In my 50 years of living in the South Hills, I’ve seen many changes. Our community has faced challenging times and prosperous ones. We’ve grown older. And we’ve welcomed neighbors from across the world.
Through this change one thing has remained the same: the people of the South Hills step up when there is a need.
Building a new home
After practicing law for decades, I took some time in my early retirement to be with my family. A few years in, I was ready for the next chapter of my career and my life. That’s when a friend suggested I get more engaged with South Hills Interfaith Movement (then South Hills Interfaith Ministries).
This was 1997. SHIM and our communality were in transition. I joined the team as the executive director right when we were moving the organization to a new space – a new space that had a giant hole in the floor, chipped paint everywhere, and the need for a tremendous amount of work.
The South Hills stepped up.
During my first couple months as SHIM’s leader, I was overwhelmed by the number of people from local congregations and businesses who flooded our new building with extra hands, expertise, tools and donations. Truly, SHIM could not have survived this transition without the help of our community.
Adapting to our community’s needs
As my tenure continued with SHIM, and our community continued to change – we welcomed Bosnian refugees, the need for our food pantries drastically increased, and there were local kids in need of educational resources – we knew we had to adapt.
Again, our neighbors saw us through.
We began discussions to enter the Prospect Park community where many of the Bosnian refugees were settling. The Baldwin-Whitehall school district immediately became our allies and partners when they approached SHIM to help identify the needs of the community and work together to develop solutions.
Our food pantry used to be located at the South Hills Church of the Nazarene. We talked as a group – with staff, volunteers and our partners – about how we could make our food pantry and clothing experience more dignified. We wanted to make our food pantry a place where people felt welcome and safe.
We recognized that people in our community needed support to become self-sufficient. Again, through community partnerships, donations, and discussions, we talked through ways we could facilitate the learning of critical financial skills.
Our community lends their hands
I retired as the executive director of SHIM in 2003. When I left, many conversations of change were in the works, and I was excited to see how the next leader would step in to guide the organization into its next chapter.
What I have witnessed in the last 15 years has been truly incredible, and I know – and the current leaders and supporters of SHIM know – that none of the growth and work could have been possible without the dedication the people of the South Hills.
All these years later, those initial discussions and partnerships in the Prospect Park community have led to SHIM’s Family Center, which has grown so much that it’s now in a new, larger building. The staff and volunteers in this space serve thousands of neighbors every year with educational programming, counseling, group discussions, mentoring for kids, and so much more.
Thanks to new relationships and many volunteers, SHIM has not only transformed the food pantry into a dignified, community experience, they have grown to three locations throughout the South Hills. At SHIM Center, single moms, struggling families and seniors find resources, financial coaching, and emergency assistance.
On top of that, the support of SHIM has expanded far into the community. While the relationships and dedication of our congregations remain strong, more neighbors than ever are now involved with SHIM’s work.
I’m proud to see that the South Hills – and SHIM – always has and always will be a place where neighbors help neighbors. I am excited to see what our neighbors accomplish together next.
By Don Guinn, former SHIM executive director