Our featured charitable partner FOCUS North America is consistently amazing us with their dedication to the working poor and underserved communities across the nation. Recently FOCUS Pittsburgh was featured in the news for spear-heading a pilot program called the “Trauma-Informed Community Development Project” in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

Led by the Rev. Paul Abernathy, director of FOCUS Pittsburgh, the pilot effort will be the nation’s first to try a block-by-block approach at healing an entire neighborhood.

Trauma-Informed Community Development grew out of research that found underlying causes of violence, homelessness, joblessness, poverty, addiction and abuse in exposure to chronic emotional stress and trauma. The premise is that if people can get help digging out from trauma and start to heal, they can get their own traction to improve their relationships, the well-being of their block and what happens on it, Rev. Abernathy said.

“Trauma is the most challenging problem we have” in the African-American community, he said. “We are seeing people get jobs and lose jobs, get housing and lose housing, not because they are stupid or bad but because they are wounded. We want them to be healthy enough to sustain opportunities.”

The project has $250,000 in funding from the McAuley Ministries Foundation, the grant-making arm of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, and Neighborhood Allies, an advocacy nonprofit in community development. Subsequent blocks will be chosen based on the interest of residents and the availability of funding.

He said the seed was planted in him when he was eight months into a tour of duty with the Army in Iraq in 2003.

“A psychologist talked to us about post-traumatic stress,” he said. “He said this [combat] experience might make many of us unable to reintegrate into society. I got into the ministry when I got home and realized something terrifying: that when people walked into FOCUS needing IDs, clothes, bus passes [and medical care], they also talked about horrific pain in their lives. I saw so much more pain and trauma in my own neighborhood than I saw in the Army.”

Residents include immigrants from Jamaica and South Sudan and people who have lived their entire lives in the Hill.

For the full story on what the project’s next steps are and the in-depth background on the mission, please read this amazing article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


To learn more about the important work FOCUS North America is doing in cities nationwide please visit their website. To donate directly to the FOCUS Pittsburgh Center please click here.