Above: The Northview Heights Family Center is due for a facelift. (Photo by Kelsey Shea).

by Kelsey Shea

The Northview Family Center looks closed. It’s tucked away in the woods on Hazlett Street on an overgrown lot, and the building’s entrance shrouded by a rusty awning.

But despite its dilapidated appearance, the center provides critical services to 50 families in the Northview Heights neighborhood, runs an emergency food bank, connects people to social services and holds community events in an area of great need.

“One thing that’s said about the center a lot is that from the outside it isn’t that attractive,” said Renita Freeman, project director at the family center.

Together with a group of leaders from across the Northside, the family center plans to improve the exterior of the building in the hopes that it will draw more people to the programs hosted there.

Next week members of Northside Next Leaders, and 10-20 volunteers from Sam’s Club will spend four days removing the old awning, cleaning the building’s interior, weeding the lot and prepping the outside of the building for an artist who will paint a mural depicting the history of the neighborhood on the edifice of the family center.

“The idea is that we do all that we can to clean up and work to make this place approachable,” said Alex Bard, Northside Next Leaders member and programming and events manager at the New Hazlett Theater.

Northside Next Leaders is a program of Coro, a comprehensive program for leadership succession in Pittsburgh that trains community members to implement change in their communities

“We’ve come together from all these different places, so our strength is our network,” said Bard, who works with leaders from across the Northside.

Volunteers will be at the center August 20-23 from 8-4 p.m. doing clean up and prep work.

The idea for the project began when Bard and other Northside Next Leaders members met Freeman at a retreat.

“We saw her incredible passion for the Northview Heights community and the incredible need of the center, and we decided that we wanted to serve up there,” said Bard.

Freeman has lived in the Northview community for more 40 years, and hopes that the exterior clean-up will help restore the center to the asset that she remembered it was when she was a child.

“When I was young it was very different than it is now,” said Freeman who recalled large community events, boy scout and girl scout troops meeting at the center and families coming to the center for fun as well as resources.

“I’d like to see more programming…this is an important step” she said.

The project kicked off when Northside Next Leaders won a catalytic community grant from the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development for the project.

“The idea is that they’ve given us some funding, and we want to spend it in a way that brings more people to the program,” explained Alex.

Soon after, Sherwin-Williams came on board and agreed to donate the paint for the project.

The clean-up is only phase one of the Northside Next Leader’s project. They hope to remain active in the Northview community and bring more programming to the center.

“We’re looking at a 2 year project,” said Bard.

On August 25, the newly painted center will host a community back-to-school event with food, games, a DJ and free backpacks for children returning to school.

“We just want families to come down and bring the kids so they can talk, catch up and listen to the community,” said Freeman.