“Pittsburgh,” UPMC’s Candi Castleberry Singleton avers, “is a happy place. Pittsburghers love Pittsburgh. They love their communities. But it doesn’t end there. What would make people coming here happy would be if we fix the disparities, perceived and real. That will make everyone happy—and make Pittsburgh the most livable city for all people.”

She’s working on it and along with the four others profiled here, helping Pittsburgh become a more joyful city in myriad ways. There are lots more people we could name and your suggestions are welcome, as always.

Megs Yunn, Beverly’s Birthdays

It’s March, 2011. Megan Yunn (in photo above) volunteering at a local after-school program, was helping 12-year-old Beverly with her homework. Discovering that Beverly never had a birthday party haunted Yunn and then eventually inspired her to start an organization that provides birthday celebrations for homeless kids.

In four years, Yunn and her Beverly’s Birthdays, one of eight similarly themed organizations in the country, have partnered with 30 agencies in six counties to provide birthday parties—pizza, cake, presents, the works—for some 1,000 children.

“What we do is more than just a birthday party and a birthday present,” Yunn says. “It’s an opportunity to make a child feel special. There’s no greater joy than seeing the joy on these kids’ faces.”

“So many of these children go without the special milestones that most people take for granted. To show these kids that they’re loved and important is the greatest gift of all.

“Pittsburgh has rallied behind our cause. The mission is universally appealing—birthdays for kids who don’t get a chance to be celebrated. I love the fact that I’ve been able to give back to my hometown, making lives better and brighter. Because if we’re not here to help people, what are we here for?”

Want to help? Go here to contribute or volunteer and join An Evening of Birthday Cheer at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh—a fundraiser for Beverly’s Birthdays—on Thursday, April 30th.

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Susan Rademacher. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Susan Rademacher, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

First, it’s a given that nature—that gorgeous, glowing green world—calms us and makes us happier.

Since 1998 the nonprofit Parks Conservancy has worked closely with the City of Pittsburgh to make us happier by restoring the city’s four regional parks: Frick, Highland, Riverview and Schenley. In addition to stewarding more than 1,700 acres, the Parks Conservancy has expanded into community and neighborhood parks throughout Pittsburgh, including Schenley Plaza, Mellon Square, Mellon Park, Frick Environmental Center and others.

“Happiness occurs many ways,” offers Parks Curator Susan Rademacher. “One is the opportunity to get out and move. Exercise reduces depression. That’s well proven. Just 20 minutes outside boosts positive mood, clears thinking, improves memory. There’s an opportunity to create memories that are meaningful. They’re like a happiness bank that you can draw on in the future.”

“Parks are also the most democratic aspect of our society. They promote social interaction. They’re friendly places—greetings, hand waves, nods. You feel connected to other people in a positive way.

“You also help yourself stay in the moment. It’s such a pleasure to immerse yourself in the parks’ sights and sounds and beauty. Being in the moment is the freest space where happiness enters.

“What makes me happiest is being out in a park and seeing a father teaching his daughter to ride a bike on a path that I helped create. That closes the happiness loop for me.”

Lisa Scales of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Lisa Scales of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Lisa Scales, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

The figures are a bit staggering, and the remedy has unintended benefits. Because helping other people makes the helpers happy.

The nonprofit Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, founded in 1980 and headquartered in Duquesne, serves the region’s most vulnerable populations. Partnering with local grocers, distribution companies, farmers and community organizations, GPCFB distributes food to more than 400 member agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, after-school programs and senior housing sites. Abetted by 13,400 volunteers, GPCFB serves more than 26 million pounds of food to some 360,000 clients across 11 counties.

“We’re fortunate to be a food bank that has as a mission to get the community engaged,” offers GPCFB Chief Executive Officer Lisa Scales. “The fact that our food helps stabilize families resonates with our volunteers. People want to make a difference in their communities, in people’s lives. Food bank volunteers are able to do that.”

“Many parents ask me how they can volunteer with their children. ‘I want my kids to understand giving back,’ they tell me. ‘To understand service to others.’ One Little Leaguer donated money for every hit he made. One young man—in lieu of his 13th birthday party—had kids collect canned goods. He had bags of the stuff. He was so proud.”

“Our volunteers thank us for the opportunity to make a difference. They have a lot of satisfaction, a lot of happiness.”

Scott Bricker of BikePGH. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Scott Bricker of BikePGH. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Scott Bricker, BikePGH

How can you not be happy on a bike? With nearly 100 miles of bike trails, bike lanes and river trails in the city alone, Pittsburgh is in the midst of a highly welcome and long overdue bicycling Renaissance.

Helping shepherd this growing movement is Bike Pittsburgh. The region’s premier bicycling advocacy group since 2002, BikePGH works tirelessly not only to promote bike and pedestrian safety, but also to expand the opportunities for non-motorized regional transport. By 2020 BikePGH hopes not only to have bike trails within a mile of every Pittsburgher, but also to have every Pittsburgher realize the great benefits of walking and riding.

“You just can’t beat the feeling of riding a bike,” says Bricker. “It’s like flying, and I wish that everyone reading this who hasn’t ridden in years gives it another shot. Car companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars manufacturing and marketing the idea of freedom, excitement and the open road, and that’s why so often you see bicycles in car commercials—they elicit that feeling of fun, freedom, excitement and happiness—a feeling I hope more people get to experience as more and more bike lanes get built in Pittsburgh.”

His staff feels the same. “Cycling makes us happy,” says BikePGH Communications Manager Ngani Ndimbie, an inveterate biker herself. “Not only is biking good for our physical health, it also makes us happy. In general, depression, anxiety and stress are lower in physically healthy people. So cycling clearly boosts mental health.

“And cycling is fun! Everyone has to get places. We might as well enjoy getting there. And biking is a great way. It makes living in Pittsburgh great.”

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Candi Castleberry Singleton. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Candi Castleberry Singleton R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In 2008, as UPMC Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Candi Castleberry Singleton launched the UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion. Her recent efforts include the Dignity & Respect Campaign, founded on 30 Tips that remind us to be mindful of how we treat others.

“As people who have to work,” she says, “who have families, who have connections to art, culture and community, it’s important for us that those things are as diverse as possible. As Pittsburgh becomes a more diverse community, more global, people want to work in places where they will be treated with dignity and respect. Find schools where their children will be treated with dignity and respect. Live in communities respectful of differences. Because happiness comes from being able to be yourself. Not having to give up yourself to be able to live and work and play in a community.”

“At UPMC we have a metric for dignity and respect. Our employees are judged on it. On being culturally aware. Just recognizing that someone’s holiday is different from yours is so helpful.”

“We’ve had 250,000 people take a pledge. Do you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect? If so, do you treat people with dignity and respect? We want it to be more and more consistent. We want people to be happy.”

Lots of people in Pittsburgh are working to improve our quality of life and make us happier. Got someone you think merits mention? Comment below!

Read about 5 people making Pittsburgh a healthier city and 5 people making Pittsburgh a more livable city for all .

All photos by Brian Cohen.

Abby Mendelson is a veteran Pittsburgh writer and reporter. A novelist and short-story writer, he is also the author of numerous Pittsburgh-related books, including Arena: Remembering the Igloo, Pittsburgh: A Place in Time, Pittsburgh Prays: Thirty-Six Houses of Worship, Pittsburgh Born, Pittsburgh Bred, and The Pittsburgh Steelers Official History. As a journalist, he has written on countless subjects in a wide variety of publications, local and national, print as well as electronic.