It is really difficult for someone coming from a low​-​income background and especially being a woman in India to have these large dreams.​ Ketaki, of India. Photo courtesy Welcoming Pittsburgh.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, Elizabeth Heidenreich wanted to do something  close to home, to help dispel growing fears about refugees.

“I’ve been working with refugees for about 7 years and started having discussions with clients about all the negative things refugees and immigrants were hearing,” she says. “I think it’s fear that drives those negative views, and I thought if we could shine a light on groups already here, and what they’re doing, it would open a lot of eyes.”

Heidenreich, a family development specialist at South Hills Interfaith Ministries, is also an advisory member of the Welcoming Pittsburgh committee and came up with the idea of 30 Neighbors, 30 Days. In partnership with NEXTPittsburgh, the project spotlights 30 Pittsburghers of diverse backgrounds, including a minister from Burma, an engineer from Mexico, and a community organizer from Bhutan. Each story will include a photo and interview excerpt in the style of Humans of New York.

Starting January 20th and running through February 18th, you can follow the project on NEXTpittsburgh as well as Twitter and Facebook, using the hashtag #IamPGH.

“. . . diversity is powerful , so when you see someone around you who doesn’t look like you, you should give them a chance . . .” Erwin Franz, Mexico.
“. . . diversity is powerful , so when you see someone around you who doesn’t look like you, you should give them a chance . . .” Erwin Franz, Mexico.

“Through Welcoming Pittsburgh, my office has implemented concrete actionable steps, in partnership with the community, to build a city that residents from diverse backgrounds feel part of,” Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement. “30 Neighbors, 30 Days is one of many ways we are bringing visibility to our neighbors from different cultures, races and religions.”

30 Neighbors is part of Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative, which focuses on improving quality of life and economic prosperity among city residents.

“I hope it will show how diverse Pittsburgh is, and that there are a lot of neighborly, compassionate people here,” Heidenreich says. “Most immigrants come here and they see opportunity, but at the same time everything is new: language, job, figuring out the transportation system. It’s scary coming here, and for refugees, they often don’t have any other option.”

Kim Lyons is an award-winning writer and editor always on the lookout for a great story. Her experience includes writing about business, politics, and local news, and she has a huge crush on Pittsburgh.