Forging Forward: Impact Matters

Forging Forward 2022 is a series of seven articles about organizations helping our region make progress on the significant issues challenging our friends and neighbors. The series is presented with the generous support of The Pittsburgh Foundation.  

The #ONEDAY Critical Needs Campaign, a day of online giving to organizations doing vital work, is on August 9: mark your calendars and plan to be part of something great!

Sustainable, constructive community change often comes from the very people who live, work and dream within their own neighborhoods. Bringing hope and security to under-resourced and undervalued communities, like Homewood, is the mission of the Build the Community Center (BTCC), a 501c3 nonprofit which has served the community for twenty-five years.

A small organization with a limited budget, the mission of BTCC is to support the residents of the communities it serves, through programming and services which lead to more equitable, sustainable, and resilient communities. BTCC serves residents who are marginalized and underserved, primarily located in Homewood, East Hills, Lincoln-Lemington, Larimer, Wilkinsburg, Belmar, and other surrounding neighborhoods.

At its inception, the organization focused on critical needs identified by community members themselves – including computer classes for all ages and counseling to support mental health and address substance abuse at a satellite site in the former St. Francis Hospital. Quickly realizing the needs of the community were diverse and ever-changing, BTCC began distributing prepared meals to its community members once a week.

As Covid shook the foundation of so many non-profits, BTCC resolved to evolve, sharpening its focus on healthy living programs such as educational webinars, a monthly food pantry, community gardens, and computer classes for people ages 50 and up.

The pandemic caused the organization to realize the need for residents to have computers and the know-how to participate in virtual programs and gatherings as well as the ability to find information that is readily available on the internet so that they could stay connected and socially engaged during such uncertain times.

“What continues to surprise me most about the neighbors we serve is their resilience despite facing difficult challenges found in everyday living,” said Monica Reese, executive director.

Some of these challenges include the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, socioeconomic difficulties, and community trauma from gun violence. Other traumas that residents face include intersectional issues like discrimination based on race/ethnicity, poverty, food insecurity, disability, mistrust of the medical community and vaccinations, and various setbacks from other adverse circumstances.

“Despite this, our community has bonded together and perseveres with the hope of a better tomorrow,” she added.

With programs like BTCC relying on community support in order to keep serving individuals and families in these spaces, Monica hopes people will recognize the need and give so that the organization may keep doing the good work.

“There is much work to do in disadvantaged communities. Foundations play an essential role in providing the fiscal support needed to assist nonprofits that often have limited resources. Working with a community focused and community-based nonprofit is the best way to effect change,” she said.

Be a part of Pittsburgh Foundation’s ONE DAY program to support organizations like Build the Community Center continue the good work of uplifting and centering the most vulnerable among us. We rise together! .

Read about other organizations doing vital work to help our neighbors in Western Pennsylvania by reading more in our Forging Forward series, presented with the support of The Pittsburgh Foundation:

Tech 25: The Future is Now

Outreach Teen and Family Services

Neighborhood Legal Services


Fishes and Loaves

Build the Community Center

Healthy Start

Janet Ward of BTC grew up in Homewood and moved away to Boston. When she came back, she started working to transform Homewood through BTC, Inc. Photo and caption by Jeff Swensen.
Melissa “Missy” Terrell, also referred to as “The Garden Lady,” is the project manager for “Planted in Homewood,” created by BTC and supported by The Pittsburgh Foundation. Terrell has transformed vacant lots on the corner of Race and Sterrett Streets into a garden that provides fresh vegetables to the area community. She would like to expand the program to replace dilapidated vacant homes adjacent to the garden. Photo and caption by Jeff Swensen.
Melissa “Missy” Terrell gives tomatoes to area resident Thelmika Griffin. The tomatoes come from the garden created by BTC, supported by The Pittsburgh Foundation, and managed by Terrell. Photo by Jeff Swensen

Get to know other organizations doing vital work to help our neighbors in Western Pennsylvania by reading more in our Forging Forward series, presented with the support of The Pittsburgh Foundation:

Tech 25: The Future is Now

Outreach Teen and Family Services



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