The programs of BTCC reflect its mission – “Building the Community.” In addressing the needs of residents in the communities served by BTCC, the impact of the pandemic has been front and center.

Think of the senior who often had regular visits from grandchildren, looked forward to weekly visits to her local senior community center and eagerly anticipated an annual family reunion, but due to the continuing pandemic and its critical impacts, still experiences isolation and restricted activities. Can you imagine how that senior would feel when she learned how to send emails, seek information on the internet and participate in Zoom calls with family? What would it mean to that senior to be given seeds to grow herbs in her kitchen as a new hobby?

Imagine a resident of Homewood who wants to do the right thing during the pandemic but is scared that he will be a guinea pig for government experiments (he thinks of the Tuskegee Experiment). What would it mean for that neighbor to hear from African American physicians about Covid and its prevention and treatment?

Food Pantry

Homewood (where BTCC is located) is a food desert (lacking access to grocery stores) and many clients do not have easy access to a grocery store due to financial constraints and transportation needs. Thus, BTCC’s Food Pantry distributes food and paper supplies on the fourth Saturday of each month to about 200 clients. The Food Pantry is a contracted affiliate of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Masks and helpful information on Covid and other health topics are also distributed.

In many of our communities, diabetes is too often experienced and many have been advised that they are at risk of developing diabetes. In 2021 – 2022, BTCC helped each Food Pantry family live their best life by providing each family with a cookbook geared to prevent or address diabetes. Our clients regularly express appreciation for the safety net provided by the Food Pantry. BTCC has received a small grant from the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to establish an emergency food distribution for non-perishable foods on Saturdays when the regular Food Pantry is not operating.

The emergency food pantry is scheduled to be in operation in April 2024 or before. For all food distribution projects, BTCC is actively seeking volunteers as well as funding.

Community Garden

Another key program is a community garden, called Planted in Homewood (PiH), which serves to provide gardeners (of all ages) with access to fresh foods, exercise, knowledge of gardening and tips on healthy food preparation. The Garden was not as active in 2023 as in prior years, due to the resignation of the project leader. Nonetheless, the achievements of the Garden cannot be denied and volunteer recruitment is underway for a successful 2024.

Community residents have taken increasing pride and ownership of the Garden. For example, when the Garden was vandalized, a resident and neighbor to the Garden voluntarily repaired the fencing that was damaged. He also put-up lighting on his own home, so that the Garden would be better lighted for safety during evening hours. Residents also express thanks and appreciation that the Garden is not only providing food but is beautifying the neighborhood.

The Garden engaged over three hundred persons in various activities in 2021 and 2022. Some activities were:

  • Thirty children and adults participated in a second ‘Playdate for Autism’ event. In this event certified therapists guided participating children in sensory specific garden activities.
  • Sixty-Three bags of vegetables were distributed to the community through the BTCC Food Pantry.
  • Participants from the 1st Step Recovery Home (which serves men in substance recovery) visited the Garden to experience urban gardening and learn about healthy eating choices.
  • Our 2nd annual free community dinner made in part with produce from the Garden was served on Memorial Day.
  • BTCC partnered with Grow Pittsburgh to have a group of teens volunteer at the Garden for hands on learning. We hope that the teens will become regular Garden volunteers.
  • Distribution of eighty vegetable pots to senior citizens in the community and to senior citizen residences.
  • Collaboration with Faison Elementary School (grades 1-3) in providing 50 students with bookbags that included seeds, soil, grow pods and gardening information for students.

Computer Training for Seniors

The pandemic revealed that many seniors not only did not have access to the internet but lacked the basic skills necessary to operate a computer. BTCC has offered computer literacy classes for seniors since April 2021. The classes instruct on basic skills, provide guidance in how to research the internet to access information and instruct on how to use the meeting platform Zoom. The computer classes fill a deficit that must be erased for seniors to cope with the growing use of virtual services. Further, we believe that the use of a computer can serve to connect seniors to the community despite any isolation caused by the continued pandemic and reduced contact with family and friends. Such isolation is exacerbated by the disruption of social services and other community services.

