Monday, October 14, 2013

Dignity & Respect Champion Gives Voice to the City’s Unheard Stories

Growing up in Chicago, Jonas Chaney found himself bit by the radio bug at the young age of 12. “I heard the announcer, and I thought, ‘I could do that. That’s what I want’,” remembers Jonas. It took him just five years to get there. He started in radio at 17, while still in high school. Soon his passion for communications, bolstered by his Masters in Journalism, branched out to include television. It was there that Jonas hit his stride and it appears his calling as well. As the Public Affairs Director at WPXI he produces two shows, Impact and Talking Pittsburgh, both of which discuss issues of importance in the various diverse communities of Greater Pittsburgh.

“I have a very rewarding job. A lot of the stations in the country do not have a public affairs director. I’m happy to have the Position,” Jonas says. He continues, “I can delve into areas that highlight non-profits and feature stories from people who aren’t always heard from. I can tell people’s stories that otherwise wouldn’t be out there. Sometimes the news department will pick up stories I have on the public affairs shows and do further reporting on them, exposing these people and nonprofits to an even wider audience.”  Impact has featured shows on such varied topics as Muslim faith in Pittsburgh and POISE, an African American foundation focused on building sustainable black communities. Talking Pittsburgh has given voice to Community Options, an employment service for people with disabilities.

Carole Cohen was a coworker of Chaney’s at INROADS/Pittsburgh, a former local affiliate of the organization that trains and develops African-American, Latino, Native Americans and other minorities for corporate careers. She nominated Chaney as a Dignity & Respect Champion. While working at INROADS, Jonas lent his talents as a producer and editor for many projects. Carole says, “He lent his talents for these projects on his personal time. He also connected people to his vast network, helping them to further their causes. He still does that. As an advocate for many, he makes Pittsburgh a better, stronger place for all its residents. He achieves this by dispelling stereotypes, introducing people from diverse communities and showcasing the best the region has to offer.”

When asked how he feels about being recognized as a Dignity & Respect Champion, Jonas says he is “Very happy, I didn’t expect it. I recognize the importance of treating people well. It is the first step in opening people’s eyes to the need to be more inclusive, and that can only make life better for everyone. We should all see what we can do to give help and a voice to those who need it.”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dignity & Respect Champion Uses His Talents to Bring Communities Together

Long before Pittsburgh started charting high on those desirable cities lists, some visitors were aware of its potential charms. Thirty-five years ago, Richard Parsakian came to Pittsburgh from his native Latham, New York as a Vista Volunteer in its architect’s workshop.  He came to provide architectural services for low income families and nonprofits. “The idea that I could contribute and help, this was very important to me in terms of my volunteerism,” Richard emphasizes. Richard decided to stay, and now he uses his study of architecture to provide event designs for nonprofits.

“I believe in the organizations I do work for. I believe in trying to help those organizations survive. They need funding and I have a talent that can help with that funding. I use the resources I have to help people,” Richard explains.  A former board member of Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, he still does work for them on a project by project basis. Other organizations that have benefitted from Richard’s  vision include PrideFest, Pittsburgh Dance Council, Persad Center, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Dance Alloy, Attack Theater, Quantum Theater, Planned Parenthood, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and the Ellsworth Avenue Street Fair.

Larry Leahy, DDS, a friend who nominated Richard for this award, says, “Richard is truly inspirational and is a tremendous asset to the city. He works endlessly for the betterment of all communities in Pittsburgh. He is tireless in his organization of countless benefits and fundraisers.”  

The self-described “center of my universe” is Richard’s vintage fashion store, Eons. He says, “It seems that everything I do emanates from the store. There I meet the people from nonprofit organizations when they stop in for clothes and costumes for an event. It starts with that and I’m glad to supply further help.”

