Three Rivers Community Foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania is the region’s only grantmaker dedicated solely to social change and justice.
The Foundation’s key issue areas include: Disability Rights; Economic Justice; the Environment; Racial Justice; Women, Youth, and Families; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues. In addition to making grants of up to $4,000 in these action areas, TRCF also makes small Special Opportunity Grants of up to $500 throughout the year for unanticipated opportunities that may arise, for which organizations did not budget.
Three Rivers Community Foundation is a member of The Funding Exchange, a national association of 16 foundations that share a commitment to supporting community-based philanthropy through “Change, not charityTM.” The Funding Exchange offers TRCF a rich source of shared experience, information, networking, and collaboration, as well as funds for re-granting to local support for national initiatives.
Most recipients of TRCF grants fall into one or more of the seven key issue areas:
- Disability Rights
- Economic Justice
- Environmental Justice
- LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Issues
- Racial Justice
- Women, Youth, and Families Issues
- Peace/Human Rights
Over the past 20 years, TRCF has distributed over $940,000 to more than 260 progressive groups in the region. With a focus on making grants to smaller organizations doing innovative work to address divisions in society, TRCF actively seeks out those working on the ground floor of change.
TRCF believes in fully equality for all, including people with disabilities. Events we fund must be held in fully-accessible locations. If you’re working on a project to benefit people with disabilities, we expect to see people with disabilities at the planning table. We expect applicants to be sensitive to the cause, by using person-first language. As people with disabilities exist in all communities, we expect to see groups working for progressive social change to be inclusive and accommodating.
Chain of Hope was a recreational and vocational center in Wilkinsburg that was established and run by mental health consumers. The group produced a 25-minute video addressing mental illness and self-help that has been shown both nationally and internationally, and distributed across Pennsylvania by the Office of Mental Health. A manual developed by COH is being used to establish similar drop-off centers in other parts of the country.
The Consumer Health Coalition instituted the program “Living Together is an Art,” to foster empowerment and learning for people with disabilities, as well as to advance public dialogue via the arts about disability rights. In 2010, they received funding to host a cross-disability conference, with sessions on health, advocacy, employment, transitions, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Greene County Network for Kids with Special Needs used TRCF funds to organize, present, and purchase equipment for an interactive disabilities fair to be brought into schools to sensitize students and educators about people with disabilities.
Let Our Voices Be Heard is a cross-disability grassroots advocacy project, housed under Mental Health America – Allegheny County. They make certain that people who use disability services are at the table to shape public policy, in addition to ensuring that democracy is available to all. They received a TRCF grant to implement a voter engagement project, aiming to increase voter and civic participation among members of the disability community.
The Working Women with Disabilities Support Group, which advocates the hiring of women with disabilities, held an awards dinner to honor medical professionals who had exhibited compassion, caring, and exemplary knowledge and behavior when dealing with women with disabilities.
TRCF sees community investment as key to creating a truly just society. When people in the community feel a sense of pride and ownership of said community, they work better together for justice. TRCF looks for applicants that aren’t just feeding the hungry (as valuable as that is) – we look for those groups that are asking why there are still hungry people in this country, and uniting them to advocate for fair treatment and accountability. At a grassroots level, economic justice can take many forms – from promoting community prosperity by increasing green space, to working with local universities to get them to cease using sweatshops to create logo merchandise, to training low-income individuals on interview and negotiation skills.
The Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh seeks to eliminate housing discrimination in Pittsburgh. Since 1975, FHP has promoted fair housing through collaborative undertakings in education, research, legislative reform, and community involvement.
Health Care for All is a citizen-based educational and advocacy organization which proposes a health care system based on universal access, comprehensive benefits, enforceable and effective cost-control measures, and removal of financial barriers to care.
