At 600 Pitt St. in Wilkinsburg, declining membership within the once thriving St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was the catalyst for opening the doors a little wider as the parishioners reached out to the drastically changing community. The Episcopal church, in the midst of an African-American neighborhood, made a decision to “walk alongside their Wilkinsburg neighbors in friendship,” to attain “reconciliation across barriers of race and life experience, and to provide care in places of great need.”
|AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM—Anthony Jackson, in charge of the after-school program, plays and sings with the kids.
To accomplish this, the Eucharistic church formed the Neighborhood Youth Outreach Program, a “faith-based organization.” In existence for over 15 years, the NYOP provides a safe place for mentoring relationships, assisting students in achieving academic improvement, and exposure to cultural arts while encouraging children to find the hidden talents within themselves. These services are just a few that are provided in an “atmosphere that promotes personal growth and a sense of belonging as they prepare for a future.”
Under the watchful eye of program director Anthony L. Jackson, the skilled teaching staff offers a variety of classes, including homework and tutoring assistance, college prep, computer research, African dance and liturgical mime, to name a few. Christian teaching and community service projects also are an integral part of the program.
Because of the current economy and the descending enrollment numbers, the outreach program is a struggling entity. However, due to the dedication of Jackson and his small, devoted staff, the organization is enduring the downturn of the economic climate. “Unfortunately,” he states with an air of concern, “we have come across financial hard times…we have lost some of our funding. It is sad because the need is so great.”
Continuing with a voice full of hope, he emphasizes that “we stand on our belief and faith.” Church volunteers and neighborhood parents are also essential in the support and implementation of the program. Recently, an NYOP Parent Advisory Board was formed to give the staff a “greater insight to the needs of children and families.”
Jackson has spent a great portion of his adult life working with kids in distressed areas within the boundaries of the city of Pittsburgh and beyond. Troubled kids are his passion; mentoring, his gift. Once employed by the YMCA as director of the Mentor Program, Jackson began his mission working with gang members in urban areas throughout the city. Through a conjoined effort between the “Y” and United Way, his passionate enthusiasm was brought to life. His interaction via an intervention program proved to be a rewarding venture as the chosen career path led to his embrace of the troubled and the vulnerable.
Scheduled “Teen Nights” and after-school programs are a couple of the techniques in which Jackson and his staff reach out to neighborhood teens. Other energetic activities include faith-based summer day camps, community gardens, kick ball games and white water rafting trips. In-house talent shows and fund raisers are also a venue for the young people to showcase their gifts.
Employed at St. Stephens for the past 16 years, the married father of three spends “countless hours just talking and listening. “My passion is for the children and families in the community. We have lost a lot of kids to the streets. The diocese wanted to offer hope; we have worked with more than 1,000 kids,” he said with pride. “We are planted here to help a community. Our mission is to empower young people and provide a safe haven from the violence that cripples our neighborhoods.”
His love for the children is what keeps Jackson focused. He calls himself a “relationship builder” as he speaks of the program’s success stories. “This organization has really made an impact. Many of the kids come back to mentor and help others.”
With a pensive expression, Jackson states that “There are not enough positive African-American males stepping up to the plate as role models.” However, he remains upbeat and positive as he speaks of NYOP’s intercommunication between the church and the borough of Wilkinsburg.
He is confidently assured that positive and productive transformations are occurring every day in the lives of empowered young people.