“I am moved to receive the Dignity & Respect Champion award,” Richard says. He continues, “It’s an unexpected honor. It parallels my thinking in how I treat people and how I want to be treated. I like to think of myself as a supportive person for people who don’t have a strong voice. As an openly gay man, I have always been there as a voice for the LGBT community. Now I’m also acknowledged as an advocate for women who need access to healthcare, kids who are coming out, and the arts community.”

Richard believes that treating people with esteem can help bring communities together, regardless how separate their subcultures might seem.  He describes how he saw a manifestation of this at his popular “Divas of Drag” event, “I looked out into a mixed audience and saw performers whose talents had been hidden in bars interacting with a new audience. There was a community of people having a great time in a non-threatening environment, a wonderful atmosphere of performance and acceptance between gay and straight cultures.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Believing in the Power of Art to Find Common Ground

Dignity & Respect Champion Informs Art with Socially Conscious Themes


Not many people realize their mission in life during their childhood years. The transformative power of art is a concept that Janet McCall grasped early in life. “The power of art enabled me to make sense of the world, deal with stress, process emotion, experience joy, and figure out who I was,” Janet explains. “As I got older I saw that so few of the other kids had that orientation. It became obvious to me that art is a birthright we should all have access to. My goal is to use my communication skills to make more people aware of the importance of this.”

As the Executive Director of the Society for Contemporary Craft, Janet strives to bring her inclusive view of art to people of all walks of life by exhibiting the work of artists from all different backgrounds. She says, “The purpose is to bring together a group of people to respond to the works of art and initiate a dialogue.”  In her time as director, Contemporary Craft has had installations dealing with gender identity and bullying, a Latino exhibition that emphasized art as a shared language, and an Alzheimer’s themed exhibition.  The upcoming exhibition Enough Violence : Artists Speak Out is slated for September.

Sarah Ceuvorst, a co worker at Contemporary Craft , who nominated Janet McCall, says, “Janet strives to encourage diversity of opinions and perspectives. Borders are crossed and preconceived notions and stigmas are overcome through the universal power of artistic expression under her leadership. “

“Receiving this award is an honor,” Janet states. She furthers, “I try to get people thinking how much of our artistic heritage has been informed by many different cultures and is a product of their shared journeys. This reflects a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Keeping the Dream of Activism Alive

Sixties youth culture possessed so much political awareness that at the time it looked like everyone under eighteen was committed to a populist cause. Once the sea changed there were some people who maintained their idealism and continued their work in this area. Tracy Soska is one of these people. He is currently an Assistant Professor and Director of Continuing Education in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.

As a teenager Tracy marched against hunger and was an antiwar activist. He went to Pitt but dropped out to become a VISTA volunteer. When his tenure there ended, he went back to Pitt for social work study and realized then that he could make a career out of his passion—helping people and communities achieve their best.  Tracy recalls, “I couldn’t believe I could actually get a degree in something I enjoyed doing”.

Today, he is still doing it. He is involved in community organizing, social administration, workforce development, collaboration and coalition building, and university-community relations and partnerships. At the University of Pittsburgh he heads a program on Living Learning Communities. There students get hands on experience in community development. They can apply what they learn in an academic setting to real world issues the neighboring communities are facing, while employing respect and consideration for these communities.

Tracy explains the mutual benefits for the students and the community, “Too often a university can be criticized because we come in as experts, we do our studies and then leave. That’s changing. The community has knowledge. We can partner effectively with them and build long term relationships.”  He continues, “Students are learning and developing skills, and communities are learning from us. Simultaneously, students are getting that sense of partnership and collaboration. They are respectful of the expertise that the community has. We teach our students that and hopefully that’s the way my work is perceived in the community.”

Tracy was nominated as a Dignity & Respect Champion by Dr. Larry E. Davis who in his endorsement of  Tracy states, “Tracy Soska is not content to keep his work purely academic. He is more than just a scholar, he is an active member and a driving force of many neighborhood organizations.  Tracy’s hands-on approach not only demonstrates his commitment to the ideals he teaches, it inspires the students to look into community work themselves.”