Just Harvest Education Fund has worked since 1986 to educate the community about the links between hunger and public policy and to give people the tools needed to take action against hunger. Projects funded by TRCF include educating communities on refocusing city budget priorities, teaching high school students about participating in local government, training low-income women to be community leaders, documenting the extent of childhood hunger, working on low-income voter education and registration, and assisting grassroots organizations in becoming reliable, credible, and effective spokespersons to news media outlets.
For the 100 women of North Side’s Own, this home-based sewing cooperative represented an avenue out of poverty. Determined to leave the public assistance rolls, these women used a TRCF grant to survey and identify markets for their proposed products, including upscale children’s clothing and a variety of basic textile goods. After training in sewing skills, self-development and business management, the members established home-based sewing centers in their North Side neighborhood.
The Pittsburgh Anti-Sweatshop Community Alliance used TRCF funding to create educational materials to be used at workshops and events surrounding the 2006 All Star Game at PNC Park. They passed out the information to spectators, informing them of the conditions in sweatshops that are used to produce Major League Baseball items, and encouraging them to request the Pittsburgh Pirates to put pressure on MLB to end the use of sweatshops. In 2009, they received a Special Opportunities Grant to host meetings with local city and university personnel to discuss sweatshop issues, including ways to phase out the purchase of sweatshop-made materials.
True environmental justice doesn’t just seek to regulate polluters – it mobilizes people to advocate for laws banning pollutants, or reporting polluters to authorities, or banning potentially hazardous industries from even setting up. Environmental justice relies on the people who are most affected by pollution being involved in the fight to clean it up and make changes in policy. Ranging from creating sustainable communities (for instance, creating community gardens so residents can have access to fresh produce), to stopping polluters, to imparting environmentally-friendly curriculum to children in schools, environmental justice is innovative and visionary work, always with an eye to the future.
Clean Water Fund has been the recipient of several TRCF grants. The fund’s work most often benefits low- and moderate-income people and people of color because their environments are more likely to expose them to toxic chemicals. CWF educates local labor and environmental activists on the relationship between environmental and economic issues, and works to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals used in local industries. CWF also started the Pesticide Safety Organizing Project to reduce pesticide exposure and improve the health of students and teachers, and the Cumulative Impact Project to develop a comprehensive regulation ensuring that no community in Allegheny County is subject to a disproportionate level of health-threatening air pollution.
The Garfield Community Farm used Special Opportunity Grant funds to construct a hoop house (an inexpensive greenhouse), which extended their growing season by almost four months. They also received an annual grant to support their internship program, providing jobs for residents in this blighted neighborhood. In 2010, using TRCF funds, they instituted a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, providing low-cost fresh vegetables and fruit to the residents of Garfield.
The Group Against Smog & Pollution (GASP) implemented a Diesel Education and Monitoring Project in the East End of Pittsburgh. Local activists were trained on how to measure air pollution levels and to report them to the proper authorities. They also took Allegheny County residents to an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on proposed changes that would weaken the current standards for soot in the air. In 2008, their grant implemented the Pollution Patrol team, made up of residents of Allegheny County who were educated on various air quality issues and trained in using air monitoring equipment, enabling them to be powerful advocates in their communities.
The Rachel Carson Homestead Association worked in conjunction with the International Union of Painters and Related Trades DC57 to change the perception among workers and residents of the Allegheny River Valley that environmental concerns and labor issues are in conflict. They presented posters, flyers, and brochures to union members, other workers, and high school students.
Three Rivers Earth Force used a grant to support the engagement of 5th to 8th grade youth as the “eyes and minds,” as well as the “hands and feet,” of environmental change in Wilkinsburg. The students embarked on a youth-led Community Action and Problem Solving process, intended to change community policies and practices for the better when it came to environmental justice.
TRCF believes in full equality for all, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and any other category you care to add on. As members of every community, whether “out” or not, we believe strongly that community groups and organizations need to be inclusive and welcoming of LGBTQI individuals. Giving LGBTQI individuals visibility and a voice, especially in rural areas, is especially important to breaking down barriers that prevent full inclusion and tolerance.
