The founder of Urban Impact discusses what first brought him to Pittsburgh, the roots of his organization, and the importance of male mentors in an age of increased fatherlessness.
By Mario Cosentino
Photo: Ed Glover with his wife Tammy, courtesy of Ed Glover
Long before starting the Urban Impact Foundation on Pittsburgh’s Northside, Pastor Ed Glover, a graduate of the now defunct Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee, was first drawn to the Steel City for an altogether different reason.
Going into the 1979 Major League Baseball draft, Glover, a left fielder, was one of the top prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates. With hopes of playing professional baseball, he attended the Pirates’ tryout day on June 9 in the former Three Rivers Stadium.
After faring well early in the camp, Glover was told by scouts that ‘all he needed to do was throw’ and he would be drafted by the Pirates.
While this might sound like good news, to Glover it foreshadowed the end of his baseball career: A collision with a teammate during his junior year of college limited the mobility in his arm and he knew that throwing was one skill he couldn’t do well.
In that moment, he remembered the words that a young woman had told him in college.
“Ed, right now I think baseball is kind of like your God,” he recalled the woman saying. “When that God disappoints you, Jesus will be there for you.”
With that, Glover made the decision to ‘give his life to Christ.’ He did not fully know what that meant, where it would take him, or that eventually, it would lead him back to Pittsburgh.
Passion for evangelism
When Glover’s baseball career ended after college, he returned to his hometown of Ripley, New York where he began to attend North East Alliance Church across the state border in Northeast, PA. There he met Pastor Rock Dillaman.
Dillaman moved to Pittsburgh in 1984, where he took up the head pastor position at Allegheny Center Alliance Church (ACAC) on East Ohio Street. Dillaman called Glover and asked him to lead an outreach initiative to bring more people from the surrounding Northside community into the church, specifically through the youth program.
At the time, Glover was attending Alliance Theological Seminary in New York City. It was there that he’d met his wife Tammy and realized his desire for building relationships in urban areas. Glover said he felt led to the city of Pittsburgh and accepted the position at ACAC.
“I knew his passion for sharing the Christian faith: what’s commonly called evangelism,” said Dillaman on hiring Glover at ACAC. “… I knew his integrity and his desire was to be faithful to God.”
In 1986, when Glover started working at ACAC, he made the decision to rent an apartment on the Northside in order to be closer to the people he was serving. The first years were lonely for him and his wife. Initially seen as outsiders, they lacked the trust of those around them.
“I didn’t grow up in the community, so I had to really earn the right to be heard,” said Glover.
A few years into his ministry, Glover still felt discouraged, despite ACAC starting to increase its involvement in the community. He started to question if he was making a difference. It was then, though, that he was reminded that building relationships and making changes take time.
“The Lord just took my mind and helped me to see: you impact one person, then one family, then one block; we could transform the community,” said Glover. ”That’s when Urban Impact was born.”
In 1995, he left his position at the church and based on his new mindset, created the Urban Impact Foundation. Glover found that the best way to impact families was by first reaching children.
In order to cater to the needs of children, Urban Impact runs camps and after-school programs in four main areas: performing arts, athletics, education, and options. These programs reach over 2,000 students each year.
This holistic approach provides students with academic support, specialized tutoring, the opportunity to compete in organized sports, and many outlets to explore the arts.
Options, the culmination of Urban Impact’s programming, is designed to help students transition out of high school into one of five paths: college, trade school, the workforce, the military, or ministry.
“We’re just trying to help them find that purpose, empower them to fulfill the purpose that God has given them,” said Glover.
Glover claims that 97% of the students who have gone through Options have been placed in one of the five areas. He hopes some of these children come back to the Northside or another city neighborhood to help mentor others. While outside help is appreciated, he said, he wants the community to be rebuilt from within.
Glover remembered one particular young man who insisted that he would never come back to the Northside. The man reasoned that he didn’t have a choice; he lived on the Northside because he had no other option, he said. Glover asked the young man to look at the bigger picture.
“I encouraged him. I said, ‘We need men like you to stay in the community and lead.’”
After college, Glover said, the young man did choose to return.
Male mentorship is especially important in current times, when one-person households are on the rise and fatherlessness is becoming more prevalent.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that one in four children live in a home without a father. These children are more at risk to live in poverty, drop out of high school, and go to prison.
To address the issue of fatherlessness in Pittsburgh, Glover worked with Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin and a number of other professional athletes to put on the first ManUp event in May of 2012. The goal of the event was to help men become better husbands, fathers, and mentors in their communities.
Aside from raising four children of their own on the Northside, the Glovers have opened up their home over the years to 35 children who were going through tough times.
In the same way that Glover said he was led to serve those in the city of Pittsburgh, he hopes to continue helping and mentoring children so that they too can find their purpose.
“We believe that every child, every person, is uniquely created by God for a purpose and we want them to reach that purpose.”