In 2021, BTCC worked with two senior citizen residences to bring computer classes on site and in person: the Bennett Place and Silver Lake Commons, both located in the Homewood-Brushton community. In 2022, classes were offered in the Homewood residences, but expanded to additional senior residences: the Fairmont Senior Residences in the Garfield area(15206 zip code) and Gable Ridge Senior Residences (Beacon Hill zip code15221).

Participants in these classes were provided with a text book specifically written for seniors. All participants were very appreciative to receive the textbooks for their continued learning and skill development. Additionally, the same classes were offered to seniors who did not reside in the senior citizen residences. Classes were held in the Fellowship Hall of Baptist Temple Church in Homewood.

Planning is underway to hold classes in 2024. Funding will be sought to support such classes.

Healthy Living Webinars

Dr. Michael Forbes, M.D. facilitated a three-part virtual health education series. The first topic that Dr. Forbes spoke about in the series was Personal and Public Health with a focus on vaccine hesitancy in the Black Community.

The second topic was a discussion of Diet, Lifestyle and Health Intersection. The final session in this series was a program exploring mental health considerations in the continued COVID pandemic. We were delighted to welcome Dr. Forbes, one of our most popular speakers, back to speak on palliative and hospice care and the differences between the two.

Participants acknowledged that they never knew the differences and felt better prepared to make decisions for themselves and loved ones. Lastly, Dr. Forbes presented on the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) which can be serious for infants and seniors, lessons learned from the pandemic and tips for prevention.

Rev. Dr. Lawana Butler, PhD facilitated a session for women only on the topic of Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence. This October 2021 program was in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Participants received community resource information, for those who may need services and support beyond the session.

A 2022 Health Screening Event and COVID & Flu Vaccination Event offered community residents flu and COVID vaccination and booster shots, as well as blood pressure screenings. Community partners for this event included Alma Illery Health Center, Bethany Christian Ministry, Allegheny Health Network and Rite Aid.

A 2023 Vaccination Event offered a wide variety of vaccinations. Community partners included Bethany Christian Ministry, Giant Eagle Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Neighborhood Resilience Project and PA United Against Covid.

Dr. Rhonda M. Johnson, M.D., MPH facilitated a session on the topic of Surviving COVID-19. Content covered in this educational program included the changing landscape of COVID-19, symptoms, transmission, prevention, and an overview of COVID variants.

Reverend Clayton Walker facilitated a session on the topic of Men and Domestic Violence. This educational program was for men only and addressed the psychosocial dynamics and cultural and gender issues in addressing domestic violence

Reverend Dr. DeNeice Welch facilitated an in-person Grief Workshop for the community with a focus on outreach to people who have lost loved ones due to community violence.

Michele Andwele, Senior Director Arthritis Foundation facilitated a presentation sponsored by the national organization on Arthritis Is Not Color Blind-Heavy Burden, Powerful Solutions for Communities of Color. The program content included a review of the following topics: common types of arthritis, diagnosis, self- management strategies in pain control and use of non-drug therapies, partnering with health care providers, symptom management and health goal setting in managing arthritis.

Operation Better Block presented on Wills and Other Important Documents as part of its outreach to community residents rising from a partnership with Duquesne University’s School of Law Pro Bono Program. An offer was extended to all participants who needed a will or power of attorney to contact the Operation Better Block for a referral.

Mr. Roland J. Criswell of Coston’s Funeral Home presented on funeral pre-planning tips and steps for planning for burial when a loved one passes. The program was very well received and many questions were asked and answered.

Gail Brown, a licensed Notary Public, highlighted important legal documents such as wills, trusts, affidavits, and power of attorney documents, and advised on notary services and the importance of a notary in the witness and signing of important documents. Mrs. Brown was accompanied by an attorney to respond to any legal questions.

For those approaching Medicare renewal or registration, Mrs. Valda Braziel, a Medicare consultant, presented at a workshop.

BTCC collaborated with the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority to promote and support its webinar on Imaging Technologies to Detect Breast Cancer.