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.
By Jessica O’Shell —
It was a chilly, Saturday morning in Pittsburgh when thousands of students dressed in their bright yellow “Pitt Makes A Difference Day” shirts arrived to help ‘Redd Up’ the city of Pittsburgh.
“It’s about more than just cleaning up the city,” says Rachel Lauver. “It’s a way to celebrate the University’s core values.”
Last October marked the 8th Annual Clean Up project ‘Pitt Makes A Difference Day’ (PMADD).
University of Pittsburgh students and faculty members reported to the William Pitt Union Lawn, rain or shine, at 9 a.m. where they checked in and received their assignment before heading out and getting down and dirty for the day.
“My job was to run a project that made toys for animals in animal shelters,” said project leader Liam McLane.
It wasn’t long before volunteers were picking up trash, removing graffiti or helping to create one of the many blankets that would later be given to the homeless here in the city of Pittsburgh.
“You need to be in the right mental state to give the best back to your community, and I would suggest doing this by taking a few moments to realize the magnitude of PMADD. Just the idea of students from all across campus coming together to help Pittsburgh gives me literal goosebumps, but then I am a huge nerd for volunteer work,” wrote volunteer Becca Tasker on her blog.
Together, volunteers were able to dedicate close to 20,000 hours on activities dedicating to cleaning up and helping out the city of Pittsburgh and it’s surrounding neighborhood communities.
Volunteers throughout the day managed to remove trash from along the roadside and even clean up some of Pittsburgh’s wooded areas.
Each of these sites that were listed for a clean-up were assigned by the offices of PittServes and the Pitt Student Government Board. Together they designate the clean-up sites for the day by way of submission.
Each year businesses and individuals are encouraged to complete the open registration form. The only requirement is that the sites must be able to be cleaned up without the use of power tools.
Some of the this year’s sites included: Bigelow Blvd., Schenley Plaza (in front of the PORCH restaurant) and University Drive.
“Thanks for volunteering on Troy Hill today! The gals that visited today were awesome and definitely made a difference in our community with their hard work!” said Troy Hill Citizens, Inc.
This was just one of the many thanks that volunteers received.
Trish Tok also told the organization – “Thank you for making a difference! Great job!” via Facebook.
Although this volunteer project is only available to University of Pittsburgh student’s and faculty members, it was estimated that about 4,200 of those 5,000 registered reported for their assignment. PMADD is not the University’s only clean-up project, throughout the year they also do smaller events such as “Pitt Project Oakland,” which is a spring-time project that helps to clean up and give new life to the Oakland community. This helps to control the litter year-round.
This year’s Pitt Makes A Difference Day was held on Saturday, October 24, 2015, which Lauver said was great because it was also happened to be National Make A Difference Day as well.
“I love the event, I think it’s a great way to get involved here at the University … I will absolutely participate again,” said McLane.
For more information on this project or to submit a site request visit:
Video Provided by: Pitt Student Affairs
By Nicholas Vercilla
Tim Maloney was driving through Brighton Heights one day and saw someone open their car window and throw a plastic cup onto the road.
Kate Kelley was picking up litter when someone walked by and casually threw a bottle into her hedges.
Those commonplace experiences with litter in the Brighton Heights area in the North Side of Pittsburgh led Maloney to create a volunteer litter clean-up group in the area.
“I would drive around the neighborhood and see so much trash,” he said. “I decided something needed to be done.”
Maloney started the crew around four years ago, which now includes 30 members, to pick up trash in the area and create a more positive outlook on the community.
Maloney assigns a volunteer to an area that needs to be cleaned up once a month. The group also has a big spring and fall clean-up in which nearly everyone in the community goes out and picks up dozens of pounds of trash in every neighborhood in Brighton Heights. The event is called a “neighborhood blitz on trash.”
After the cup was thrown on the ground in front of him, Maloney asked the man why he just littered. The man profanely threatened him before asking a rhetorical question:
“Why does it matter?”
He took the man’s license plate number and reported the incident to the police.
Despite occasional heckling, Maloney says that the majority of people in the community are thankful for the help and will often give them support in any way they can.
Kelley also questioned the person who threw the bottle and got similar responses.
“It’s crazy. Every morning I have to pick up a bag of McDonald’s in front of my car,” said Kelley, who lives on Brighton Road.
Sembrat of Fleming Ave said for years he has been picking up litter in his neighborhood and joined the group after getting into contact with Maloney through the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation Facebook page.
Kelley has been picking up litter in the neighborhood for the last thirteen years. Karyn Pappert of Wittmer Street has been writing monthly reports called Trash Talk about the litter in Brighton Heights.
All four of them have found their fair share of weird and outrageous items. Kelley has found drug equipment while Maloney has found everything from old television sets and car parts to hair weaves.
The group is non-profit and is supported by the nearby Brighton Heights Citizens Federation.
