Brighter Futures in East Pittsburgh
Working in the design profession, it’s never hard to find inspiration. An exciting new project, a beautiful sketch, an unexpected creative connection you didn’t see coming – when we do our work well, these things happen regularly. That said, I think we all agree the greatest reward for being a designer comes when we’re able to create places that improve lives.
I believe that’s the kind of impact our recent work with the Homewood-Brushton YMCA in Pittsburgh will have for generations. We were able to renovate 6,000 sf of space at the YMCA that will house its Lighthouse Project – an after-school curriculum that teaches leadership and career readiness through media arts. The program was previously hosted by the nearby Westinghouse High School – the YMCA’s key partner for the program – and required larger, newer spaces to best serve the students.
Our design helped introduce the following new spaces at the YMCA:
- A state-of-the-art recording studio
- Large performance space for shows, plays and exhibitions
- Photography and videography skills areas
- A new flex conference room – that can be dirtied with clay and paint and then also cleaned – that also doubles as a space for workforce development training
- Kitchen and café space along with a garage that opens the building up to the outdoors
Earlier this week I had the chance to catch up on the phone with James Brown, the Director of Youth Development for the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, and he conveyed that the YMCA is recharged by this renovation. Speaking with him, there were three key things that left me further inspired by our work with the Y.
Worth the Investment
During our conversation, I asked James about his favorite part of the renovation. I expected him to say the recording studio or the urban garden, etc. He approached the question differently and told me that to him – it’s all about joy.
I’m especially proud that (this project) achieves joy in the faces of the children who use these spaces. This space, and its state-of-the-art technology, lets these kids know they are worth the investment – and hopefully that recognition and this project impacts their lives in remarkable ways.
It was an awesome response to hear from James, a person who cares deeply about the community this project serves.
Breaks Down Community Barriers
Another thing I loved hearing from James during our conversation is how this expanded space will help the YMCA, “break down community barriers.” In its previous space, the Lighthouse Project was limited in how many students it could serve. Moreover, the fact the program was hosted at Westinghouse HS made it more challenging for students in other schools to attend.
Now, with the rejuvenated space, the YMCA Lighthouse Project is welcoming new students from all over the city. James referenced the program had students from at least seven schools now enrolled. The project is connecting young people who may have otherwise never met to learn together, work together and hopefully lead the city together into the future.
Strengthening the Community
Educating students inherently benefits communities. It equips people with the skills they’ll need to bolster economies and solve problems, etc. However, this project moves beyond that level of community enrichment as the new spaces are available to the community when not in use by the Lighthouse Project. Already, the YMCA has hosted a financial planning seminar and hooked up with local music artists who utilize the music studio.
James and his team are focused on expanding this public programming. They’re pleased with the increased engagement they’ve seen to date, but want to continue to promote the space and its uses to the community. They’re also hopeful they’ll secure funding for two additional phases of the project which would ultimately bring design labs, maker space, STEM classrooms and a 75-seat black box theater to the YMCA and the people it serves.
These are by no means the only positives stemming from our work with the YMCA, but they stood out to me during my conversation with James. Our team was excited about this project when it was simply floor plans and construction documents, but we’re even more proud now that it’s defined by smiles, learning opportunities and joy.