John Schrott, president of ikm architects, is board chair of South Hills Interfaith Movement, one of the several nonprofit organizations Mt. Lebanon Commission helps fund.
South Hills Interfaith Ministries (SHIM) was founded 50 years ago by a minister, a rabbi and a priest. why is it now called South Hills Interfaith Movement?: SHIM works to reduce the devastating effects of suburban poverty among the working poor, unemployed, families, single parents, senior citizens, women and refugee families. We still are deeply connected to the faith communities. However, our name recognition was low, and many people assumed we were part of a particular church. One way to broaden our base of support and engage more of the South Hills with our mission was to create a “movement” that engages people in helping each other and inspires forward thinking and action. Our programs aim to meet the needs of people struggling to finding their footing who can benefit from a “hand up.” Our volunteers, donors and partners work together to compassionately empower families to achieve self-sufficiency through counseling, family support, youth mentoring, the Smart Investments program, early childhood support and more. SHIM strives for a future where the South Hills is an inclusive community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
Can volunteers with no expertise in social work be helpful at SHIM? Yes! Volunteers are the backbone of SHIM. Our most pressing volunteer needs include youth mentoring, where caring adults spend time with refugee middle school and high school students once a week. We need homework helpers, after school program support, and early childhood volunteers. We also need volunteers in the food pantry to help families shop and to help drive food to and from our our pantries and unload and stock the shelves. SHIM also partners with United Way’s Open Your Heart to a Senior program, where volunteers take seniors to the grocery store and doctor’s office and provide reprieve for family caregivers. Anyone can learn more by visiting www.shimcares.org/volunteer/.
Why have you made SHIM a significant volunteer commitment? Busyness seems to be the new normal, but that should not blind us from seeing the world around us and the needs that exist that could benefit from just a small effort. We are all blessed with gifts and skills that we can use to make a difference. My wife and I believe we are called to give back. We joined the “movement” because SHIM resonated as an organization with the potential to impact so many of our neighbors, both those who have lived here for generations and those who are starting new lives in America mirroring the stories of many of our ancestors. It has been a great place to make our small commitment.
It is shocking to learn there are 4,000 hungry children in the South Hills. Why is the population of suburban poor growing, and what are some ways in which SHIM is addressing this problem? In 2005, the Brookings Institute found that for the first time in our nation’s history, suburban poverty outnumbered urban poverty, and it’s increasing nearly five times faster than in urban areas. In the South Hills alone, 20 percent of families make under $35,000 a year, and the number of children eligible to receive free or reduced lunch has increased every year since 2010. With a growing number of refugees and immigrants working to resettle and rebuild their lives in the area, an aging population, and an ever-increasing cost of living, poverty in the suburbs has continued to climb. SHIM helps neighbors meet basic needs through our three food pantries in Bethel Park, Baldwin and Prospect Park; a community closet where anyone can find clothing when needed; a partnership for winter coats with Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and connecting people to utility assistance. We build community through interfaith events and programs, along with our thriving community garden program, which helps stock our pantries with fresh produce.