Pittsburgh artist and silversmith Adina DeRoy-Stouffer teaches a class in jewelry making, but the students are not making the beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces for themselves. Instead, they give all their bracelets, necklaces and rings to Dress for Success, an organization that “promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire.” There, women seeking to better their lives and find positions are able to add a striking piece of jewelry to their go-to wardrobe.
The apprentice jewelry makers learn new skills and feel good about helping others. The instructor gets satisfaction by sharing her knowledge and knowing the pieces produced go to a good cause. The recipients appreciate the gift, enhance their professional style and, hopefully, their ability to get work. It’s a win all the way around.
This class was offered by GIFT, Giving It Forward Together, a nonprofit organization created by Pittsburgh small business owner, Rochel Tombosky. Students 50 and over take a class or workshop and then, in a variety of ways, use the product, skills or inspiration generated by the class to help an established non-profit organization or a group needing that skill. That is the concept of GIFT.
Tombosky explained that “instead of just writing a check to your favorite non-profit, when an individual creates something … and ‘gives it away’ there is a bigger impact on the sense of well-being for all.” She said class evaluations showed that “not only did students develop skills, but they developed camaraderie, built friendships, and gained knowledge. It gave each person a deeper sense of feeling good about giving.” Additionally, private citizens can learn about the good work that is being done within our own city by nonprofits that they may never have heard of.
GIFT began this past summer with four classes: a writing workshop, a photography class, a class in Jewish philosophy and the jewelry making class. Students paid a small fee to attend; classes were held in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside and Oakland. Tombosky emphasized that “classes are for the vibrant, hip and active 50+ population and are taught by top notch professionals.”
Ellen Roth, business owner, author and instructor for the writing workshop, sees GIFT as “promoting lifelong learning.” Her students were “eager to be there.”
Suzy Cohen took the philosophy class. Cohen said she was deeply moved by the text-based class she attended, Toward a Meaningful Life. She explained that unlike some of the other activities for Pittsburgh senior citizens, “This is a program that touches people’s lives.”
GIFT’s fall semester will run Oct. 11 to Nov. 15 and has expanded to the South Hills, partnering with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s South Hills Community Engagement Initiative.
The fall semester offers six new classes: organic soap making (to benefit Our Clubhouse); expressive painting (to benefit GIFT’s Launch Party on Nov. 15); dog training (to benefit the Western PA Humane Society); basic Jewish learning for women (to benefit the Aleph Institute, in memory of Phyllis Timmins); a South Hills class in holiday cooking with well-known former Steelers dietician Leslie Bonci (to benefit Family House) and a puppet-making class (to benefit Friendship Circle).
Bonci is excited about teaching this class. “I love the idea of giving back. Food is comforting. Home cooked meals tend to alleviate stress.” Unlike many approaches to cooking that focus on what you can’t eat, her class will focus on what to include in your diet.
Cohen described the puppet-making class. Older people will learn to make puppets from videographer and puppet maker Dovid Taub. They will then donate those puppets to Friendship Circle, an organization that helps children and young adults with special needs. Friendship Circle will use them to create puppet shows in their new theater for an audience of families, friends and across the community. As Cohen puts it “GIFT gets the entire community involved,” because it brings together people from different age groups, and has them involved in each other’s lives.
In addition to the classes, GIFT also includes an initiative, called Just Say Shalom, to reach out to homebound seniors. Volunteers make home visits, and, in effect, bring the classes to them at home. In the process they build personal relationships with the homebound.
Cohen sees Just Say Shalom as an opportunity for the “young oldsters, those in their 50s and 60s, to reach shut-ins, people who get warehoused or are isolated.”
For more information or to register for classes, teaching or Just Say Shalom, go to giftpgh.org.
Simone Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.