This week, our Pittsburgh affiliate opened a new residence for boys. When the Pittsburgh affiliate opened in 1992, it was named Girls Hope, serving only girls and young women in two residences. To align with the Network brand, it became Boys Hope Girls Hope of Pittsburgh in 2020. Our own Patience Randle sat down (virtually) with Pittsburgh executive director Tom Wiese to talk about this major initiative to serve more scholars.
Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. How long have you been the Executive Director of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Pittsburgh? And why do you feel your work is important, especially during this time?
I became Executive Director in June of 2012. So, I’m coming up on 8 1/2 years now. I’ve spent my whole career in the nonprofit space. My passion lies with trying to help people. My sweet spot is trying to help youth and advance their lives and their missions, and Boys Hope Girls Hope just aligns perfectly with what I’m trying to do. And I love the fact that we serve a relatively small number of young people, but in a very deep and meaningful way. It’s been a good fit for me.
Can you tell us what this means to the Pittsburgh community, the Boys Hope Girls Hope scholars, and their families to have a brand new residence for boys?
This is huge for our community. We’ve been talking about it for a while. The original home in Baden, PA, is far out from the city, and the second home in Coraopolis is also kind of out there a ways. This home is going to be right in the city. This is for a number of reasons. We did it because we want the families to have better access when visiting their sons at the at the home. It sits on a bus line. We wanted the boys to have access to jobs and internships in the city, and we also wanted to work with more diversified schools right in the city as well.
So, this, we think, is going to accomplish all those things. I think it also provides more visibility for Boys Hope Girls Hope. It’s easier not just for families but for donors and community activists to come and get a real feel for who we are and what we’re trying to do.
For 30 years we were serving girls only. Now, we want to expand on the work we are doing with girls and add boys to the mix.
That’s awesome, and in a way kind of relates to my next question. What has been the feedback locally with your recent name change and the incorporation of boys?
The Pittsburgh affiliate board had numerous discussions about the name. We want to maximize the leverage that we have as a part of the Boys Hope Girls Hope Network and the other 15 affiliates. We wanted to be consistent and recognize the brand.
Has there been some pushback? Of course there has. There’s always going to be a few people who don’t agree with you. But there are thousands that are going to agree. Some in our community wanted us to continue serving only girls. Times change, and we went out to the community and did a significant feasibility and needs assessment. Everybody came back and said the time is now to buy this home and open it for boys in the city. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to lose focus on girls. We’re going to continue to provide deep, meaningful support for them.
Can you tell us about what the process was like to prepare to open this new home? Did the pandemic effect that process at all?
We’ve had to adjust our plans several times. We bought the home in the summer of 2019, and then we started renovations in November to accommodate some requirements from the Department of Human Services. The goal was always that we were going to bring in four boys this past summer. Last June, we were going to start with those four boys and then in January bring in another four boys to meet the home’s capacity. But March 2020 came and the pandemic hit. The general contractors had to shut down for 7-8 weeks. Renovations got behind schedule. We were pushing into the summer. With everything uncertain, we delayed it. Our board and team didn’t want to rush this important step. We told ourselves there was no need to rush it since we’d hopefully be serving boys for the next 50 years. We decided we were going to take it slow.
Our team has hired a husband and wife couple as our live-in residential counselors. They moved from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh and settled into the house in mid-September. They began all their trainings and spent time over at the girls’ house to see how we run our programs and services. During that time, we got the home furnished, and now it’s ready to go.
We definitely had to change a few things around and remote learning has had its challenges. Add in social distancing. There will be a new school, new teachers, and a new way of learning for the boys. Not an easy transition, but we’re ready!
Did you have to make any final touches before the boys arrived this week?
We stocked up on food, and we bought an agency van several months ago that the couple can utilize to drive the scholars to different appointments and sporting events. Other than that, the house is in good shape. Boys Hope Girls Hope of Pittsburgh is finally in a neighborhood where we can actually be a part of the community. The scholars will have neighbors, can help out where needed, and just be a part of the real community in general. I think this is such an asset to help our scholars be better suited for life.
"Boys Hope Girls Hope of Pittsburgh is finally in a neighborhood where we can actually be a part of the community."
What are you looking forward to most about serving both girls and boys now?
Well, I think it’s going to help us in many ways. For example, I’m excited because serving both genders is broader and we can recruit from a wider net. When we talk to schools, non-profits, and community groups, we can offer a spot in this incredible program to any prospective young person, boy or girl.
What is one of the most impactful stories a scholar has shared with you about their experience at the Pittsburgh home?
One of the most powerful things that I’ve seen in my time here is a girl who came to the house at 10 years old. She lived at the house for eight years and went to Duquesne, which is a Catholic School in the city of Pittsburgh. After she graduated, Boys Hope Girls Hope of Pittsburgh got her an internship at PNC Bank her junior and senior year. They loved her so much there, that she got a full-time job. Now she’s on our board of directors. This is someone who is a shining example. Not only did she graduate from college, but she has become career ready and is doing a great job. She gives us an alumni perspective on our board about what works and what doesn’t work because she lived it. That perspective is priceless. She is one of the coolest examples of how Boys Hope Girls Hope’s model works.
Could you fill in the blank of this phrase? Now more than ever_______
Well, I think now more than ever our scholars are realizing (and for as much as they sometimes complain about it), the importance of this structure that we have in place at the homes. They realize that you get up at this time, you go to school, then you have your hour and a half study time. You have your dinner time, you study and your time to go to bed. I think they’re now more than ever realizing that this just helps them succeed. The healthy meals, the study time, the mentors we provide…all of those things which you don’t really necessarily always think about, make a huge, huge difference in their lives!