Last Christmas, a different kind of tree was decorated with handwritten notes of thanks and praise at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA: it was the “Olivia Jones Tree.”

The tree was part of a month-long tribute to YMCA executive and Pittsburgh African-American community activist Olivia Jones, who retired after 24 years as the executive director of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA and nearly 40 years of service to the Y.

OLIVIA JONES TREE—Wish it…Dream it…Do it…Olivia’s Tree. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

A Hazelwood native, Jones dedicated herself to serving the community by working at the Hazelwood Y after the birth of her son in the early 1970s.

After spending 13 years as program director at the Hazelwood Y, the Y of Greater Pittsburgh called on her to help develop social service programs at the Homewood-Brushton branch as executive director. Jones led the Homewood-Brushton branch to become the first Y in Pittsburgh to offer social services such as licensed drug and alcohol programs, outreach programs to prevent violence, housing for addicted women and children, and gang violence and bully intervention.

Jones is also known for the relationships she forged with other community service organizations to form a strong network of support. One of 33 designated family support programs in Allegheny County and part of a collaboration of 101 agencies in the East End, the Homewood-Brushton Y helps fill in the gaps between services offered by other groups. Juveniles who have committed violent crimes are often referred directly to the branch from the Homewood Magistrate and the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education to go through the Y’s violence prevention program, “Getting Real about Violence.”

“The Y never gives up on anybody,” Jones said. “Whether people are dealing with drug addiction, poverty, violence, domestic issues or anything else, the Y never leaves you behind. When I see the people I have helped keep coming back to the Y, and I see their kids, grandkids and even great-grandkids come in to sign up for our programs, that’s my reward.”

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