The Rust Belt is full of many forgotten towns with bordered up structures as if the former dwellers just up and left everything behind. These towns have stories and though some of them and their lack of motivation to embrace change push people away, Braddock is rather resilient. A town of approximately 2,100 people with a median income of a little over $20,000 is building a new identity and looking to the people to help lead that transformation. In a town with so much blight and rich history and as someone who’s lived outside of PA I get asked why did I come back? Why do you volunteer?
Most people grow up in their neighborhood, complain about all its faults, and move away the first chance they get. Some stay and hold on to the glory days and then you have people like me who get up and find out how to help change the neighborhood. It wasn’t until I volunteered for AmeriCorps in my neighborhood that I realized although I am one person, I can make change. I mentored teens who weren’t thinking beyond high school. One young man told me he wanted to be a pilot and proceeded to say “but…” and I stopped him and told him that it wasn’t far-fetched as young men and women need someone to tell them their dreams aren’t far-fetched. My mom told me I could be anything growing up and so far I’ve been a flight attendant, executive assistant, mentor, editor, customer service rep…the list goes on. I took her literally and I’ve become so many things because of it.
If you don’t like your neighborhood’s current identity, there are probably others who don’t like it either. Sure, complaining is easy but the hardest solutions are always the most rewarding in the end. Sometimes getting started is as simple as spending a Saturday picking up trash in your community or donating your old bag of clothes to a local charity. If enough people do the little things, they become big things!
I grew up in the Braddock Library so when I saw that the Downtown Library needed mentors, I signed up. I mentor kids because if I get one kid to fall in love with words like I have, then I’ve done my job by paying it forward. Recently, I spent the day helping at The Science Center because as a woman in technology I know the importance of fostering girls’ curiosity in science and technology. I joined the Community Day/Civic Plaza initiative because I wanted to meet more people interested in bettering the community. I am in no way looking to save the world. I’m just out to make the community better than I found it and maybe create that feeling of the golden days in the present so the next generation can have something to be proud of. It doesn’t take much to get up a go but it takes a special type of person to stay and change things. My neighborhood is facing issues many are across the country but we have to find a way to embrace the past while being flexible enough to foster the future.
The past isn’t coming back so let’s not paralyze the future by living there.