible in the typical way of thinking of it, but is certainly the most important and most life-giving thing I think of.”

Daniel joins Steve, Joel, and many other people and organizations in Aliquippa who long for a vibrant community. They work alongside community members to bring the city to its fullest potential and help others outside the city see it, too.

   

Support from the Grable Foundation

Many generous organizations and individuals make it possible for Aliquippa Impact to reach out to children and their families. One such benefactor is the Grable Foundation.

The Grable Foundation was founded in 1976 by Minnie Grable. She and her family were committed to promoting the education of youth. Now the foundation is run by seven trustees, mostly members of the Grable family, who fund programs and organizations that improve the lives of children in the Pittsburgh region. The foundation has supported Aliquippa Impact’s summer program since 2010.

Tracey Reed-Armant, a program associate at the Grable Foundation who works with grantees, visited AI’s summer program this year. She says, “I was really impressed with the level of dedication of the staff of AI and the fact that people had moved to the Aliquippa area to be part of the organization. Families actually relocated from different places throughout the country, not just our local area, to be part of Aliquippa Impact.”

Together the Aliquippa Impact staff and those who support AI’s programs bring hope to the community.

   

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