In the 1930s, most teenagers were not spending their free time the way young Barbara Shore did.
With the brunt of the Depression keeping many people's minds on their own problems, Mrs. Shore looked elsewhere. After attending classes at Pittsburgh's Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, she would often travel to the distressed Hill District to volunteer with immigrant families.
"Not that many teenagers were comfortable going into those neighborhoods, but I loved it," she said. "I couldn't wait for each week."
The seed had been planted when her mother worked for the pioneering nurse Anna B. Heldman at the Irene Kaufmann settlement in the Hill, now the Hill House.
"I was always so inspired by her stories," said Mrs. Shore, 89. "In high school, I volunteered wherever I could."
She was well on her way to a career in social work, a field so young it had been named only a few years before.
"I wanted to help individuals get their lives together, and I was determined that the world was going to be a better place for everybody," she said. "Not that I thought in any bravado way that I was going to be the world's savior, but I always had that sense of dedication to that sense of mission."
Over the next six decades, Mrs. Shore of Squirrel Hill pursued that mission to the utmost in Western Pennsylvania, developing social work at the University of Pittsburgh and helping an astounding number of nonprofits achieve their goals.
In recognition, she has is one of seven finalists for Most Outstanding Volunteer of the Year for the 2009 Jefferson Award for Public Service. The winner will be announced at a Jefferson Awards dinner Feb. 11 at the Carnegie Museum. That person then will be considered for a national Jefferson Award in Washington, D.C., this summer.
The program is administered locally by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with sponsorship by Highmark, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.
On Mrs. Shore's behalf, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation will give $1,000 to the Human Services Center Corp.
"She is an extraordinary champion for people who have suffered or are downtrodden and can't speak for themselves," said Karen Feinstein, president of the foundation, whose board Mrs. Shore served on from 1980-94. "She is a legend."
"She was a pioneer," said Dave Coplan, executive director of the Human Services Center Corp. in Turtle Creek, a nonprofit Mrs. Shore served for 27 years as a board member.
He nominated her for the Jefferson Award. "Had it not been for Barbara Shore, the field of social services in Pittsburgh would not have as significant an effect on people today. She is highly regarded for having brought the roots of social work to Pittsburgh."
Mrs. Shore earned bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from Carnegie Mellon University (then Carnegie Tech, 1942) and the University of Pittsburgh (1944), respectively. When her late husband Jack's career in chemistry necessitated a move to Chicago in 1944, she worked at Chicago State Hospital and the Jewish Children's Bureau. At the latter, her work to place orphaned children who came from Nazi concentration camps in Europe was a "profound experience" that showed her that even those who went through tremendous suffering are capable of pushing forward in life.
"They were determined to get on their feet to get going," she said.
After stops in Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y., the couple returned to Pittsburgh in 1950, with a budding family in tow. Residing in Stanton Heights, Mrs. Shore eventually had four children, but still volunteered extensively. In 1964, she returned to Pitt for her doctorate.
She was prepared for the workload -- she traded the child-rearing with her husband, who was "totally supportive" -- but not for the positive response of the department. Only a year into her studies, Pitt asked her to come onto the faculty. She did and was the director of the doctoral program in the School of Social Work for 20 years.
Mrs. Shore also did research at Pitt, writing more than 50 papers and co-authoring two books. Much of the research focused on the effect of unemployment on families and women in the Mon Valley. "It helped us understand that women were very struck by the emotional depression their husbands felt as a result of the steel mills closing, and depressed themselves by their children leaving," she said.
Over the next 30 years, Mrs. Shore threw herself into social issue after social issue, usually working through boards. In 1972, she helped found what would become the Persad Center, serving the local gay and lesbian community. She served in the same capacity with what is now Center for Victims of Violent Crime, the Children's Lobby of Western Pennsylvania, and also was instrumental in advocating for issues of aging, women's rights, Jewish culture and special needs.
"If Barbara Shore hadn't served on the board of your agency, your agency wasn't on the map," Mr. Coplan said.
Prior to its founding in 1982, the Human Services Center got that stamp of approval when Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerster asked Mrs. Shore to sit on a panel to explore using a closed elementary school building for social service agencies.
"She cares deeply about the Mon Valley, and she is not even a resident," Mr. Coplan said.
Mrs. Feinstein most admires the determination of Mrs. Shore when she views an injustice:
"Barbara could've led an army. She takes charge in the best sense, speaks her mind and will not be silenced. She will stay with a belief until there is some action. If there is a wrong in society she will work until it is righted."
Andrew Druckenbrod: firstname.lastname@example.org ; 412-263-1750. First Published February 6, 2010 5:00 AM