Public Allies chooses Manchester for service project


At least one lucky Manchester non-profit will get 10 volunteers this spring.

Members of Public Allies, a national AmeriCorps-affiliated service program, has picked the Northside neighborhood, alongside two from the East End, as sites to perform large-scale service projects.

Ten members, called “allies,” gave a group presentation to Manchester residents in the basement of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul on Friday, Dec. 4.

“The point of the meeting was to present what we’ve heard during our two months of community research,” said Adam Walters.

Since October, team members have walked the neighborhood, searching for the community’s strong points and talking to residents about the neighborhood’s story. They also asked residents what the community needs most and what they, as a group, can contribute.

Walters said though the Public Allies staff pointed his group of 10 toward the Northside, allies were given the chance to choose, themselves, which neighborhood to volunteer in. Members literally chose Manchester out of a hat, because Walters said they didn’t want to allow personal biases to shape their decision, especially since some allies are from the Northside.

In fact, Public Allies only admits interested candidates who have lived in Pittsburgh for at least four years and “85 percent are indigenous to the Pittsburgh region,” said Cynthia James, site director for Public Allies’ Pittsburgh branch, which is headquartered at the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.

Regardless of their regional roots, Walters recognizes that many residents might see the group as “outsiders” or harmless do-gooders, but he and other allies say they have been welcomed by many Manchester residents.

“People are willing to tell us what they think … most are willing to tell us about the community,” Walters said.

Darlene Collier, the executive assistant at St. Vincent de Paul, said it won’t be easy for the group to build strong relationships in the community.

“I think residents might view it with skepticism. It’s hard to predict. Part of Manchester is seeing them come and seeing them go,” said Collier, who is not a Manchester resident but has worked in the non-profit field there for years.

For the service project, Allies will partner with an established Manchester non-profit to fulfill a community need. Sometimes this could be showing the community what it already has.

“In Lawrenceville last year, a[n Allies] group put together a resource fair where individuals could come and non-profits were showcased to show the community what services they had,” James said.

Walters said his group has identified 10 possible non-profits to partner with so far and hopes to settle on three or less in the near future. “We’re meeting tonight about [choosing a partner organization]. I think that’s still something that we’re trying to come to grips with,” he said by phone on Tuesday.

After choosing a community partner and planning a project, the Allies will begin their project by April or May. After it is complete, they write a community report to help the non-profit or community members continue it if necessary.

In the meantime, Allies will perform smaller volunteer efforts while they are searching for the right partnership and project.

Member Jasmine Cho said she was excited to help decorate St. Vincent de Paul the next weekend for that non-profit’s gift giveaway. The foundation will be giving away close to 1300 presents to those in need.

Cho also explained the group’s asset-based community development philosophy, which helps Allies focus on a neighborhood’s best qualities — such as excess parks, its history and its powerful institutions.

James said asset-based community development is part of the organization’s core curriculum. Allies have a leadership development class every Friday, where the Manchester group interacts with two other Allies groups focused on Larimer and Garfield. They also only have a few hours on Fridays to work on their community projects.

The other four days of the week, Allies have apprenticeships at various Pittsburgh non-profits.

James said Public Allies’ Pittsburgh branch admitted 29 first-year Allies in September for its 10-month program.

The program teaches leadership and organizing skills to18 to 30-year-olds who hope to enter the non-profit sector, and through Americorps, provides them with a small stipend. Over 80 percent of Public Allies’ alumni find careers in the non-profit sector, according to the group’s website.

If you are a resident of Manchester with ideas for the group, email

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Public Allies is based at Carnegie Mellon University.

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