Neighborhood Allies
The staff of Neighborhood Allies joins awardees at the Fund My Future PGH program’s 10th anniversary celebration on May 24. The organization received $100,000 from United Way. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Allies.

For the next three years, 110 organizations in the Pittsburgh region will receive a total of $7.5 million annually as part of a Community Impact grant from United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The grants will be distributed to organizations that collectively serve more than 500,000 people across the region.

The grants are going to programs focused on United Way’s priority areas: meeting basic needs, moving toward financial stability, and building success in school and life.

Bobbi Watt Geer, president and CEO of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, says the grant program is one of the organization’s most broad-reaching investments as it reaches organizations in Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. 

“It’s a scale and scope that we’ve not done before,” Geer says.

More than 100 volunteers across the five-county region scored proposals and met several times in a two-round process to reduce 360 applicants down to the final 110 grantees. Final funding recommendations were approved by the United Way’s board of directors. 

Geer says that one of United Way’s goals is to enhance funding for agencies that had never received funding before, especially organizations serving people of color and people with disabilities. This round of funding resulted in 53 new partners for United Way. 

“This is a robust process that engages people in the community and achieves the potential of making an impact at scale over the course of several years,” Geer says. “A lot of grants don’t come as multi-year grants, so nonprofit organizations that sometimes struggle from year to year to make their budget can now count on that grant over the next three years.”

An aerial view of a residential Pittsburgh intersection in May 2021. Photo courtesy of Yifan Gu via Unsplash.

Ensuring stable housing 

Just Mediation PGH is a nonprofit dedicated to helping landlords and tenants find solutions to housing disputes. The organization trains community members to help mediate disputes to prevent eviction and stabilize housing.

Executive Director Aaron Erb says the nonprofit’s mediators are trained to satisfy landlord needs while helping low-income tenants maintain housing. The mediation is a free and confidential alternative to court.

Just Mediation PGH started as a response to the pandemic. But now, as evictions are 50% higher than before the pandemic in some cities nationwide, the work is even more important. 

“We’re new, but we’ve seen an explosion in numbers in the last year,” Erb says.

The agency has mediated nearly 1,200 cases since 2020, with approximately 800 in the last year. Mediation works, Erb says.

“The tenants and landlord reach an agreement 97% of the time,” he says. “It’s an unprecedented level of resolution and eviction prevention.

“United Way’s support of us for three years is a way to take a program that has shown it can work and provide some sustainability for the next three years.”

Two women wearing masks at West Penn Hospital
Students participate in a career center shadow event at West Penn Hospital as part of Neighborhood Learning Alliance’s career pathway program. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Learning Alliance.

Expanding K-12 education and career preparation 

Neighborhood Learning Alliance works to improve education and opportunities for lower-income families in Allegheny County through supplementary learning and higher education support.

“We have a primary focus on educational opportunities to advance students’ learning experiences and hopefully long-term economic outcomes,” says Kashif Henderson, the nonprofit’s executive director.

Neighborhood Learning Alliance offers K-5 after-school programming, summer camps, SAT prep, and Summer High School U, a free eight-week program for rising 10th-12th grade low-income students. The program helps students interested in careers in social services, teaching and counseling, as well as business. Through the program, students take a college course and gain paid summer work experience.

Another program offered is Reading Warriors, which employs high school students as reading mentors for elementary school students. 

Students participate in a career center shadow with Dollar Bank as part of Neighborhood Learning Alliance’s career pathway program. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Learning Alliance.

“United Way has helped support those students, who were able to purchase materials and resources to mentor students in those schools,” Henderson says. 

The organization’s Career Pathways program in nursing and healthcare works with West Penn Hospital, Carlow University and the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). A business and entrepreneurship career pathway program is offered in partnership with CCAC. Students earn credits and experience in both programs. 

Henderson says that Neighborhood Learning Alliance helps fill gaps where local schools may not offer classes required for certain career fields or degrees.

“We might have a student who’s aspiring to be a nurse, but they might not have an anatomy and physiology class at school,” Henderson says. “We can also look at how we use our partnerships with CCAC and Carlow to offer those classes. Your ZIP code will not limit your opportunity and we will provide those opportunities to students in high school so they can compete.”

Counselor Jennifer Nanji and a client
Counselor Jennifer Nanji works with a client at Neighborhood Allies’ Financial Empowerment Center, which provides adults with free financial counseling led by certified experts. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Allies.

Enhancing economic opportunity

“Economic opportunity is very focused on the gaps in wealth, income and opportunity experienced by women, people of color, people with disabilities, and by folks who are living in neighborhoods that have been disinvested in,” says Sarah Dieleman Perry, director of economic opportunity at Neighborhood Allies.

The community development organization is dedicated to lifting 100,000 people out of poverty in 10 years through capital programs and strategic resources. 

Neighborhood Allies runs several initiatives that offer a multi-generational approach to community development. The organization received $100,000 from United Way to support four initiatives:

  • Fund My Future PGH is a program designed to help Allegheny County families save for college and other post-secondary endeavors. The program helps families enroll in PA 529 accounts, PA ABLE accounts and Keystone Scholars. There is also a $2,000 monthly prize pool. The program has helped 4,600 families receive personal assistance with opening accounts and saving money.
  • The Youth Financial Capability program provides banking access and financial education for teenagers working at their first jobs.
  • The Financial Empowerment Center provides adults with free one-on-one financial counseling from trained, certified experts. Since 2019, it has served more than 1,500 clients. 
  • Money Talks, Neighborhood Allies’ newest program, teaches Black women safe ways to invest in the stock market, as well as how to save for goals and retirement. 

“We are helping these distinct populations develop those building blocks — investments, credit savings and banking access,” Perry says. “The goal is to help people meet their goals and realize the dreams they have for themselves and their families.”

A Pittsburgh native, Ethan is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability. Ethan served as Editor-in-Chief of Allegheny College's newspaper, The Campus.