Pittsburgh for years had struggled to retain young people, as they were lured away by larger cities. But in another sign that this reality may be changing, five interns from the East Liberty-based charitable nonprofit Repair the World have decided to make Pittsburgh home after a year of volunteering here, citing the ’Burgh’s affordability, friendliness and livability.
Jodi Salant enjoyed the experience so much that she and another fellow decided to stay on for an additional year, this time in the role of team leaders to mentor the new cohort of fellows. Salant said she extended her fellowship because “it was a tremendous growing experience. I learned a lot about what I was interested in professionally and experienced a lot of growth, and I was excited about the opportunity to keep that going.”
Dravidi Stinett said that although she “came here for the challenge, I stayed because of the relationships and kind people,” describing how one freezing cold day in a parking lot, a stranger came over to help her clean the mountain of snow off of her windshield. “He just said he figured I could use some help. It’s the small acts of kindness that stand out here. You don’t get that everywhere.”
Bari Morchower agreed. “What really impressed me about the ’Burgh is how friendly everyone is. I love how acceptable it is to say hello to someone walking toward you on the street. Pittsburgh is big enough to remain somewhat anonymous, but small enough where you can see people you know on the street and say hello to them all warm and friendly.”
Morchower said that another draw for her was the diverse Jewish community here. “I really appreciate how much exposure I have to the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox communities within such a small distance.” In Pittsburgh, she could “walk a mile or two and hit up all three kinds of shuls. It is the people that make a community what it is, though, and as a Repair the World fellow I got a really good glimpse of the chesed in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. They were so welcoming, why would I want to leave?” Salant said she “definitely found a home within” the Jewish community.
Salant added that she “would not have found” her job without the connections and networking from Repair. “The service partner I was working with during this year … hired me. So it is entirely because of RTW that I have this job.” She also praised the Pittsburgh director, Zack Block, calling him a mentor.
All of the interns see their new jobs as extensions of their tikkun olam work with Repair last year. Stinett, who is now working in the administrative department of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said that the chance to help people was “one of the things that excited me about the job. It’s the little things I think make the biggest difference.”
Morchower, who is now the assistant director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, said that her job aims to “build bridges between different groups of people and on the building of relationships and trust through dialogue. When people take a seat at the table with an open mind and engage in meaningful conversation with one another, there is healing that takes place. It is this kind of healing in small groups that can change the way people treat each other on a larger scale, and perhaps even ‘heal the world.’”
Salant, who is about to start as the East End Housing Coordinator at East Liberty Development Incorporated, says that because it’s an “an anti-poverty initiative” she hopes for the chance to build on the philanthropy started during her time at Repair the World.
Stinett, Morchower, and Salant all said that they still keep in touch with the other fellows. “I still go to events,” said Morchower. She feels close to the other fellows because “we were in the first cohort together.”
Stinett also attends some of Repair’s events, and said, “Some of us former fellows have our coffees and lunches together, just to catch up and see how things are going. It’s one of those things, it’s such a unique experience. We’ll always meet up … just to see how everyone is and how they’re doing. We’re a mini-family.”
“We get together for drinks, for coffees or lunches for whatever, just to kind of stay in touch,” added Salant.
As for the decision to make Pittsburgh home, the interns said they established so many close connections here that they were loath to leave. Salant went so far as to say she’d fallen “in love” with Pittsburgh. “It’s become a second home. It’s a really friendly city … and I’m excited to be able to explore it.”
“People talk to each other here,” said Stinett. “It’s not a big city, but it’s not too small either, a happy medium. And there are a lot of young people doing really great things; it just feels good to be a part of it.”
Masha Shollar is an intern for The Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.