By Candice McDermott —
When Myrna Newman, Executive Director of Allegheny CleanWays, arrived with the DumpBusters crew in Beltzhoover to help with a cleanup of illegal dumping in September 2015, she did not expect an AK-47 to be the first item to be pulled out of the pile. It was the fourth weapon found by Allegheny Cleanways this year.
“I helped out with the DumpBusters at a dump site in Beltzhoover. For dumpsites it’s not just litter; there are TV’s, car parts, glass, and renovation debris,” said Sam Weaver, PULSE Fellow and North Side Project Coordinator of Allegheny CleanWays.
PULSE (Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience) is an organization “committed to cultivating a community of young servant leaders to transform Pittsburgh.” PULSE was founded in 1994 by John Stahl-Wert, who observed the need for new service opportunities for young adults who have a history of active involvement in postgraduate voluntary work. While PULSE still has ties and connections to Mennonite churches and universities, it is financially and managerially independent and includes participants from different backgrounds that adhere to the mission and values of PULSE.
“To some extent we are an intermediary – organizations come to us and say, we want to get “x” done, and they view PULSE as a great opportunity to find university grads that are extremely talented, show great leadership ability, are service minded and that can tackle large-scale projects or build capacity internally for these organizations,” said Chris Cooke, Executive Director of PULSE.
Since its inception, over 200 PULSE participants have contributed some 350,000 hours of service to more than 100 Pittsburgh nonprofit organizations.
University graduates are invited to partner with Pittsburgh nonprofits for a year of service and leadership, some of these non-profits include, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh, ARTEZ the Batch Foundation, AMIZADE Global Service-Learning, UPMC, 90.5 WESA, and Design Center.
Non-profits such as Allegheny CleanWays and Friends of the Riverfront have partnered with PULSE to gain friendships that can aid in litter control and illegal dumping projects.
“It allowed Friends of the Riverfront to increase their capacity, we were able to reach a broader range of area to work,” reflected Jeff McCauley, Director of Stewardship at Friends of the Riverfront.
Allegheny CleanWays engages and partners with community groups to remove dumps and debris from vacant lots, greenways, streets, and riverbanks. Although sometimes cleaning up these sites may involve finding hidden illegal drugs and weapons, such as the AK-47, Allegheny Cleanways continues to tackle sites throughout Greater Pittsburgh with the help of PULSE.
“I personally have known a lot of PULSE participants. I also knew Chris Cooke, so when we were looking to start expanding, PULSE was a good way to reach our capacity,” said Myrna Newman, Executive Director of Allegheny CleanWays.
Those interested in becoming a “PULSER” can apply and must be selected to become a fellow. Once selected, participants are paired with a non-profit in the Greater Pittsburgh area where they serve for 11 months receiving job training and skill development.
These recent graduates live in one of the seven houses that are owned and operated by PULSE. Three houses are located in the East End and four on the North Side.
“It’s a very unique service program in that there’s a large group of us living in one city, but there are smaller communities where we live together,” said Samantha Weaver, 2015-2016 PULSE Fellow.
Along with the non-profit service projects, PULSE Fellows are a part of the “Beautify Our ‘Burgh” program, where PULSE has adopted a block on Negley Avenue, between Penn and Stanton. A minimum of four cleanups occur every year, where fellows and community members are invited to address litter issues on that block.
“Our hope is to focus on how we measure our impact in the lives of young adults, in the lives of non-profits, and in the lives of neighborhood residents,” said Chris Cooke, Executive Director of PULSE.