The Future of the Nonprofit Sector is Bright!

Robert Morris University’s Nonprofit Leadership Association students represent a bright future for our sector! These students spent their spring break with the Bayer Center exploring our vibrant sector, and were inspired by the work that each of you does every day. Our own Gwen Michaux, Bayer Center work study extraordinaire,  sheds light on her experience at boot camp…

NLAThis Spring Break I had the opportunity to meet passionate leaders in Pittsburgh’s nonprofit sector. RMU offers a nonprofit boot camp each spring break through the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. The boot camp involves visiting different nonprofits in Pittsburgh and meeting the wonderful people who run them. This experience gave me and nine other students the ability to discover and explore the diverse nonprofit sector.

Our week started off at the Children’s Museum where we got to meet with Elise Oberdick, a RMU alumna. Elise gave us a tour of the innovative museum and explained their mission, “Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh provides innovative museum experiences that inspire joy, creativity and curiosity.” As Elise took us to the Makeshop, the Attic, the Garage, etc. I could truly tell that she loved where she worked and what she did. After our tour we were able to explore the museum ourselves. One may think that this may not have been exciting for a group of twenty-somethings but they would have been mistaken! We had a blast seeing what the Children’s Museum had to offer.

The next stop for the day happened to be in the museum at the Saturday Light Brigade, “the show that gets your weekend off to a good start.” There we met with Sarah Siplak, director of programs, and Rob Gray, technical director. The Saturday Light Brigade works to let the voices of youth be heard through there radio show and other outreach programs they run.

The last nonprofit we visited Monday was the Northside Christian Health Center where we met with the charismatic executive director, Floyd Cephas. He spoke to us about the things he learned through his work in nonprofits. He guided us with advice and explained to us why it is he does what he does, and why others in the field do what they do. His advice resonated with us and also made us laugh, he sure was entertaining.

The next day, we started by touring the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild with Maria Anderson. There we saw the numerous courses they offer to both youth and adults. They showed us their facilities for arts and technology, jazz, culinary, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and horticulture. They offer various programs to integrate unemployed community members into the workforce. It shocked me and the others how large the nonprofit was and all of the things they have been able to accomplish from one vision.

The next stop in our boot camp was at the City of Asylum where we met with one of the founders, Diane Samuels. She welcomed us into her awesome home and explained how the nonprofit started and how it has grown. Diane showed us the houses that gave refuge to writers and the beautiful art on the outside of each one. We were lucky because we also got the opportunity to see some of Diane’s art she was working on. She really is such a neat woman and what she is doing in her neighborhood is truly transforming her community.

Tuesday ended with a tour of the Pittsburgh Project with Joanna Deming and a brief meeting with Will Thompkins, the executive director. On the tour we learned the vision of the nonprofit and the programs they offered to better their community such as helping elders fix their homes, after-school programs and summer programs. At the meeting with Will Thompkins he shared with us the wisdom he has gained. He was a very kind man and I was grateful  for his advice.

Wednesday we started off at the Bayer center meeting with Peggy Outon, the executive director. We discussed what we learned through the boot camp and focused on the importance of funding a mission and how grants can be used to accomplish that. This was our focus because we then walked over to one of the largest foundations, the RK Mellon Foundation. There we ate lunch and “The Lisas”, Lisa Kuzma and Lisa Reed, explained to us the process and answered our many questions. We also did an activity to better understand what questions they ask when they are looking at grant requests. I understood how difficult it would be to decide which nonprofits to provide with grants and that their jobs at the RK Mellon Foundation may not be easy but are very important.

Our boot camp week continued with a walking tour of downtown art through the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Laura Zorch guided us and showed us how a piece of art can change the atmosphere of everyday life and make people think differently because of the piece. My favorite installation was Tony Tasset’s Mangnolias for Pittsburgh. His purpose for the piece was to, “to create a little magic, fairy-tale moment in the daily hustle and bustle of Downtown Pittsburgh.”

We ended our Wednesday by doing a service project at the Bayer Center. The service project involved preparing the mailing for the center’s Great Debate fundraiser. The Great Debate will be April 14 and is going to discuss the $.26 less to the dollar that women make compared to men in the nonprofit sector. I never knew so many envelopes could be prepared, stuffed, labeled, and stamped in only an hour’s time!

For our last day of boot camp we explored the East End, starting with PULSE. At PULSE we met with Chris Cooke, the executive director. Their mission, “PULSE cultivates a community of young servant leaders to transform Pittsburgh.  We invite talented university graduates to partner with Pittsburgh nonprofits for a year of service and leadership.” Chris explained the awesome opportunity PULSE offers and provided advice on how to be successful in the nonprofit sector. Chris is very down to earth and created an environment where we learned from him and where he could learn from us.

Kingsley Association was our next destination. Laura Brocklebank, the development manager, gave us a tour of the facility that they provide to their community. On our tour we got to meet their energetic yoga instructor, who made me and the other students eager to attend a class of hers. It was really interesting to learn about the plans that the Kingsley Association had to create a sustainable community.

The next nonprofit we visited was the Center for Creative Reuse where we met with Erika Johnson, the executive director. Their purpose was to provide materials that can be reused for art. Their space was filled with interesting pieces and you could not step in one direction without being inspired to create something new out of what they provided.  Erika was very welcoming to us and provided us with summer internship information.

Our last stop of our nonprofit boot camp week was at the Animal Rescue League where we met with the executive director, Dan Rossi. We got to see all the lovely animals they provided shelter for and got to understand the purpose of the ARL. Dan discussed with us the plans they have in place to create a new building for their growing nonprofit and what that would involve.

This week provided an abundance of insight into the ever diverse nonprofit sector of Pittsburgh. We got to learn how each leader was different and yet were all leaders worth following. We learned that there is not one way to lead but rather the leadership styles are as diverse as the many nonprofits in Pittsburgh. Each nonprofit we met with had employees who were truly passionate about the work they did and the mission they focused on. This week showed me that there is a wide range of opportunity for young people like myself in the nonprofit sector and it made me extremely excited to become involved in the sector!

Thank you to all the nonprofits that opened their doors to answer our questions and show us your wonderful missions and passions. You inspired me.

Gwen Michaux, Class of 2017
Nonprofit Leadership Association student
Bayer Center Work Study