Northside program assists “at-risk” teenage girls


Sixteen-year-old Northside resident Erica and her daughter Jamya are two of about 160 girls who can call themselves “Gwen’s.”

Sitting in a common room with her seven-month old daughter on her lap, Erica talks about her friends who have passed through Gwen’s Girls, a nonprofit residential program for at-risk teenage girls in Pittsburgh who are assigned to the program by Community Youth Services and the courts.

Erica goes through the list of names noting that some are in college, some are in graduate school, others are professionals, a few own houses and all seem to be doing well and successfully raising their children, who like them were once considered “at risk.”

“They’re like a part of my family,” said Erica.

Erica hopes to move onto CCAC’s nursing program after she graduates high school and plans to remain close to her current home at Gwen’s Girls.

Though the headquarters of Gwen’s Girls is in Point Breeze, the residential program is in the Northside, where 13 girls, many of whom are pregnant or have children, live.

Gwen’s Girls helps residents focus on finishing school with tutors and childcare programs, gives them a safe place to live and offers them personal mentoring and career services.

Gwen’s Girls was founded by Gwen Elliot, a retired Pittsburgh Police commander. Elliot started the organization because of the hardships she saw young girls facing in her years of service, specifically pregnant teens she saw trapped in impossible home situations.

As well as being one of the first women police officers in the City, Elliot also helped transform procedures for working with victims of abuse. She founded Gwen’s Girls in 2002 to help at-risk girls, ages 8-18 five years before her death in 2007. In her obituary, Elliot was called “a trailblazing champion for the rights of women.”

Gwen’s Girls Executive Director Lynn Knezevich called Elliot a visionary, who is missed very much within the organization.

Even four years after the founders passing, Gwen’s Girls continues to grow and thrive, working with other local organizations like The Children’s Museum and other nonprofits to expand their services.

Gwen’s Girls received a donation this month from Eaton Electric of $11,000. Dave Tallman, who is vice president of Eaton and also serves on the board of directors at Gwen’s Girls, which he believes is helping to “break the cycle of abuse and neglect.”

“One of our values is to support the communities we work in,” said Tallman. “Our company is very involved.”

Knezevich said donations are very important, especially after recent state budget cuts and the money will go towards several concrete needs for the facility.

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