Three Rivers Community Foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania is the region’s only grantmaker dedicated solely to social change and justice.
Three Rivers Community Foundation (TRCF) advances social change through grantmaking, advocacy, and capacity development for grassroots and other organizations. TRCF embraces and practices Change, not charityTM by empowering grantee organizations to ensure social, economic, and environmental justice in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The Foundation’s key issue areas are: Disability Rights; Economic Justice; Environmental Justice; LGBTQ Rights (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning); Racial Justice; and Women, Youth, and Families. TRCF makes grants of up to $4,000 primarily in these areas.
Over the past 30 years, TRCF has distributed more than $1,300,000 to more than 320 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 when applicable. As people with disabilities exist in all communities, we expect to see groups working for progressive social change to be inclusive and accommodating.
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.
Inside Our Minds is a peer-controlled radical mental health collective. They host events such as trainings, mental health cafes, and the Anonymous Open Mic series. They also publish a zine, Yinz Mad?, that amplifies the voices of people with mental health diagnoses.
Let Our Voices Be Heard was a cross-disability grassroots advocacy project, housed under Mental Health America – Allegheny County. They made 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.
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.
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.
Pittsburghers for Public Transit is a grassroots organization of transit riders, workers, and residents who mobilize communities to advocate for equitable, affordable, and sustainable transportation systems, affordable housing, and public dollars going to meet the needs of communities.
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.
Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community informs residents of Beaver County and surrounding areas about unconventional oil and gas operations, particularly Marcellus Shale drilling, and educates them on how to fight for a clean environment. Their most recent TRCF grant covered operating expenses for the 2019-2020 year.
Communitopia’s mission is to slow climate change and create healthier communities. Their 2020 grant went to supporting a new Youth Educator, and to transfer their workshop content to webinar platforms. This allowed them to continue reaching students interested in environmental justice, and assist the students in creating their own projects and actions.
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 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.
TRCF believes in full equality for all, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, etc. As members of every community, whether “out” or not, we believe strongly that community groups and organizations need to be inclusive and welcoming of LGBTQ individuals. Giving LGBTQ individuals visibility and a voice, especially in rural areas, is especially important to breaking down barriers that prevent full inclusion and tolerance.
The #AMPLIFY LGBTQ Project is a blog-based community art project exploring the lived experiences of LGBTQ residents of western Pennsylvania. Grant funds in 2018 allowed them to host some in-person gatherings in the counties surrounding Allegheny.
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.
Rainbow Rising worked with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Smithton, in rural Westmoreland County, and provided a bi-monthly coffee house and safe space for the LGBTQ community, consisting of entertainment and a forum for discussion. Their 2008 grant went towards marketing efforts to build community awareness of their programs.
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 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.
Casa San Jose created Jóvenes con Propósito, a program that nurtured and empowered Latino students at Brashear High School. The students held weekly meetings, accessed youth leadership trainings, held rallies and trainings, and hosted meetings with elected officials. Their 2018 grant expanded the program.
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.
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.
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.
The Real Talk Performers created a drama and associated game called Debate Without Hate, which explores 30 controversial topics that the teen performers chose. The teens researched each issue and developed guidelines for respect. The goal of the game is to foster civil discourse. A 2018 grant allowed them to move the game to an interactive website.
Transforming the Health of African American Women (T.H.A.W.), Inc.’s mission is to improve the health and quality of life for African American women and the communities they live in. 2020 grant funds helped them initiate the Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar Health Assessment Project, which aims to develop effective, culturally-specific programs for women in those neighborhoods.