Butler County PFLAG (Parents, Friends & Families of Lesbians and Gays) is a newly-formed chapter of PFLAG National. TRCF provided an initial grant to hold a planning retreat for leadership and chapter members, to strategize on how best to operate.
Dreams of Hope is the first lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and allies youth performing arts group in Southwestern PA. All performance material is taken from the youth’s life experiences and is written and performed by the youth. Every show is followed by a candid question and answer period with the audience.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network – Pittsburgh developed and purchased educational materials for workshops that make schools safe and inclusive environments for all students. Both teachers and students attend workshops, where they learn about the negative effects of stereotyping, bullying, and name-calling. GLSEN also implemented the “Safe and Respectful Schools Project,” which was a series of region-wide programs that prevent discrimination, harassment, and violence against children perceived to be different by their peers. In 2009, GLSEN held the first Unified for Youth (U4Y) Conference, a weekend-long event consisting of workshops and discussions on LGBT issues. It was so successful that, in 2010, they received a TRCF annual grant to expand the U4Y Conference.
Presbyterians for Lesbian & Gay Concerns used a 1994 grant to establish a speakers bureau for congregations interested in exploring the issue of sexuality and the church. These programs attempted to enlighten the minds of participants to eventually change the policy of the church to one of full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons.
Rainbow Rising, working with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Smithton, in rural Westmoreland County, provided a bi-monthly coffee house and safe space for the LGBT community, consisting of entertainment and a forum for discussion. Their 2008 grant went towards marketing efforts to build community awareness of their programs.
So much of human history (and geography) has been formed by war, that it is very difficult to imagine a world at peace. In addition, as wars tend to happen on a national or global scale, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap that local actions can’t create change and promote peace. TRCF knows that wars can hit close to home – in service members who go off to foreign countries to fight, to a neighborhood battle between two classes or populations. We must be pro-active peacemakers, on all levels – from the global all the way down to the local. There are also wars being waged against members of our own communities – from distrust of ex-offenders, to a racially-biased penal system that has a disproportionate number of African Americans on death row, to the stigma against people with mental disabilities. At a grassroots level, TRCF expects to see that applicants are actually bringing together different factions of society to work on a common cause.
The American Friends Service Committee PA Program is using their most recent TRCF grant to initiate the Racial Equity through Human Rights program in local schools. This program engages youth in discussions on human rights, racial justice, and social justice, motivating them to get involved in taking on injustice in all its forms. Other TRCF-funded projects of AFSC have included the National Guard Listening Project (about the economic and human cost of deploying troops) and Alternatives to Military Recruiting (informing students about local career, job training, and college funding opportunities that are non-military related).
Blacks United Against the War held a teach-in with TRCF funds, about the political and economic impact of the war in Iraq on the Black community. The teach-in also examined the escalation of racial profiling and the growing threats to civil liberties that the war had produced.
Book ‘Em, a books-to-prisoners program, provides special-request books for prisoners, and, with TRCF’s support, produced and published educational booklets for prisoners in Pennsylvania dealing with law, how to start your own business, and how to write grants. In 2009, they used a grant to update their Pennsylvania Action Directory, a 55-page booklet of resources for prisoners and ex-offenders.
The G-6 Billion was an interfaith group organized to represent the rest of the world not at the Group of 20 Economic Summit’s table (the G-20 Summit was hosted by Pittsburgh in September 2009). Funds were used for their march and call for peace at the D. L. Lawrence Convention Center, and an interfaith prayer vigil at St. Mary’s of the Mount on Mount Washington to mark the UN International Day of Peace.
Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, by partnering with the Clarence Darrow Foundation, used a TRCF grant to bring a unique and inspirational theater and education project to the Pittsburgh Community. The play integrated arts with community organizing to help attract, education, and recruit new members to the anti-death penalty movement.