When asked how he feels being recognized as a Dignity and Respect Champion, Tracy says, “Trying to emulate dignity and respect is one of the primary tenets of social work. I do that as a professor, but I also think I try to live that as a person.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dignity & Respect Champion Empowers the Poor by Employing Them

Ian Rosenberger is the founder and CEO of Team Tassy and Thread. Both of these organizations were founded in 2010 in the aftermath of the Port-au-Prince earthquake where Ian, who was a volunteer at the time, had an epiphany that working with the poor will be his life’s work. Ian met Tassy Filsaime in Haiti.  Tassy had survived the earthquake but was dying of an operable tumor on his face.

Ian formed Team Tassy, and after successful fundraising, brought Tassy to Pittsburgh for life-saving
surgery. The Team Tassy non-profit organization continues in its mission to realize the inherent power in every person to help end global poverty.

A second organization founded by Ian, Thread, takes trash from poor neighborhoods and turns it into
useful products while creating jobs. Ian says, “I’ve been all over the world, and the two things I see most are poverty and trash.” Thread is a for-profit business.

The two organizations Ian Rosenberger founded work in tandem, operating under the same core
philosophy: the biggest problem we face as a species is multidimensional poverty and ending it is entirely possible in our lifetime.  To do this, we need to invest in the poor to create as many dignified, sustainable jobs as we possibly can. Team Tassy prepares people for employment. Thread processes recycled plastic, which will be turned into finished goods and, in turn, creates jobs for Team Tassy families.

Vivien Luk, Ian’s co-worker who nominated him as a Dignity & Respect Champion, says, “Ian sees the potential in training and employing the poor. He sees the possibilities for recycling waste, what people would never deem as an asset.” Ian, in turn, feels humbled to work with the poor people of Haiti.

He says, “The most satisfying part of my work here is giving someone the chance to stand up and be
employed, especially someone who was down for a long time.” Ian feels he is “morally accountable
to pursue a course of action to help the poor.” He explains, “Once you see poverty like this and
acknowledge it, you have a responsibility to try and help eradicate it.”

When asked how he feels being recognized as a Champion of Dignity & Respect, Ian says, “I am very moved. I feel it’s a very cool thing and I appreciate people looking out for the work that we do. It isn’t what you do that counts, it’s the impact that you have that matters.”

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dignity & Respect Champion: Marsha Jones

When Marsha Jones, executive vice president and chief diversity officer at PNC, started her career as a woman of color in financial services three decades ago, she was a trailblazer.
Every one of Marsha's sales management executive positions have been a milestone for African American women in the financial services industry. "There are countless experiences throughout my career where you notice that something needs to be changed, you ask why it is the way it is, and how you can make it better. You then proceed on a path to do that," Marsha explains. 
Marsha was recruited for her position at PNC three years ago from Merrill Lynch in her native New York where she was involved in multicultural business development and recruiting. She was ready to take her hard earned life lessons and apply them to a new organization where she could make the climb a little easier for both the employees and the organization. "Timing has a lot to do with everything, she said. "We are now on the brink of the impact demographics are going to have, it was natural for me to assume this position and take advantage of the opportunity to make a difference." Marsha continues, "I had the ability to initiate a program from the foundation up and connect it across the entire enterprise, to connect the dots within the organization."
Vibrant Pittsburgh CEO Melanie Harrington, who nominated Marsha, said, "It's not easy to come to a new city, new organization, and a new role to lead a change management initiative. Marsha has done that and in doing so she is positioning her organization as a workplace that constantly strives to treat its employees in an exemplary manner."
The program that Marsha promotes is an educational focus called "Creating a Culture of Inclusion".  This training program increases awareness of cultural differences and promotes an environment where employees can appreciate contributions from a diverse group.  "The bank is experiencing generational challenges and this program in diversity training has helped the workforce better understand its constituents." Marsha says. She continues, "We also recognize that in order to be successful we have to be able to develop relationships with those in emerging demographics, to demonstrate how we can be a good business partner for them and be able to meet their needs as customers ."
Marsha spent 28 years at Merrill Lynch, and when she started there were not many role models. She says, "I was the only woman, the only African American woman. I asked myself, if not you then who? What can I do to make a difference and be able to change that? My success demonstrated that women and people of color can be successful in a financial institution and that success was a result of the inclusive environment that was created in every position."
Appreciation and regard for others is a way of life that was ingrained in Marsha Jones early in her professional life. She explains, "The ability to treat individuals with consideration has enabled me to be that much more successful in developing relationships with a wide range of people. An inclusive environment breeds innovation, among other benefits. You are encouraging employees to give their best, and they feel an obligation toward the successful outcome of the organization. They are part of it. They have a stake in its success." 
When asked how she feels being recognized as a Dignity & Respect Champion, Marsha says she is "Quite pleased, recognition is always nice on behalf of the work, it is gratifying."
 Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact and promotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Dignity & Respect Champion is... Claire Walker!

