NORTH and THRIVE Helping Create Dialogue among Diverse PopulationsAug 29, 2019 09:45AM ● By Kathleen Ganster
A service of solidarity and support after the Tree of Life shooting. Photo courtesy NORTH
Neighbors helping neighbors is not a new concept, but as communities have changed and evolved, neighbors understanding neighbors has become an important component of our society.
Neighboring Organizations Responding Together for Hope, or NORTH, is an organization dedicated to helping others understand their neighbors and helping them to feel safe and welcomed. Housed in St. Paul’s Methodist Church located in Allison Park, NORTH evolved out of meetings about nine years ago with Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN).
“They were trying to form a branch in the North Hills, but after much dialogue, we realized that their particular style and focus wouldn’t work here so we formed a hybrid,” said Ron Hoellein, pastor emeritus at St. Paul’s and cofounder of NORTH.
Several key members of the community, including faith leaders representing churches, synagogues, mosques and other social organizations, came together to begin addressing the needs of the members of the North Hills community and how they could all work together.
“We looked at what we had in common and how we could work for the same things as the North Hills was becoming more and more diverse and integrated,” Hoellein said.
Asim Kokan, chairman of the Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh (MAP) located in Richland Township, was also one of the founding members. “We felt that there was no organization in the North Hills that people could go to for discrimination or similar problems, and we wanted them to have a place to go to and feel helped,” he said.
Hoellein said that NORTH has assisted with many issues “under the radar,” including working with a small shop in Wexford that displayed anti-Muslim signs and the desecration of signs at the Unitarian Church in Franklin Park. They have also facilitated meetings with schools including Hampton, Shaler, Pine-Richland, North Allegheny and North Hills as well as police departments and other key community officials to address discrimination issues.
NORTH also responded to an important request. “When the FBI approached a member of MAP to promote open and honest dialogue with the Muslim community, members of NORTH joined in the discussion,” Kokan said. “It certainly ended as an open dialogue. It didn't stop with the focus on Muslims, but included all minorities.”
In the last two years, NORTH started hosting Friendship Dinners for community members to come together to discuss pressing issues. The free dinners offer the opportunity for participants to get to know their neighbors, and have been very successful with up to 130 people in attendance.
“We can become very isolated in our lives and this helps us to confirm and understand the value and dignity of all people, especially our neighbors,” Hoellein said.
The next Friendship Dinner is Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church. Various organizations dedicated to social issues in the North Hills will discuss their work, missions and how they might address common challenges.
Another product of the Friendship Dinners are smaller groups where like-minded people work on shared issues of interest. One of those groups is THRIVE (Together Helping Refugees & Immigrants Via e-Crowdsourcing).
Pauline Spring, wife of Pastor Tim Spring of North Hills Community Baptist Church, began overseeing the organization that was formed in late 2017, when the original organizer moved. The mission is to “practice hospitality by connecting newly arrived immigrants and refugees, via crowdsourcing, with neighbors in the Pittsburgh community and helping them to be welcomed, become independent and feel cared for.”
“Although it is housed at North Hills Community Baptist Church, we wanted to reach out to the community beyond our church to form a stronger base to assist refugees and immigrants in our area,” she said.
Members of THRIVE, like the umbrella organization NORTH, are from several churches and social justice groups. Because refugees and immigrants generally arrive with only what they can carry, THRIVE collects new clothing, household goods and furniture to assist newly settled refugees. THRIVE also works with other groups including Jewish Family Community Services (JFCS) to provide emergency funds and needed goods to new refugee and immigrant community members.
When children attended Vacation Bible School at the church this summer, they also got into the act, collecting funds to make THRIVE welcome bags—backpacks filled with necessities for arriving refugee children that will be dispersed by JFCS.
THRIVE will also be sponsoring Supper Clubs, which are dinners made by local immigrants or refugees that showcase food from their home countries. The dinners raise funds to help them settle into their new communities.
“Oftentimes, women have a difficult time finding work for one reason or another that allows them to contribute to the incomes of their families,” Spring said. “Supper Clubs are a wonderful way to create cultural awareness while serving as an income supplement.”
The first THRIVE Supper Club, An Evening in Turkmenistan, will be held on Friday, Sept. 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at North Hills Community Baptist Church. The menu will be prepared by a young couple who arrived in the United States three years ago, seeking asylum from religious persecution, and a year later settled in the North Hills. Tickets may be purchased at www.thrivepittsburgh.org. The suggested donation is $26 per ticket and tickets must be purchased by Sept. 20. A second Supper Club is slated for November.
To learn more about NORTH and to get on the mailing list, email Cporterfield@stpaulsumc.org.