Something is always happening at SHIM

South Hills Interfaith Ministries expands to better meet community needs

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – South Hills Interfaith Ministries plans to increase its impact on the South Hills by expanding its leadership team.

The organization recently announced the promotion and hiring of three key individuals.

Current staff members Ilene Potashman Cohen and Courtney Macurak will serve as director of philanthropic engagement and director of programs respectively, and Linda Lewis was hired as director of finance and administration.

The changes came on the heels of an 18-month feasibility study conducted by the organization along with its board of directors, community leaders, and stakeholders to identify ways to better address the evolving needs in the South Hills region.

Results showed that the needs for services in the South Hills reached far beyond the organization’s current capacities.

“Suburban poverty continues to rise and has been doing that since 2005,” executive director Jim Guffey said. “As we recover from the Great Recession that came upon southwestern Pennsylvania, struggles in the suburban setting continue to be a challenge for families that live here in the South Hills.”

As the recession settled in, he said many educated, middle class families that were doing well may have lost one or both jobs. While expenses may not have changed or increased, revenues possibly decreased.

One of the challenges of addressing suburban poverty, Mr. Guffey said, is the “silence aspect” of families not wanting others to know that they are struggling, which can make reaching out for help difficult.

A growing senior population in the South Hills and the need for better public transportation were also reinforced through the study. Transportation can be a barrier, Mr. Guffey said, as a car is vital in a suburban setting and can add to expenses.

As part of their strategic plan to address these needs, Mr. Guffey said they looked at their current structure from a business standpoint to ensure they are maximizing their support and offering the greatest return on investment.

Current programs were also evaluated and new programs are being considered as well.

Going forward, he said they are looking to partner with other organizations to make a greater impact on handling basic needs.

A new communications and branding strategy will also launch later this month that will increase the organization’s social media presence and better communicate the needs of the community.

He said there will be strategies going forward to grow and meet those needs once they are communicated.

The organization currently provides assistance with food, clothing and utilities and a variety of family support programs such as financial literacy classes, an early childhood program, a summer day camp, and a family support center.

Once these basic needs are met, Mr. Guffey said the goal is to improve self-sufficiency.

“Bad things happen to good people all the time, so we need to make sure that we’re having those conversations with people on how they go forward,” he said.

Mr. Guffey said that over the last 15 years the organization has also carved out a niche of being a go-to agency to support a growing foreign-born population. Many come to the South Hills already struggling, he said, so the organization assists families to the best of its abilities, including educating them on customs, laws and language.

The nonprofit organization was founded in 1958 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018.

“We’ve made it through the first 50 years and we’ve met a lot of needs in the community,” Mr. Guffey said. “We need to be positioned for the next 50 years, and this restructuring will allow us to be far more efficient and far more effective as we look across the spectrums as to how we deploy the resources that we have.”

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