“Without volunteers picking up trash, our neighborhoods would not look as neat or clean as it does,” said Maloney.
By Nicholas Vercilla —
Tony Deangelo and Mindy Grego were working on picking up trash at an abandoned homeless encampment when they noticed that a combination of mice, rats and snakes were living underneath.
Angelo Pampena was at one point picking up litter on the side of the road when he noticed a water bottle filled with urine.
Those are some of the most unique litter finds the workers of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation deal with while picking up tons of litter each year.
“Litter is very important to us,” said Pampena, who serves as the Allegheny County Senior Maintenance Manager for PennDot. “It’s a continuous effort.”
Pampena says PennDOT workers encounter so much refuse, that most of his crew spend their days cleaning up litter once every two weeks from April through September.
A clean-up crew managed by Deangelo and Grego picked up 250 tires and filled two-dozen truck-loads of debris during 2015. He also says that his group fills 60-90 bags of litter a day, or about 8,000 a year.
“There were days when it was pouring down rain all day and we out picking trash,” said Deangelo.
Pampena says next to complaints about potholes, litter is the number one complaint that PennDOT receives every year. He said it spends between $1-$2 million annually on cleaning litter in Allegheny County alone.
Another popular program the PennDOT helps support is the Adopt-A-Highway Program. This program allows volunteer groups to clean up a stretch of a road four times a year. Anybody can sign up at adoptahighway.com.
Mike Grace is a member of a Adopt-A-Highway volunteer group that is comprised of PennDOT employees. He says that his group meets during the spring and summer every six to seven weeks in Bridgeville on Route 50 to pick up litter.
“It’s kind of depressing,” said Grace. “I just don’t like looking at it.”
Regardless of whether the problem of litter continues to get better or worse, the people of PennDOT continue to push for a cleaner and brighter future for the city.
“They do a great deed for the community,” said Grace.
By Haley Wisniewski
John Stephen has found pounds of “river glass”, which are remnants from the former glass factories along the Allegheny River.
Some of the most bizarre items Jeff McCauley has found in and around the three rivers range from sullied stuffed animals to sporting equipment, like basketballs and footballs, to bicycles.
“Last year, we picked up 702 trash bags, which is the equivalent of about 8 tons of garbage, from the riverfronts,” said McCauley.
For 24 years, “Friends of the Riverfront” has been at the forefront of transforming the polluted waters of the three rivers into meccas of outdoor fun. Although they have retrieved tons of litter and garbage out of the rivers, those involved admit there is still much to do.
“Friends of the Riverfront” began in 1991 with the mission of developing more riverfront trails throughout Pittsburgh that would give millions of people access to the rivers in the city. One of its most enduring successes is the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which is credited with connecting neighborhoods, parks, and business districts in a 24-mile span. As more trails developed, so did the need for maintenance of them. This led to the organization of cleanups around the rivers. Today, Friends of the Riverfront partners with many organizations and businesses during their cleanups including Alcoa, Highmark, and AmeriCorps to help inform as many people as possible about the safe ways to eliminate trash.
“It’s a little sad we have to be worried about things like hypodermic needles or water bottles full of liquid that might not be water… so really we are just going through trying to pick up everything that we can,” said Stephanie Laurenza, a volunteer from Alcoa.
Steven Claves, a worker for Alcoa, volunteered his time this year and last year to plant trees and clean up litter along the trails. The work the volunteers do is very much appreciated because so many people use the trails, including Claves, who runs and bikes along them. Last year while maintaining the area around Washington’s Landing, a few cyclists stopped to thank Claves and the group he was in for their efforts to make the trails as clean and beautiful as possible for riders.
Stephen, a co-founder of “Friends of the Riverfront”, has found plenty of “river glass” in his years of working with the organization. When walking along the river, he can tell which bottles are new and which pieces of glass are examples of the industrial past of Pittsburgh.
McCauley is currently the Director of Stewardship for “Friends of the Riverfront.” He and his volunteers walk along the rivers and also take boats to clean the litter along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. During a cleanup under the 40th Street Bridge last fall, the group noticed handlebars jutting up from the ground along the river. As the boat approached the shore, they realized it was a whole bicycle with a working chain. Two volunteers loaded it onto the boat and the group continued on to search for more litter.
Two years ago during a volunteer cleanup in the North Side, a group led by McCauley was planting flower bulbs along the trail wearing “Friends of the Riverfront” vests when a lady threw a bottle on the ground two feet from where they were working and continued to walk away, expecting somebody else to throw it away.
“She had just passed three trash cans within the last quarter mile… I like to share that with my volunteers that I work with to show that even though there are a lot of people that care, there are still some people there that have a level of arrogance that I cannot comprehend and act like that when they had just passed a trash can”, said McCauley.
