Brian R. Foltz, executive director of Allegheny Youth Development, has been an instrumental part of the Northside nonprofit since its beginnings, making it into the successful program it is today. Chronicle intern Margaret Singer recently sat down with Foltz to discuss his life and his work with at-risk boys.
Margaret Singer: What do you find most rewarding about your work Allegheny Youth Development?
Brian R. Foltz: The fact that we work with kids and seeing these young guys grow up. The way AYD works is that they start in sixth grade (11 or 12) and most stay in the program until they graduate high school. A few of the program alumni even come back to work here. Some of these guys have been involved for more than a decade. That’s what’s the most fun. Nonprofits are absolutely unique because you’re in it for a mission and you get to see lives change instead of making profits. It’s a business unlike any other.
BF: I guess it’s mainly the administrative side of it. Raising money gets old. I would rather work with kids and do programming, but you have to spend a lot of time doing things you don’t like to do so you can do the things you do like to do. It’s part of the job. The budgets and personnel matters get tiresome, but it’s part of running a business.
MS: You graduated with a degree in journalism, but now you are working as the head of a non-profit. How did you decide to make that career change?
BF: I moved to Pittsburgh after finishing college in 1985. I started out in advertising and public relations. I was working at an ad agency downtown and I also did PR for the city until 1992. Then I started volunteering with Big Brothers and Youth Opportunities Unlimited (on Charles Street). I worked with kids on a camping program but also wrote some grant proposals and newsletters. Eventually they asked if I would work there full-time. The day they offered me that job was also the day I got laid off by the city. An administration had come in and brought in all new people. It was kind of a coincidence that the two events hit. When Youth Opportunities Unlimited went out of business in 1994, I started Allegheny Youth Development from the remains of that organization.
MS: Do you still write, either professionally or for your own benefit?
BF: Neighborhood-sized organizations don’t have full-time development directors. We do our own writing or find somebody who can. Fifty percent of my job is writing. Grant proposals, thank you notes, brochures, everything. I’ve been able to do a good job here because of my previous experience but I also can hire a bookkeeper to handle things I’m not well versed in. I never would have guessed this is what I’d end up doing. When I worked Downtown, I had a sports car and a Brooks Brothers suit, but it wasn’t that much fun. When I made the switch, my salary dropped nearly half, but it was a good deal in the long run.
MS: How have things changed since you founded AYD?
BF: On the optimistic side, things are much better than they were in the mid-‘90s. They were some of the worst years on the Northside. Teens were killing each other on the streets, a lot. It still happens but not like it was back then. Gangs had a stronghold on the Northside. I hope that we’ve played a role in that along with other organizations. The community and nonprofits have pulled together to change some of that, along with law enforcement. What hasn’t changed, and maybe has gotten a little bit worse, is that kids are more materialistic than ever. That’s what they are driven by now, chasing the material things in this world thinking it will improve their lives but not changing what’s inside of them. The young men we have worked with may not have gotten rich, but they have rich lives. That is the uphill battle we’re fighting now.
MS: Where does the “Christian-based” aspect of AYD come in?
BF: An awful lot of the changes we make that can be measured are not faith-based. You can tell a student has improved his grades, or he is graduating when he used to be at high risk for not making it through high school. Those can all be measured in practical ways. What changes inside you someone can’t measure, but that’s where you see the evidence. One of the things AYD has done, and what our alumni should be most proud of, is that every one of these young men is being a real man to their families. A few may not have stayed on the narrowest path, but they are much different than when they were being raised. They’ve worked to break the cycle.
MS: What is your favorite part of working on the Northside?
BF: I have lived in Brighton Heights since 1986 — a quarter of a century on the Northside. What a great community it is, totally unlike any other area of the city. I grew up in a small town on a farm, with a barn and horses, everything, in a town of 800 people. Rural Warren County is a totally different planet than Pittsburgh, but the Northside is like a small town. People work together. Even with what we faced in the early ‘90s, the drug problems and gangs, the people pulled together. In a city that’s already neighborhood based, we’re neighborhood based times ten.
MS: What activities do you like to do in your free time?
BF: I golf and I like to putter around my yard at my house. I also cook. I like to take my dog to Riverview or the Commons. She likes to swim in the lake down there. I used to backpack a lot many years ago.
Margaret Singer is currently working toward her master’s degree in journalism at Point Park University.