And the center has been so successful in that shift, that other groups have noticed. Recently, Center of Life has been named a 2021 “Champion in Action'' by Citizens Bank, Trib Total Media, and Pittsburgh Cares for its recent COVID-19 relief efforts. The designation comes with a $35,000 award from Citizens Bank, as well as media coverage from the Trib and volunteer support from Pittsburgh Cares.
“Our team believes ‘everything is about people,'” says Tim Smith, Executive Director of Center of Life, in a press release. “Using this tenet, we’re working diligently to address our community’s basic needs while advancing our high-performing after school and community programs.”
Staying true to form, Center of Life sought to support school children and their families with the transition to online, remote schooling. The group’s efforts have included after school homework assistance and virtual student engagement activities in science, engineering, the arts, technology, and math. The center has also served as the go-between for several PPS families in need of internet services and launched a Community Learning Hub, which provides students with a safe, supervised space to complete their virtual learning. Center staff then support students in their online learning and assist them with their academic needs throughout the day. Students also have the option to receive breakfast, lunch, snack, and a take-home dinner when they attend the Community Learning Hub.
In collaboration with multiple other Pittsburgh-based organizations, the Center of Life helped to deliver nearly 200,000 meals and distribute more than 1,000 masks since March.
Founded in 2002 by Smith, Center of Life has served the Hazelwood community through a holistic approach of total family engagement. The center encourages all members of a family to support their child’s academic, artistic, and athletic success by investing their time in self-improvement and community development.
The center has attracted support from many over the years. Popular Pittsburgh hip-hop artist Benji. used to be a mentor at Center of Life.
In addition to its work for families and schoolchildren, Center of Life has also made a number of mental-health resources available for local families. During these isolating times, the center decided to develop a full “Mental Health and Wellness Guide” to help facilitate conversations about mental health within families as well as give practical advice on positive coping mechanisms during the pandemic. The guide also features a section dedicated specifically to mental health in the Black community.
The “Champions in Action” award is given to only ten nonprofits each year, and Center of Life’s recognition marks the first round of winners for the 2021 year.