New support for Squirrel Hill

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Rick St. John is the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition’s first executive director in years and has been learning the vagaries of its office equipment while making connections with volunteers and other stakeholders in his first two weeks on the (part-time) job.
Besides being an award-winning poet, he has spent 30 years in community development work and has been hired as a consultant for his abilities to connect people of many backgrounds in a variety of settings using poetry and other modes of art.
He said he was game to take on this job “because it’s a very good organization with a lot of horse power and people who put a ton of time into it. People often forget how much good hard work it takes to keep a strong neighborhood strong.”
Rick, who lives in Greenfield, is a former executive director at the Oakland Planning & Development Corp., a former director of the Design Center (previously the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh), and former executive director of the Autumn House Press, a literary publishing company in Mount Washington.
After a Loeb fellowship at Harvard, he returned to run a program called Conversations for Common Wealth “to help diverse groups reflect on the ethical callings in their lives and translate that response into generous action in the world,” his resume reads.
“I had a hunch the arts could play a role,” he said one recent morning over coffee at Pamela’s on Murray Avenue. That effort had foundation funding until it didn’t.
But he has continued to do bridge-building consulting and was plucked by the Squirrel Hill non-profit to lead its efforts on a six-month trial basis.
He said his three big charges are to deepen SHUC's relationships with businesses and institutions, to build membership and to help volunteers be more effective in their projects.
“A lot of volunteers will function a lot better with professional support,” said Ray Baum, SHUC’s board president.

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