5 years and counting…. 5 years ago on July 17th, 2008 I arrived in Pittsburgh. If you’re interested in what brought me to Pittsburgh and how I ended up here, you can access my blog at http://chadinpittsburgh.blogspot.com . I’d love to describe my journey over the last 5 years and what it’s been like for a suburban white male in his late forties to immerse himself in an urban setting. I thought that when I came to Pittsburgh that I’d be helping with Urban Impact’s “Play Ball for Kids” program. I’ve always been in some sort of money raising activity and this seemed to be a fit that would work perfect for me. Plans were different. I ended up in our athletics program and specializing in getting our youth plans for after high school and even helping them pick up the pieces of their life when their post high school plans didn’t work out so well.
I remember the first time I was involved in a Program. Jeff Hartings and I were tasked with creating a basketball team for our fall basketball league. This was to be Urban Impact’s first team in several years. I was tasked with picking up some of the guys and Pittsburgh’s roads were built with very poor planning and before they came up with a grid system. Armed with a cell phone and a couple of phone numbers I was able to contact one of our youth. I’m still in contact with this young man and we laugh about that phone call and the difficulty I had in following his instructions to his place. Once I picked him up he took me into my first visit into the projects called, “North View Heights”. I had just seen the movie “Training Day” with Denzel Washington and driving into NVH reminded me of the scene when Denzel drove into the hood. To be perfectly honest, I was scared as I was in unfamiliar territory. It’s a funny memory now as I’m a known person in projects and I drive through it with my window down, waving at people I’ve gotten to know over the years. I’ll hear “coach Chad” yelled from youth and parents whom I’ve gotten to know.
The fall season came and went. I was tired and wondering why did God call me to this place? If I didn’t see another high school student for the rest of my life, that would’ve been ok with me. I got a phone call a few weeks later from one of the guys who played on our team. Most of the guys were now playing on the high school basketball team and they had a game coming up. He asked me if I’d come to the game. I figured he just wanted me to take him out to eat afterwards. Sure enough, I show up at the game. I’m walking towards the stands past the team as they were warming up. The boys stop warming up and come over and give me a hug and thank me for coming. I just about cried. I’ve spoken to some of them about that years after the event and they said it was like the CEO or an NBA coach walked in the gym. They were completely excited and I had read their feelings for me wrongly.
There wasn’t a night that didn’t go by that one of the guys didn’t call. Mostly they needed a ride here or there but every now and then they just wanted to talk. I tried to take them out of their comfort zones. If we went out to eat, we’d leave the North Side. Instead of going to the mall, we’d go to Philadelphia or Niagara Falls. We’d play 20 questions in the car. For almost a year if you’d were in my car, you’d hear one of the guys say…”Who am I thinking of?”
My second year here, most of the original guys I met were graduating from high school. My relationship with them had grown exponentially. I was able to help them get into college and more importantly, I was able to help them see that they might live past the age of 21. This had a compounding effect. Other youth whom I’d met and were part of Urban Impact’s programs came to me for help. I soon became known as someone who could help others with Options in life.
As time went on and some of my young men failed at college they realized that they could come to me without judgment and I’d help them dust off their failures and restart. Companies that were part of our Play Ball for Kids program started offering what I call “living wage” jobs. With the help of donors we were able to get jobs for some of these young men. For some of these guys, they are the first ones in a couple of generations to have a steady job at a decent wage and benefits. The employers have been pleasantly surprised as they thought they were doing a favor by giving these young men jobs (they were) but these young men are some of their best employees and they come to me when they need to hire more.
This year some of my young men will be seniors in college and I look forward to them entering Master’s programs or the workforce. Some guys are just letting life go by, not unlike myself at their age, but they are beginning to see that there is hope for them out there.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in Pittsburgh has been the violence. I’ve lost count of all the young men who have bullet wounds. I’ve been fortunate to only had one youth I’ve known personally die. I watched young men in high school get incarcerated for various reasons. It’s been hard. It’s a different life in the hood. One of the young men I know is currently paralyzed in the hospital from taking 4 bullets. I was driving with some of his friends the other day and they were talking about how you can’t hang out in the same place all the time. We were outside of the hood in suburbia and I pointed to a place that looked like a nice place to hang out and I told them that they could hang there 100 years and never get shot. They shook their heads but the thought was almost unbelievable.
What do the next 5 years look like? I have some guesses but I’m sure I’m wrong. I’m just hoping to follow God’s leading and enjoy the ride.
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