ACH Clear Pathways finds new purpose at former Irene Kaufmann Settlement House

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Tyian Battle does not practice Kabbalah or Gematria, but if she did, the number 360 could have a special meaning.

Battle is the Executive Director of ACH Clear Pathways, a Hill District non-profit organization that provides after-school and summer arts programs for underprivileged youth. And although the community leader does not practice Jewish mysticism herself, nor is she Jewish, there is no denying that she found value in the theme of the circle and its 360 degrees. .

On July 22, ACH Clear Pathways cut the ribbon at the Kaufmann Center Building – the former Irene Kaufmann Settlement House – completing its $4 million expansion, which includes an additional 2,700 square feet.

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The new build is the culmination of Battle’s vision that began 12 years ago. As she recounted, out of work and on family medical leave, the superintendent who grew up in the Hill District started a program with her family and friends to offer music, dance and karate lessons. to children in honor of her 7-year-old son. , Amon C. Harris, who died of a congenital heart defect. Harris had wanted to follow martial arts, but Battle could not afford it at the time. She didn’t want other families to suffer the same fate.

The program bounced between several different locations before ACH acquired the former Kaufmann Center from Hill House in 2020.

Battle remembers coming before a judge overseeing Hill House’s bankruptcy and discussing the value of the building.

“The judge made me stand up and he said, ‘Please tell me your mission and what you want to do with this community asset,'” she said.

The building, she noted, is a community space with a clear purpose.

“It was always meant for the arts, and I want to keep it that way,” she said.

The Irene Kaufmann Settlement House has a long history in the Hill District, according to Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh Jewish History Program and Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Laying the foundation stone of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House auditorium, which is the building that is now “The Kaufmann Center”. Photo provided by Eric Lidji.

He said the building was founded by a forerunner of the National Council of Jewish Women, the Colombian Council. And as the house moved and expanded, Lidji said that at the start of the 20th century, the organization offered many services that people remember today.

“Athletics, of course, but lots of arts and culture, as well as nursing, childcare and general social work for the neighborhood.”

The building that ACH now owns contains the original auditorium, built in 1928. Lidji said it was part of the small theater movement and was considered one of the best facilities in town for amateur community productions.

“At that time, the Jewish community was still quite large on the Hill, but was starting to decline,” he said. “It was one of the last major Jewish investments in the Hill District.”

Lidji spoke during the ribbon cutting, calling the building “Sacred Space”.

“Holiness is when we consecrate something for good,” he told those present. “This place is sanctified because it serves the same good from the spring of 1900 until today. It is what it is. It was and it always will be. »

Battle has endeavored to maintain the center’s history and respect its Jewish origins where possible. This includes hanging artwork found in the original settlement house.

She also has a more substantial memory to go along with the paintings.

ACH Clear Pathways Executive Director Tyian Battle retains part of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House bathhouse pool found during construction. Photo by David Rullo.

When construction of the new extension began and workers were digging a yard, they hit what was the pool of the original bath house. Battle kept part of the floor so the memory wouldn’t be lost.

“It’s so deep,” she said. “I was raised thinking this community was African American, but no. To be here today is just to honor the ancestors of the Jewish community who made this place what it is and how generations of non-profit organizations continue to operate this place.

In keeping with the tradition of social work started by the Colombian Council, ACH has created a space for children to learn music, dance, painting, acting, martial arts, writing and other forms of learning for free. art during the school year. During the summer there is a program which includes lunch and activities like swimming which require a small fee.

There are 75 students enrolled in the program, compared to 100 that Battle said she can teach. COVID-19 meant she had to reduce the number of children served, but she is looking to start rebuilding student numbers.

The original works of art continue to hang in the Kaufmann House. Photo by David Rullo

The chief executive said she had to work to earn the respect of the community who knew her when she was younger and who protect their community.

“Some people only know me from hanging out on the streets or growing up at the rec center,” she said. “They don’t know my work, but I want us to succeed. I refuse to let this go down the drain. »

Tyian Battle speaks at the ACH Clear Pathways ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by David Rullo.

While it took time for the community to believe in Battle and its mission, many guests and guest speakers at the groundbreaking, including Jake Wheatley, chief of staff to Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, Senator from State Wayne Fontana, musician Roger Humphries, former Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris and Neil Weaver, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, who supported the construction with $2 million from the Keystone Communities and Neighborhood Assistance program , had no such problems.

Blake said Wheatley connected her with Fontana to discuss the Kaufmann Center.

“I put on one of my best outfits and went to his office. He was so genuine and made me feel comfortable,” she recalled.
For Fontana, the math was simple.

“We have a building that needs occupants. She has community activities. Why not put them together,” he asked?

The state senator said the project was a combination of city, county and state officials working together, Facts Committee Chairman Frank Rapp confirmed.

He recounted chasing Governor Tom Wolf through a parking lot with the ACH executive director for an impromptu meeting, something he said Blake called “The Hill District Way.” Wolf was impressed and agreed to help.

Wheatley said Blake was like her little sister and recalled an earlier conversation at a hair salon.

“I told her she was what we wanted to set an example for our young people, especially on the Hill, where she was born and raised,” he said. “She saw something and she did something in her community that will stand the test of time.”

Weaver said the arts are essential to the history of the Hill and that the ACH brings that history into the present.

“By instilling a passion for the arts in young people, it is also bringing it towards the future.” PJC

David Rullo can be contacted at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org

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