Phil Cynar

FIVE GOLDEN THINGS: First of five posts on holiday outings that underscore the Pittsburgh region’s commitment to sustainability in many forms.

Situated in a culturally diverse neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s East End is East Liberty Presbyterian Church, an impressive house of worship that’s also known as “The Cathedral of Hope.”

For generations the church has embodied sustainability in deeply personal ways to parishioners and residents of East Liberty. Through its religious services as well as a wide range of outreach programs, it’s been a reassuring stronghold in a neighborhood that’s been up, then down, and now up again.

The Best of Times

East Liberty Presbyterian Church has been a beacon in this city neighborhood since its best of times. Flash back to the early decades of the 20th century. Commerce was booming.  The National Biscuit Company, Isaly’s, Stagno’s Bakers and Pittsburgh’s first Sears & Roebuck were among the businesses driving progress and prosperity. The community flourished, too. A destination unto itself, East Liberty boasted movie houses, theaters for music performances (one venue could seat 3,200), department stores, a roller skating rink and plenty of retail shops. From the 1930s through the 1950s, East Liberty’s holiday parades rallied residents; in fact, its 1936 Christmas Parade was declared the largest in the country, outshining even New York’s.

Mellon Family Helps Fund Cathedral-style Gem of a Church

Amid this bright and bustling environment, the Mellon family – a name synonymous with Pittsburgh and its financial industry prowess – spearheaded the church’s construction. They hired Boston architect Ralph Adam Cram and gave him the freedom to build the finest church he could create. In June 1932, Richard Beatty Mellon laid the cornerstone, and the structure rose over the next three years as a grand church in the style of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. It occupied one city block and cost nearly $4 million to construct. Rich features – stained glass, wood and masonry and one of the country’s largest and finest Aeolian-Skinner pipe organs – added to the church’s status as a gem of East Liberty.

The Worst of Times: Urban Renewal Gone Bad

In 1958, difficulties began to descend on East Liberty – ranging from commercial vacancies and urban congestion to competition from the suburbs – and a well-intentioned but ill-fated urban renewal project. The associated disruption, deconstruction and dislocation forced residents and businesses away. Yet, East Liberty Presbyterian stood solid – more of a bulwark at that time than the beacon it was during East Liberty’s glory days.

Hope on the Horizon

Various attempts were made to reconcile what had gone wrong; some were successful, many were not. But in the late 1990s, situations finally began to change for the better. Hope was on the horizon in the form of a new community plan for revitalization that would build on local investment and success to re-create East Liberty as a self-sustaining community. And that is what has happened … and what continues to happen.

“Over the past decade, East Liberty has turned itself into a healthy residential and business destination of choice,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “This didn’t happen by accident, but with thoughtful strides taken by community, business and government.”

The neighborhood’s revitalization is evidenced by a robust market place that now includes national retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Anthropologie, Home Depot and Trader Joe’s, in addition to an array of independent retail shops and restaurants – all springing up around the “Cathedral of Hope.” But the church’s mission to the less fortunate remains strong and as vital as ever. Its Hope Academy of Music & the Arts offers after-school and weekend classes to kids. Parishioners work with a local food pantry, offer support to low-income homeowners through Open Hand Ministries, and address issues of poverty and justice.

No Place Like “Hope” for the Holidays

This landmark is ours to enjoy anytime, but is especially glorious during the Christmas holidays. Hop in your car or board a bus to to catch holiday services.  A Dec. 18 Advent/Christmas Hymn Festival featured handbells and a brass quartet, followed by a rare guided tour of the cathedral.)

After you’ve fed the soul, you can nourish the body at any one of an array of nearby restaurants. The Paris 66 bistro features help from a  Pittsburgh technology start-up for those who enjoy wine but would like to expand their tastes. RhoMania’s GrailTM digital platform uses an iPad to help diners make more educated selections. Gift yourself by trying a new glass or bottle of wine, and then finish up your holiday shopping for family and friends at nearby shops, boutiques or big box stores.

It’ll be like the good old (holi)days in East Liberty. Maybe even better.

Bonnie Pfister

Happy Holidays! 2011 has been a year with lots of news about the Pittsburgh region, and as a result, all of us at the Allegheny Conference’s blog – – have been duly busy digitally promoting the people, places and events that are moving the region forward.

Even as the year hastens to its close, we’ve still got our (Word)Press fired up through Dec. 22. Before we settle down for a short winter’s nap, we’re capping this busy year with a series of special holiday blog posts – beginning Friday, Dec. 16 – that we hope you will find light in style but rich in content.

These posts highlight some of the special events, people and places of our region’s winter holidays, but go a bit deeper to show how the Pittsburgh region is building a sustainable future by drawing on its traditional strengths as well as its knack for innovation.

Initiating the series is a post by Phil Cynar. For the Holidays, You Can’t Beat “Hope, Sweet Hope:” East Liberty and the Cathedral of Hope connects the magnificent East Liberty Presbyterian Church to the hopeful story of that neighborhood’s regeneration.

Other posts appear through Dec. 22 will:

  • reveal how Pennsylvania wind energy this year is powering both iconic and new Downtown decorations;
  • explore how the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is green beyond the “reds and greens” of its Winter Flower Show;
  • discuss diversity, epitomized by the Cathedral of Learning’s holiday-festooned Nationality Rooms, as more than superficial gilding.

Please check back regularly here at and (if you haven’t already done so) sign up for automatic blog updates via RSS feed to your email account, at or

All the best for a safe and joyous holiday and a new year full of health, and peace.

