By Zandy Dudiak, Communications coordinator
Since their arrival in Pittsburgh on December 21, 1843, the Sisters of Mercy have focused on the importance of education. Not only did they open St. Mary’s, a private academy on Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, within a year of their arrival here, but went on to establish and staff many schools, including Carlow University, which opened as Mt. Mercy College in 1929—during the Great Depression.
Health care was the Sisters’ other focus and they founded and operated Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh from 1847 until 2008, when the hospital merged with UPMC health system. The proceeds from the sale resulted in the formation of McAuley Ministries, the grant-making arm of Pittsburgh Mercy. The foundation continues to serve the communities historically served by the Sisters of Mercy, focusing on a number of grant-making priorities that reflect the Sisters’ passions, including education.
What does that have to do with pandemic learning hubs? A lot, especially given the foundation’s 13-member board of directors includes six Sisters of Mercy.
Over the last several years, McAuley Ministries has awarded a number of grants to ACH Clear Pathways (ACH), a nonprofit organization committed to providing enriching and new experiences to youth and families through visual and performing arts. The grants included support for afterschool and creative summer camp programing. Among those grants was $200,000 to develop a site in the Hill District as a permanent location for the program.
“McAuley Ministries has been investing a lot in education, in general, but especially in afterschool programs and learning outside school,” notes Executive Director Marisol Wandiga Valentin.
ACH was just settling into its new home at Kaufmann Hall on Centre Avenue when the pandemic hit. Not only did they pivot the way they provided afterschool programming, but also when the schools closed, the organization identified the emerging crisis—parents needed to work but wanted their children to remain engaged in education.
ACH responded by becoming one of the 50-plus organizations to provide an Allegheny County Community Learning Hub, a child-care option during remote schooling that grew out of a partnership between the county, Allegheny County Partners for Out-Of-School Time (APOST), and Trying Together. To facilitate the program, McAuley Ministries provided a $25,000 grant through its COVID-19 Phase II Emergency Operational Support initiative.
On weekdays from September through December 2020, 24 students had access to one of four certified teachers to help with assignments and were connected to teachers at their schools through e-learning. When the school day ended, the children participated in fun activities during the afterschool program. The program was a win-win—all the parents of the kids who participated maintained their employment, and all the students had passing grades during the first and second grading quarters. During that time, 84% had attendance rates above 70%.
ACH was not the only educational program to benefit from McAuley Ministries’ COVID-relief grants. The foundation also:
- Partnered with Beyond the Laptops to supply 200 laptops to students in the Hill District, Uptown, and West Oakland.
- Provided support to Hug Me Tight Childlife Centers for supplies to comply with guidelines for re-opening the child care center.
- Awarded grants to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies needed for out-of-school time partners to re-open.
- Awarded grants to Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) and Carlow University to support students who require food, rent, technology, and tuition assistance to continue their education during the pandemic.
McAuley Ministries plans to launch virtual community conversations this summer to help with an analysis of strategic priorities going forward. The pandemic shed light on different ways to deal with learning. Remote learning might be an alternative to snow days. Children with anxiety who need behavioral health support might benefit from a more intimate setting and learning hubs provided such setting similar to our Child Partial Program model, Marisol says.
“It helped to see new opportunities in terms of community schooling and afterschool programming,” Marisol says. “Our traditional way of building schools does not fit our society’s current learning needs.”