Women's History Month recognizes and pays tribute to the commitment of women who worked hard to make change for the better. Dr. Claire Walker, recently retired executive director at the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation (PCGF), continues this tradition of commitment and is being recognized as a Dignity & Respect Champion for it.
Her history as an advocate started with her early work as a social planner for the Reading Model Cities Agency. There Claire learned of a problem where people went to jail simply because they couldn't afford bail. After organizing a mock trial and helping residents to learn the facts, a new program to assist those in need grew from her efforts.
During her tenure as the research director at Health and Welfare Planning Association in Pittsburgh, she developed the first day care voucher program for children with parents on welfare that allowed them to integrate with those not in the program. Helping children in situations like these to become less invisible sparked a calling for Claire Walker. "My passion comes from the recognition that we all start as children and everything important happens there," Claire said. "What happens to children affects their adult lives and all too often their voices are quiet and unheard."
As policy director for the state Department of Public Welfare Office of Children, Youth and Families, she led the initiative to national compliance with welfare regulations. Due to changes, Pennsylvania children were on the verge of losing money unless the Commonwealth created new standards. Claire worked to rewrite these rules to complement the new regulations and safeguard that the department upheld the very best way they knew how to treat the children. She then created the services to do that. To ensure that these rules became reality, Claire became the executive director of Family Resources.
This position led to her time at the Child Guidance Foundation as executive director. Her task involved discovering the issues that no one discussed about the children of incarcerated parents in Allegheny County and being the children's voice in these issues. Between 12 and 15 percent of Allegheny County children will grow up with a parent in jail during their young lives. Approximately 8,500 of these children currently live separated from one or both of their parents due to incarceration.
"At a time when people were not talking about how hard it is to grow up when your parent is in jail and you are alone, Claire found a calling to rally the world around. For the past ten years, she worked tirelessly to identify potential solutions that would ultimately change lives in Allegheny County," said Charlotte Brown PhD., President of Board of Trustees of PCGF, who nominated Claire as a Dignity & Respect Champion. "Claire has dedicated her professional life to advocating for children." 
As their advocate, Claire worked hard to change the system by examining how the losses affected them and then gave the research to those most poised to assist. "The greatest joy I have is seeing those in the legal system honor their words and respond by working to help the children," Claire said.
Charlotte Brown comments,"Claire is a special person. She is a listener, a learner, a wise person who makes a difference by taking action and making things happen. Thanks to her dedication and vision, thousands of children in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and ultimately the nation have the promise of a brighter future."
Reflecting on her prestigious career as a voice for the displaced and invisible children of incarcerated parents Claire states her belief that, "We're fellow pilgrims on this planet. Everything I've done, even that which was most serendipitous, is an accomplishment. At each point I've said that I'm so priveleged to be able to do this." 
Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact andpromotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.