Ruth Ann Dailey: AGH still in good standing on North Side

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What amazes me most at this point in life is how difficult it is to get anything done.

Not on the individual level, although some days it does seem I'm fighting mostly myself to finish a task or reach a goal. I tend to have 19 things going at once and, consequently, complete nothing as soon or as well as I'd like.

But at least I'm just an enemy of one.

No, what amazes me is the effort and time required to get something large-scale done -- something that requires human beings to communicate and cooperate, to get along in the sandbox. If everything we ever needed to know was indeed learned in kindergarten, we seem to regularly forget it all as adults.

And still we occasionally succeed. Sometimes we succeed despite all the conflict, sometimes we succeed because of it.

Listening to the speakers at a celebration Thursday night renewed this train of thought. It was the 25th anniversary of a partnership -- unique in Pittsburgh and apparently pretty rare across the nation -- between a hospital and the community in which it stands.

I could have written "in which it sits," but Allegheny General Hospital really does "stand" on the North Side, its old central structure like a beacon amid the neighborhoods, especially when it's lit up at night.

Over the years, though, its tower has been at times not so much a beacon as a magnet for criticism.

Or so I hear. I didn't live in Pittsburgh 25 years ago, so it was fun and enlightening Thursday to listen to politicos, medical officials and community leaders reminisce about the challenges that prompted them to forge this long, successful partnership.

Back then, people viewed the hospital as the North Side's "800-pound gorilla," one speaker said.

Mention of its helicopters' flight path was a reliable laugh line all night long -- a sure sign of bygone brawls.

Rather than just fight, though, hospital leaders and North Siders (whose ranks included Tom Murphy, Dan Onorato and Darlene Harris) launched a partnership to work together both on their conflicts and on community-building programs.

Apparently "working together" still involved lots of fighting. Loud fighting. Or that's the sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes defensive humor heard Thursday -- heard often, really -- about "how we do it on the North Side."

And all those leaders past and present attended the ceremony to mark the 25th annual renewal of the hospital-community partnership.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Mayor Bill Peduto -- both non-North Siders -- were also there and made brief remarks that were well-received, especially one by the mayor hoping that the partnership model could be replicated throughout the city.

The nonprofit community development corporation that forged and renewed this partnership is the Northside Leadership Conference. (Necessary disclosure: I am, for now, vice president of its board.)

The NSLC includes 14 neighborhood organizations that exist to promote economic revitalization, public safety and beautification. So -- further disclosure -- as president of my local group, I was a signer of the new AGH partnership agreement.

These roles are how I know firsthand how directly the partnership benefits our communities.

Among other things, it provides donations to our Spring Garden food bank; an extraordinary holiday party for needy children; subsidized closing costs for AGH employees who buy homes here; health programs like the annual "Hearts in the Park" walk; free bike helmets for kids; scholarships; job fairs; and vendor fairs -- the list is long, varied and impressive.

But the bigger lesson, learned over and over again, is how much human investment -- of time, money and energy -- is required to make good things happen and how often surprising benefits can emerge from conflict.

Setting aside the solitude of writing to participate in such efforts has been eye-opening. If I could go back and rewrite columns from years gone by, I would -- with greater appreciation and thus softened criticism for the people behind endeavors big and small.

(Except for politicians, of course; the power they wield, and the indistinguishability of what's serving from what's self-serving, generally make their undertakings fair game.)

Just last week I encountered what's alleged to be an old Chinese proverb: "One generation plants the trees, another enjoys the shade."

You never know when you sign on to something big whether you'll be around to enjoy its success, but you "plant the trees" anyway.

The generation that comes after you has to do its own planting, too, because trees don't last forever. They last longer if we tend them -- feeding and pruning and remaining vigilant.

It's why we encourage ourselves by celebrating anniversaries of every kind -- preferably with speeches, a party and delicious cake. Perseverance is the ultimate, unsung virtue.

Ruth Ann Dailey:

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