TRCF recognizes that we are not yet living in a “post-racial” world. Racial injustice rears its head in many ways in society, and we must continue the struggle for equality and understanding differences. When the TRCF grantmaking committee sat down to discuss just what “Racial Justice” entails, this is what they came up with:
Anti-racism; reconciliation; variety; intersectionality with other issues; empowerment; advocacy & speaking out; change of public policy; equality in work, love, and play; sexual freedom; bridging of gaps across all racial divides; education; anti-discrimination; healing inter- and intra-racial wounds; reparations; societal, personal, and legal accountability; accurate and broad representation in politics, media, etc.
Clearly, that list covers a lot of ground, but more could be included, such as environmental racism, understanding history, or gentrification! TRCF looks for applicants that build bridges between different populations, try to reconcile ones that have long-standing underlying hostility, and promote unity.
The Black & White Reunion, a racially-diverse organization formed in the wake of the Jonny Gammage tragedy, builds bridges between Black and white citizens and communities in Western PA, bringing together organizations and individuals currently working to counter racism in an ongoing process of collaboration. They have held 13 Summits Against Racism since forming in 1996.
The Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) works on voter registration, education, advocacy, mobilization, candidate forums, and election protection. Their most recent TRCF-funded projects focused on media advocacy, where students analyzed media reports on youth and youth of color, and then presented their findings to media professionals, asking them to be accountable for their heavily-biased-to-the-negative portrayal of youth.
The Council of American Islamic Relations – Pittsburgh, used Media Justice Initiative funds to implement a comprehensive program encompassing workshops on racial and ethnic phobias in America and the constitutional rights of both media and citizens; a toolkit to enable responses to media attacks; and the production of a DVD and study guide by Muslim youth to be used in educational facilities.
The Latin American Cultural Union used TRCF funds to bring together local Hispanic youth to explore their cultural identity through the building of a “retablo” (a devotional art piece). Those involved in the project planned, designed and implemented the content and shape of the retablo around the theme Past, Present & Future: Journey of Hispanics in Pittsburgh.
The Partnership for Minority HIV/AIDS Prevention is a member organization that provides comprehensive, culturally-based HIV/AIDS prevention and education services in eight predominantly African-American communities in the city of Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Dragon Boat Festival’s mission is to highlight the Asian cultures in the Pittsburgh region and to promote intellectual understanding between the East and the West in a fun way. They used Special Opportunity Grant funds to help with costs associated with moving the festival from September to May, to correspond with Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and to outreach into African American communities.
Women, Youth & Families Issues
This broad category encompasses everything from promoting women’s rights, to empowering youth to be activists and agents of change, to ensuring families have voices in public policy and safe, creative spaces in which to live and play. We look for projects that actively try to include women’s voices and perspectives. We look for projects and organizations that are working on changing the root causes that allow things like poverty, hunger, and domestic violence to exist. When we receive grant applications regarding youth, we want to see youth involved at all levels of the planning and decision-making process, not just attending the event.
The East Liberty Arts Council used TRCF funds to create the East Liberty ArtPark, a place where children could develop their imaginations, in a misused piece of city land.
Greater Pittsburgh Student Voices used their funds to enhance their voter outreach and education drives through more emphasis on high school registration events and a voter education-focused Civics Fair, where students will compete with peer education, service-learning, and media production projects relating to voting issues. The Civics Fair has become an annual event. They have a network of over 100 teachers and 43 high schools, and have existing collaborations with 10 organizations and offices.
The Green Millennium Children’s Garden is a place for children from primarily economically disadvantaged families to put their energy to work. The garden provides a green space for youth to connect with the earth through gardening, and learn about ecology, nutrition, and art.
In Sisterhood: The Women’s Movement in Pittsburgh used TRCF funds to record 20 stories on video, in addition to collecting photos and memorabilia, of activists, primarily lesbians, about their involvement in advancing women’s rights in the Pittsburgh region.
New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice is the only human rights and social justice activist organization for, led by, and about women of color in the greater Pittsburgh area. They build progressive young women of color into political activists and community leaders. NVP used its grant for operating support to develop a sustainable local organization and movement for reproductive justice.