–Bonnie Pfister, Phil Cynar, Ben Kamber, Keith Trageser

Tonight’sYouth At Work” gathering is an annual awards event highlighting promising young Pittsburghers who have made great strides in preparing for a career, as well as the companies that are supporting and encouraging them along their journey. Six graduates of YouthWorks’ comprehensive career development program will share their experiences from 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 at the UPMC Herberman Conference Center in Oakland.

The evening will be hosted by non-profit YouthWorks, which has offered work readiness training, career guidance and employment assistance for more than 22,000 young people in the Pittsburgh region since 1994. The event will also recognize participating employers who have provided a critical hands-on aspect to the program through on-the-job experiences. The featured speaker will be New York Times best-selling author Wes Moore, who will share his experience growing up as an at-risk youth, and how the path he chose led him to become a Rhodes scholar, White House fellow, U.S. Army captain and international investment professional. He will discuss how the right involvement in a young person’s life can make a profound impact on the decisions they make and paths they pursue in the future.

For more information about Youth at Work, contact Karen Bryant at 412-952-9704 or karen AT kjbryant DOT com, or visit the YouthWorks website.


News Flash: the Small Business Administration has adjusted its CAPLines lending program to address the critical issue of the availability of loans to fund working capital. This is incredibly good news, and addresses a need that I and others have complained about since working capital loans dried up a few years ago.

Some Background: A major challenge for growing businesses is cash flow, especially when a company closes a large order but doesn’t have the resources to fill it. There are plenty of examples – manufacturing companies need raw materials or a service company might need to hire additional workers – but the company simply can’t float the growth itself. Despite a perfectly willing buyer, a company might lose business, which prevents growth (revenue and jobs) and, in some cases, puts the company at risk.

In prior years, before the credit crunch began in 2008, companies could access additional lines of credit with the purchase order or contract as collateral from a bank. However, lenders began to pull back significantly after the housing market bubble burst, forcing even the most credit-worthy companies to look elsewhere for financing. I wrote (complained) about this in a previous blog post that highlighted the abysmal lending record of big banks to small business. To quote myself at the time:

“My hope is that, whatever the SBA does, it happens soon — there are far too many good, successful companies that are being hampered by their inability to find the resources needed to create the jobs that will help jump-start our economy.”

Fortunately, the SBA had already been developing a solution. Announced on Nov. 4, the SBA has re-envisioned the CAPLines lending program, offering high lender guarantees (up to 85 percent), reduced red tape, an increased maximum loan amount ($5 million), a maturity of up to 10 years, and a willingness to allow the borrower to use a contract as collateral. Working through local lenders (for Pittsburgh, a list can be obtained by contacting the local SBA office), the SBA is addressing a major small business need with minimal interference between the bank and the lender.

While there are still many challenges small businesses face, this is a tremendous win for growth companies across the country. The next step is for the private lenders to follow suit.

Amanda Sennert
Participants in Allegheny County's Refugee Career Mentoring Program, Fall 2011

Imagine having to flee your home and your country due to war or ethnic persecution, taking little more than the things you can carry. Yet that is the case for nearly 11 million people around the globe, according to the United Nations. Tens of thousands are permitted to settle in the United States each year, and over the past two decades, the Pittsburgh area has welcomed several hundred refugees from places as varied as the former Yugoslavia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many refugees are educated professionals who held high-skilled jobs in their home countries. But while legally permitted to work in the United States, finding appropriate employment here is often a challenge that is less about qualification than figuring out how to seek and secure employment and build professional networks in a foreign culture.

The Refugee Career Mentoring Program is working to bridge that gap. Launched in September by Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services’ Immigrants and Internationals Advisory Council, the program is a collaborative effort of various organizations in the region, including the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Catholic Charities and Vibrant Pittsburgh.

Despite being an unfunded, largely volunteer effort, the program has successfully matched 10 refugees, mostly in the engineering fields, with 10 high-quality mentors, and holds monthly training sessions catered with donations from area establishments. Mentors provide training in such basic job-seeking skills as resume writing and interviewing skills, and introduce mentees to professionals and resources in the Pittsburgh region. At a recent session I had an opportunity to walk participants through, the Allegheny Conference’s one-stop job and career awareness portal featuring nearly 20,000 open positions across the region.

The Refugee Career Mentoring Program needs engineers and human resources professionals who work in engineering firms to participate in panel discussions, sharing their insights about networking and the skills and traits that employers seek. As the program’s chair, Yvette Yescas, recently noted, “For professionals in the engineering field — particularly environmental, agricultural or chemical engineering — this is an excellent opportunity to build professional networks and share expertise.”

To volunteer or learn more about the program, send an email to yvetteyescas AT gmail DOT com, or visit the DHS website. You can also check out Yescas’ blog on Career Mentoring here.

Phil Cynar

There was so much activity underway during the second half of this year to build the workforce of tomorrow that we couldn’t spare a moment to produce a fall edition of the Pittsburgh Regional Compact Quarterly e-newsletter.  But no worries: we culled the array of activities and undertaking spanning September through December, and have highlighted a number of note in the newly released Fall/Winter 2011 edition.

Learn about how 100-plus young people from nine school districts had the opportunity to “get real” about the jobs and careers that pique their interest when they connected with real-world professionals at career symposia that have been called trailblazing.  Get the scoop on how Energy to the Power of Pittsburgh, a public awareness campaign launched in September, is getting the word out about jobs and careers in an ever-burgeoning and in-demand industry. Find out what regional educators are thinking about how energy will impact the direction of career awareness and education in the region.  And, in just about a minute, learn about how you can become a volunteer for Be 1 in a Million, the United Way’s newest mentoring program.  It’s the largest of its kind in the nation, and it’s here in Pittsburgh – connecting adults with young people who need some extra attention to make it to high school graduation (or beyond).

All this, and more, is available right here.  Enjoy your read of the latest Pittsburgh Regional Compact Quarterly.