Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh
Community support is an essential part of coping with trauma and the long healing process. Trauma is something Steve Hellner-Burris, executive director of Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, unfortunately knows too well. His father was murdered three years ago.
“What made the trauma that my wife and I went through bearable was how our family, our church and the Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh community rallied around us,” Steve said. “It was everything we could want or need. The outpouring of love was so deep that I know I’ll pay that love forward for a long time.”
It’s this idea of deeply restorative support that Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh uses to bring hope to communities.
When Steve started as executive director seven years ago, he had to figure out how to grow the organization so it could help more people.
“Our priorities had to change. To build up Pittsburgh’s communities, we had to do more than quick repair projects on individual houses. We needed to stay in a community for a long time, transforming it home by home and block by block. We needed to become part of these communities.”
Like other affiliates around the country, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh helps rebuild the homes of low-income homeowners, particularly seniors, people with disabilities, and veterans. Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh further focuses its efforts on what it calls Impact Neighborhoods. These are eight communities still struggling economically because of the steel industry collapse in the 1970s compounded with the financial crash of 2008.
In the Impact Neighborhoods, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh simultaneously works on multiple houses located on the same street or within a small area. It is a community stabilization and revitalization effort that supports both individual homeowners and the neighborhood in which they live.
Such a deep process takes investment—and time.
“We promise to be in a community for three to five years, minimum,” Steve said.
“We commit and then blanket an area with support. We do everything we can to become a part of the community.”
In order to partner so deeply with communities, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh has had to challenge the status quo. “We hire neighbors who get to learn new job skills. We buy lunch from local businesses. We fix up community gardens and public spaces. We bring in partners to provide other services that people ask for. We change the conversation with funders to put the focus on restorative support at the community level. We help people understand that our projects go far beyond making a few repairs to a house. We’ve completely transformed the way these projects work and how they’re perceived.”
“It’s really important that we listen to the community and follow their direction,” Steve said. “They decide what they need from us and where we can have the most impact. We don’t dictate. The community also lets us know when we’re done.”
It’s not just homeowners and neighbors who are changed by community revitalization.
“We constantly hear from volunteers that taking part in our Impact Neighborhood projects has changed their lives too. They tell us how helping a community helped them deal with their problems or grief simply because of the people they connected with. Being a part of something that provides hope and healing to so many people is why I love what we do.”
Watch a video on Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh's community revitalization efforts.
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