As a volunteer-based organization, “Friends of the Riverfront” encourages as many people as possible to attend its numerous events held each year to continue to beautify the river fronts. In 2014, over 1,500 volunteers attended 50 events throughout the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
The “Friends of the Riverfront’s” future goals include educating as many people as possible on the importance of keeping the rivers safe and litter-free and to increase the number of volunteers. To get involved, visit the volunteer page at their website www.friendsoftheriverfront.org.
“We would like to build on our strong reputation as a volunteer organization and hope to recruit both more volunteers and a more diverse volunteer base to make sure everyone understands that it takes a community effort to make sure the riverfronts are a nice and clean place for everyone to enjoy,” said McCauley.
By Haley Wisniewski —
For over 15 years, Melissa Rohm has enjoyed kayaking recreationally in rural, woodsy areas.
In 2011, she and her husband decided to paddle in Downtown Pittsburgh and were amazed by all of the trash there was in the rivers.
Since then, they founded “Paddle Without Pollution,” a nonprofit organization that focuses on eliminating trash and debris in Western Pennsylvania’s rivers and lakes by kayaks and canoes, and since their first clean-up have gotten rid of over 60 tons of trash from the region’s watersheds.
“We just couldn’t believe how much garbage was on the shores and in the water… It was pretty depressing and there was no way we could pick it up all by ourselves. So I said to David, my husband, offhandedly, I said ‘well we should organize a clean-up’… a couple weeks later he came home and said ‘we’re a nonprofit called ‘Paddle Without Pollution’ and we’re having our first cleanup in September,’” said Rohm.
Pittsburgh-raised Melissa Rohm has participated in a countless number of activities and has hardly taken her surroundings for granted. From birding to gardening, her hobbies embody the passion she has for the environment, which is further represented in the work she and her husband do with “Paddle Without Pollution.” Along with these interests, Rohm is a photographer and filmmaker. She and her husband take all of the photos seen on the “Paddle Without Pollution” website and social media, and also make films about the work they do. One of the most recent projects they have done was creating and documenting the Presque Isle Water Trail in Erie, PA.
Presque Isle Water Trail Film
Provided by Paddle Without Pollution
Kayaking has led Melissa Rohm and her volunteers to finding hundreds of unusual items. In the waters, she has found things from laptops to suitcases she was too afraid to open up.
One afternoon, Rohm was paddling in Chartiers Creek in Carnegie. When she went to retrieve a beer can out of the water, she suddenly realized she was not alone. Peering out of the creek was an alligator.
“Something caught the corner of my eye and at first I thought it was a statue or something- and then it blinked at me,” said Rohm, who became amazed by what she was looking at.
When paddling out in Chartier’s Creek, Treasurer of “Paddle Without Pollution” Jackson Shoup, found an old stretcher in the water, which he describes as one of the strangest items he has found. After fishing it out, he joked with the other volunteers that it was from the morgue and used to carry dead bodies.
As president of “Paddle Without Pollution,” Melissa Rohm and her husband David organize all of the events and coordinate getting all of the volunteers together. Rohm has been described by her volunteers as a hardworking and passionate person who is very knowledgeable about the work she does.
“When you go with Melissa, you have fun. She is such a sweet lady… and she is passionate about what we do… If anybody needs anything at these meetings or cleanups, she’s the first one to raise her hand, the first one to be there, and first one to help,” said Matt Mainhart, a member of “Paddle Without Pollution.”
Starting “Paddle Without Pollution,” Melissa and David Rohm opened the doors to new ways of getting to trash in the waters. Taking kayaks and canoes allows the volunteers to access litter that cannot be reached on land. It is also environmentally one of the safest ways to get to the trash without further polluting the air by not taking, for instance, engine-powered boats.
Laura Essel, a member of “Paddle Without Pollution,” said, “I’d describe [Melissa and David] as very passionate, good-hearted souls that care very much. And they are spreading awareness and creating awareness about the litter problem because a lot of people don’t even realize how bad it is unless you are kayaking- you can’t really get to all these places unless you are on a boat.”
Beginning in April of every year, “Paddle Without Pollution” members hit the waters ready to gather as much litter as they can. At their first event in Chartier’s Creek, they successfully removed 1900 pounds of illegally dumped litter and other trash. Other events were held all around the Pittsburgh area like Downtown and at North Park Lake. Though most of “Paddle Without Pollution’s” events are within Western Pennsylvania, they have done projects in the Susquehanna River and in Cape May, NJ. In the future, they would like to eventually have chapters around the United States.
“There’s plenty to do in Western Pennsylvania, but eventually we would like to have chapters around the country,” said Rohm.
Each year, they get about 300 volunteers of all ages and get paddlers that range from very experienced to people that have never been on a boat before. Rohm strives to continue her strong volunteer base and succeeds.
“She’s inspirational. Because it’s an all-volunteer organization, you have to be able to inspire the people to come back and do it…[Melissa and David] came up with this idea of doing it… and it’s been very successful, I believe,” said Shoup.