Grant targets relationships within black families

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 A $250,000 grant from Highmark will help the POISE Foundation support four organizations in a one-year pilot to focus on strengthening relationships within black families.

The grant is the latest in Highmark’s long-term support of POISE, a 30-year-old foundation that has funded programs devoted to youth, workforce and community development and arts and culture.

“In the early years, these were small grassroots grants,” said POISE CEO Mark Lewis during a recent news conference. “But the negative issues our communities experience have not declined. A few years ago we decided to focus our efforts on the core issue: the family.”

Karris Jackson, the foundation’s vice president of programs, said funding from most sources typically supports work with either youth, single mothers or incarcerated fathers. “This is an effort to bring it all together to do comprehensive work toward transformation.”

POISE’s beneficiaries are Amachi Pittsburgh, Melting Pot Ministries, The Center that C.A.R.E.S. and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Teen Mothers-Young Fathers program.

In 2012, Highmark devoted $100,000 to help POISE initiate two new projects to strengthen black families and to create a model that can eventually sustain itself. The latest gift of $150,000 completes that commitment, which runs through next July.

Ms. Jackson said POISE expects the results will warrant more support to keep it going: “We know you can’t shift the paradigm in one year.”

Highmark is POISE’s largest corporate supporter, said Shirrell T, Burton, POISE’s director of development. It also gets funding from the Hillman and Richard King Mellon foundations.

“POISE serves as an anchor for organizations that don’t have the capacity they have,” said Evan Frazier, senior vice president for community affairs for Highmark Health. “We recognize there are barriers to employment and health care [among black families] that other people take for granted.”

Ms. Jackson said POISE has done surveys in which families yearn for “creative space and opportunities for unity, conversation and spending time together.”

Brenda Lockley, executive director and CEO of Melting Pot Ministries, said her organization has focused on families for the past nine years in Baldwin-Whitehall, South Park and Bethel Park, where blacks represent 2 to 3 percent of the population.

”They have come into school systems that do well, but often our kids arrive with deficient skills,“ she said. ”They also come into a culture that is unprepared for students from urban environments.“

Melting Pot Ministries decided to intervene with after-school programs and parenting workshops. They hire teachers and psychologists to work with black children brought together from all three school districts. The children get academic tutoring and counseling to build relationships and resolve conflicts peacefully.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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