Pgh Project struggles, layoffs on tap

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Over its 26 years, the Pittsburgh Project grew from a Church summer youth service program to a nonprofit institution that provided summer camp, volunteer service, after school and home repair services for neighborhood seniors.

By 2008, the North Side agency’s budget had swelled to $3.2 million. But by last year that had dipped to $2.9 million. This year, however, it took a huge hit, $1.9 million. And with that drop came staff cuts.

Will Thompkins, director of community outreach was one of those casualties.

“I was furloughed in February through April. Today (May 1) is my first day back since then,” he told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “I will be here through the end of the summer. We’ll do our best to stabilize matters and continue to provide services.”

In addition to Thompkins, nine other staffers were let go, and seven more are to be laid off. In January the board sent letters to its supporters asking for help, saying the Pittsburgh Project was facing the most “serious financial challenge in its history.”

So far, the Project’s field trips, the middle school girls’ basketball program and the high school after-school program have been cut. The elementary and middle school after-school program received an anonymous donation and will continue through the end of May.

The summer camp, has been cut almost in half, taking just 135 kids this year, 115 less than last year. The summer service camp, where 1,800 participants at a time provide free home repair to elderly North Side residents, pays for itself so it will see no cuts.

In March, Interim Director Karen Dreyer said the Pittsburgh Project hasn’t lost support, it’s just seeing less support. All the same foundations, churches and individuals who’ve given financially over the years are still doing so. They are just giving less.

The Pittsburgh Project has been located in a former city school building at 2801 N. Charles Street since 1993. Along the way it leased the city pool across the street in the former Fowler Park, built a dormitory, and started an urban farm that supplies a farmer’s market during the summer. Dreyer cannot say yet whether they will be able to rent out the pool this year or not. The farm will be turned over to residents as a community garden.

Saleem Ghubril, who started the Pittsburgh Project as a youth minister in1985, said it was just a perfect storm of events that led to the financial crisis, but that Dreyer has been “a terrific leader” during the process.

“She steered us safely to shore over these last four months and we are heading in the right direction,” he said. “We have tightened our belt and I am encouraged that the crisis is behind us. We can still do significant work, we just have to do it differently. The new normal is a leaner, but more focused organization.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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